If there is an archetypal role for Beanie Feldstein, as an actor an a human, it’s the best friend. The 28-year-old became famous for her performances in two portraits of female friendship: Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, and Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart. “I’m still doing that here,” Feldstein says of her role as Monica Lewinsky in FX’s Impeachment: American Crime Story (premiering September 7th). “It’s just the single most painful side — the most infamous, disgusting act of betrayal between two female friends of all time.” Feldstein stars opposite Sarah Paulson’s Linda Tripp, Lewinsky’s co-worker at the Pentagon who secretly recorded conversations in which the former intern revealed her affair with President Bill Clinton. Slated to begin filming in March 2020, the Covid-delayed series didn’t get underway until last November. So Feldstein put the spare time toward another political pursuit: “All I would do is prepare, read about Monica, and then phone bank.”
Monica Lewinsky was just 22 when her affair with Bill Clinton began, not that much older than your Lady Bird and Booksmart characters. Yet she seems worlds away from them. How was your approach different here?
Because I’m playing a real, living, breathing person, [who is] a producer on the show, and now a dear friend of mine, it was such a different process. There was a deep, deep sense of responsibility, unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. I want to respect her, and honor her, and redeem her with every word, every walk, every time I pick up a glass.
Did you work closely with her to prepare?
We’ve been filming in the depths of the pandemic, so she and I hadn’t physically seen each other for about a year, but we’re always in touch. Sometimes I’ll ask simple questions, like “What nail-polish color were you wearing?” because those little details really add up. We have a beautiful connection and trust. I expressed to her very early on that I see myself as her bodyguard; I’m going to put my body in front of hers, and I’m going to protect her. I promised her that, and she heard me.
Was there anything that surprised you to learn about Monica’s experience?
I did not know about the time that she spent with the FBI. She was taken into a hotel room [where she] spent 12 hours refusing to turn on the president, refusing to wear a wire and trap him the way that they wanted her to. At 24 years old, to be alone in a hotel room with eight to 12 armed men — in your workout clothes? I did not know that that had happened. For me, playing her, it was, as clear as day, just a complete turning point for her.
All of the women in this story were vilified to some degree when this situation was unfolding in the Nineties. How did you balance showing the pain of what they went through and making an entertaining television show?
I don’t know if you had [the children’s-book character] Flat Stanley growing up, but how all of these women were [portrayed at the time was] 2D. They were an SNL character, a late-night joke — a scathing review of their nose, or their hair, or their size. They were all viciously picked apart in different ways for how they looked, how they talked, what they talked about. Our goal was to show every single side, give all the information to the audience, and say, “Make of this what you will, but all of this humanity was happening at the same time. You have to look at all of it.”
Did working on this project change the way you felt about Hillary Clinton at all?
[Long pause] I voted for Hillary, I campaigned for Hillary, and I have so much respect and admiration for Hillary. To watch Hillary Clinton be portrayed by Edie Falco — one of the greatest actors to ever live — I think, is going to be a transcendent experience.
But did it change the way you felt about her?
No comment. I haven’t thought about it deeply enough to come up with an answer that I feel comfortable sharing.
Has making this series inspired more of an interest in politics for you?
I’m more politically engaged now than ever, and I don’t think that’s because of the show. I think that’s because of the political state of the previous four years and the pandemic. In those very isolating months leading up to the election, we’re all sitting in our homes, couldn’t go anywhere, and I just was like, “All that matters to me is getting people to vote. That’s all that matters.”
What are the issues most important to you?
First and foremost, I think the systems of power and oppression in this country are astronomical, in deeply felt ways. We’re finally starting, as a society, to take notice of that pain. Black Lives Matter and trans rights are just at the forefront of my mind. As a queer person, LGBTQ rights. As a woman, women’s rights to their own bodies. There are thousands — I could continue forever.
Understanding through the lens of this show how vicious the political arena can be, does it make you jaded?
I’m not jaded. I’m a very glass-half-full person. That’s how I’ve always been. Even after portraying this story, I’m always going to believe that hope is just around the river bend. I think that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are proof of that, and that we also still have farther to go.