Sarah Paulson, Annaleigh Ashford and Clive Owen open up about physically embodying key figures in the White House drama.
Ryan Murphy’s true-crime anthology series, American Crime Story, is back with a third installment, Impeachment, which depicts the events surrounding and leading up to the 1998 trial of President Bill Clinton. Produced by Monica Lewinsky and based on Jeffrey Toobin’s best-selling book, A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President, the D.C.-set season will go inside the national scandal that made Lewinsky, Linda Tripp and Paula Jones key figures in the country’s first impeachment proceedings in over a century.
Like previous seasons, Impeachment features an all-star cast, with Sarah Paulson, Beanie Feldstein and Annaleigh Ashford making stunning transformations into their real-life counterparts, Tripp, Lewinsky and Jones, respectively. Meanwhile, Clive Owen brings extra gravitas as the president.
When it comes to Paulson’s portrayal of Tripp, who worked alongside Lewinsky at the Pentagon and blew the whistle on her colleague’s affair with the president, Murphy previously told ET it reminded him “a lot of what Christian Bale did a couple years ago -- that sort of dedication.”
While she gained some weight, it was revealed that Paulson wore a fat suit in addition to a wig and prosthetic teeth to physically embody the former White House staffer. “It’s sort of an amazing thing she’s doing physically,” Murphy continued. “It’s very transformative.”
“It was startling to see myself for the first time. And at the same time, I thought, ‘Oh, there she is,’’” Paulson recalled to ET’s Lauren Zima during the Los Angeles premiere event for the FX series, before revealing that the hardest thing to nail was Tripp’s physical nuances.
“I focused a lot on her walk. There is so much film of Linda walking in and out of her home because when the scandal broke, there was paparazzi camped outside in front of her house,” the actress explained. “She had a very particular type of walk. She had a particular thing that she did with her hands and her eyebrows always going up at the end of sentences. So, I tried to capture that as much as I could. And she has that thing that happens with her mouth that I tried to do as well.”
Although Paulson disappears into the role, Elizabeth Reaser, who portrays White House volunteer Kathleen Willey, couldn’t help but laugh when she saw her longtime friend in costume. “We had to do a lot of FaceTimes where I just I got to look at her in the prosthetics and the wig and teeth and all of it,” she said. “We just couldn’t stop laughing.”
That said, Reaser praises Paulson for her awards-worthy performance. “It’s a virtuosic performance,” she said. “It’s like a master class in acting. And at the same time, it is very funny and nuanced. It’s just brilliant.”
Paulson wasn’t the only one to completely transform on set. Ashford, who returns for her second installment of the series, portrays Jones, the former Arkansas state employee who sued Clinton for sexual harassment, in what’s surely going to be a breakout moment for the 36-year-old star.
“Every time I looked in the mirror, I felt like I was looking at a relative that I hadn’t met yet. You know, like a long lost relative that I didn’t know,” Ashford shared, noting how “it was really important that we made such a physical transformation” because of how “it really helped [me] make the internal transformation.”
She added that it was important to each character’s narrative to look the part. “Their look was such a part of the way they were treated in the media especially for Paula Jones,” Ashford said, revealing it took three hours each day and “lots of wigs” to get the look just right. “Her look changed throughout her time in the public eye so it was really important to stay true to the aesthetics of the era and the specifics of that person.”
And Ashford, like Owen, whom she got to spend one day with on set, had to master an Arkansas accent. “I wanted to make sure it was authentic to the folks of Lonoke, Arkansas,” she said, adding she worked with a dialect coach “to make sure that it was authentic to Paula but still felt like she was a human.”
While Owen looks like a spitting image of Clinton when he’s in full costume onset, the actor admittedly didn’t understand why Murphy asked him to take on the role. “It was a huge leap for me. I don’t particularly look like him,” he said, before getting “excited about the challenge.”
Immersing himself the best he could, Owen nailed the performance thanks to “a lot of work and a beautiful dialect coach,” he said.
Meanwhile, Feldstein, who spent the most time with both Owen and Paulson, revealed she was awestruck the first time she saw either of them on set. “It was remarkable -- the artistry and the prosthetics and the wardrobe,” she said. “Ryan is so visually remarkable in his work and I think Impeachment is a real pinnacle of that.”
When it comes to her own transformation, Feldstein revealed what her mother thought of it. “She did say to me, ‘You look more beautiful as Monica Lewinsky.’ She loved the transformation [and] the wigs were incredible,” she shared. For the 28-year-old actress, however, embodying Lewinksy was really about “letting my youth and my essence shine through.”
“It’s honestly one of the greatest honors I have ever had certainly as an actress,” Feldstein continued, explaining what it meant for her to step into this role. “It is the most I have ever been pushed [myself], the most I have ever deeply, deeply cared for because it is not just a story but it is a real woman’s [life] that I love and that I care about.”
Impeachment: American Crime Story premieres Tuesday, Sept. 7 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.