In its first two installments, the FX anthology series, “American Crime Story” was built around, as the titles put it, “The People v. O.J. Simpson” and “The Assassination of Gianni Versace,” events so tragic they initially hardly seemed to need any further dramatization.
Now, for a third chapter, viewers will soon see “Impeachment: American Crime Story,” a limited series that revisits the scandal involving then-President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Anyone old enough to remember it can recall the firestorm that followed the late-1990s revelations that Clinton had engaged in sexual relations with Lewinsky, when she was an intern at the White House.
The scandal helped lead to Clinton being impeached, though he wasn’t removed from office. It also subjected Lewinsky to an avalanche of crude, unrelenting ridicule, from late-night comics to media coverage. In an odd local angle, Lewinsky’s background included her earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Portland’s Lewis & Clark College, in 1995.
During the virtual Television Critics Association 2021 summer press tour, some of the stars and producers involved with “Impeachment: American Crime Story,” recently talked about the series, for which Lewinsky was a key consultant.
The panelists who took questions from reporters during a Zoom session included Beanie Feldstein, who plays Lewinsky; Sarah Paulson, who plays Linda Tripp, and is an executive producer on the series; Annaleigh Ashford, who plays Paula Jones; writer and executive producer Sarah Burgess; and executive producers Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson.
Burgess said that part of her research as a writer for the series included consulting Lewinsky’s memoir, “Monica’s Story,” written with Andrew Morton. She also spoke with Lewinsky, and added elements based on details Lewinsky shared, to, as Burgess said, “make it as accurate as possible.”
Feldstein said that she had the “great gift” of knowing that every word she was saying in the scripts was “approved and had been to Monica first.”
Executive producers Ryan Murphy, Jacobson, Simpson and Burgess “would go through the scripts with her, and she would give all her feedback and notes,” Feldstein said. “And by the time it got to me, I was sure that everything in there was something that she felt comfortable with, she felt was real to her life, and felt represented her.”
Jacobson answered a question about how unusual it was to have a person so closely involved in the story be involved in the production by saying, “It’s a first for us.”
But it was important to include Lewinsky in the process of making the show, Jacobson said. “Monica is a woman whose voice – she did not have a voice during this entire…unbelievably overwhelming series of events that happened.”
Lewinsky was, as Jacobson said, “literally muzzled by Ken Starr, her own lawyer,” and was told she couldn’t even talk to her friends, “because they could be subpoenaed.”
“To have been silenced, and really culturally banished for 20 years, there was no way we could make this show and not give her a voice,” Jacobson said. “It would have felt utterly wrong…And it was not easy for her, and it was not always easy for us. But it was worth every moment.”
When a reporter noted that Linda Tripp — whose secret recordings of Lewinsky’s conversations about her relationship with Clinton helped spark the scandal — seemed utterly unlikable, Paulson spoke in Tripp’s defense.
“I certainly think her choices are questionable,” Paulson said. “But in terms of her being unlikable, I just don’t – I just don’t share that view.”
Jacobson said the point of “Impeachment: American Crime Story” is to tell the story of what happened through what the women involved experienced.
“For us, we have always been fascinated with these women who exist in the margins of power,” Jacobson said. “They are not in the driver’s seat of their own careers or lives…And I can’t hate a woman who rebels against that.”
Paulson added, “Just for full disclosure, we just finished shooting yesterday, and I’m obviously still feeling incredibly protective of this woman that I tried to inhabit for the last 10 months. So forgive my emotionality around it.”
Ashford answered a question about deciding how the actors should physically embody characters who they didn’t resemble in real life.
“The way these women were treated publicly for the way that they looked was such an important part of this story,” Ashford said. “So, it was part of the storytelling.”
Because of that, Ashford went on, “It was really important to show the physical shift that some of these women made to themselves.”
“The way that these women were treated publicly was just horrific,” Ashford said.
“Impeachment: American Crime Story” premieres at 10 p.m. Sept. 7, on FX.
— Kristi Turnquist
email@example.com 503-221-8227 @Kristiturnquist