Beanie Feldstein talks about playing — and frequently texting — Monica Lewinsky
While working on the third season of “American Crime Story,” actor Beanie Feldstein wondered what color nail polish Monica Lewinsky was wearing around the time she interned for the Clinton administration.
In order to find out, she texted Lewinsky herself.
“Playing someone real is a huge undertaking — playing someone who texts you is a completely different thing,” Feldstein, who portrays the activist and public figure in the forthcoming chapter of Ryan Murphy’s anthology series, recently told the Hollywood Reporter.
“I mean, I’m playing someone who sends me videos, and I’ll go to respond, and I’m fully wearing her hair,” she said with a laugh. “But of course it was daunting because I just want to do right by her. All that matters to me is what she thinks.”
Lewinsky will serve as a producer on “American Crime Story” Season 3, which drew criticism online from those concerned its timing will aid Trump in the 2020 election.
During the ongoing press tour for “American Crime Story: Impeachment,” produced by both Feldstein and Lewinsky, the performer and her real-life counterpart have reflected recently on their close relationship — built almost entirely over text and video chat amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The highly anticipated followup to “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson” and “American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace” chronicles the extramarital affair between former President Clinton and White House intern Lewinsky that led to Clinton’s impeachment and rendered Lewinsky a national pariah.
“I felt gutted by some of the things that Monica went through,” Feldstein told W Magazine. “My task is to be Monica’s bodyguard — to put my body in front of hers. It’s my job to portray her pain, because I feel so much for her.”
Despite never having been in her exact position, Feldstein said she could relate to Lewinsky’s inner suffering as a young person thrust into the spotlight, explaining that “there’s always pain beneath the surface” of fame.
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“I’m queer, so I don’t know if I’d flirt with the president, but who knows?” Feldstein said in conversation with W. “When Clinton shined his light on you, there was no better feeling in the world. It wouldn’t matter if you were male, female, nonbinary, queer.
“When that man put his spotlight on you, the world fell away. And if I was 22 and the most powerful person in the world focused his high beams on me, I would probably do the exact same thing as Monica.”
In an effort to capture Lewinsky’s essence for “Impeachment,” Feldstein frequently communicated with her, in addition to reading her biography, watching interviews and reviewing audio tapes of her conversations with the late government employee Linda Tripp, who infamously sold Lewinsky out to the public.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever said this to you, but I found [the tapes] extremely difficult to listen to, as someone who cares very deeply for you,” Feldstein told Lewinsky during the THR interview. “I also knew that I had to. There was no way I could play this role without listening to them.”
Beanie Feldstein stars
While collaborating with Feldstein on the FX drama, Lewinsky said she came up with “this cockamamie idea to spend several hours on Zoom” showing the “Booksmart” breakout her family photos.
“I just thought, I’m not going to sit down with Beanie like a new therapist, ‘OK, let me tell you the story of my life,’” Lewinsky told THR.
“And this way she’d get to understand my world in a more organic way since we couldn’t hang out [due to COVID-19]. But I haven’t done any of this before, and it was hard for me — I’m a total control freak.”
Feldstein pushed back on that self-critical characterization, insisting that Lewinsky had been “so giving” and “very open” with her throughout the process of making the show.
“You never asked me to do something a certain way or you never said, ‘How were you planning to do this or that?’” Feldstein told her during the THR sit-down. “You let me find my own you in a very beautiful way.”
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Lewinsky also opened up about finding the “emotional truth” in scenes featuring Feldstein as a fictional version of herself and the “challenging” experience of accepting the differences between her own memory of events and the script.
“But also to see the chemistry between Beanie and Clive [Owen, who plays Clinton],” Lewinsky told THR. “There are aspects of Bill that I think Clive has captured that people haven’t seen before, and it’s like, ‘Oh, as a producer, I should be able to speak to something like that.’ But as a person who lived some of this, it’s very surreal. ...”
Lewinsky said that while she weighed in on certain situations, she stayed mum on others, like the more personal scenes with the former president and his wife, Hillary Clinton.
“I just felt that that was better left to other people.”
If you were anywhere near a television in 1998, chances are you heard a joke — or a hundred — about Monica Lewinsky.
Before the third season of “American Crime Story” premieres Sept. 7 on FX, Lewinsky admitted she is “nervous about being misunderstood again” but also expressed hope that a more evolved, sensitive audience might see her situation in a new light.
Feldstein harbored some anxiety as well.
“From a deeply selfish, personal perspective, this is a very different world for me,” she told THR. “I’m not singing or dancing or making people laugh here. I’m hopefully presenting Monica with the depths of her humanity, and there’s so much pain that she had. It’s completely different from anything I’ve ever done, and that’s very scary.”
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