Beanie Feldstein is allergic to almost everything: cats, dairy products, perfumes, dust. “I basically live in a bubble,” she said. The sticks and sprays that help actors cry at the right time? She is also allergic to it. So earlier this year, while shooting 16-hour days on a set designed to resemble a Ritz-Carlton suite, she made herself cry take after take, with no artificial tears to help her.
“I just had to love, dig, dig, dig, dig, dig and get down to it,” Feldstein, 28, said one recent afternoon. “I wouldn’t be able to sit down with myself at the end of the day if I didn’t. “
Those tears air Tuesday in “Man Handled,” the sixth episode of the FX limited series “Impeachment: American Crime Story,” in which Feldstein plays White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
“Man Handled” recreates an FBI operation dubbed “Prom Night” because, as one agent jokes, it’s hours alone with a girl in a hotel room. In the episode, a group of all-male agents ambush Feldstein’s Monica, still in her sweaty workout clothes, and confine her in the sequel, threatening her with imprisonment if she doesn’t cooperate with the episode. Special Advocate’s investigation of then-President Bill Clinton.
The character spends most of the episode in tears or hysterics, a brutal, wispy departure from the effervescent women Feldstein played in the “Ladybird” and “Booksmart” movies and on Broadway in “Hello, Dolly!” Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl”, a dream role Feldstein will play in the Broadway revival next spring, is transposing for her. But even though she and Lewinsky are both Jewish brunettes with Los Angeles roots and a love of showmanship, an angsty character like Monica was not.
“She’s an incredibly sunny person,” Sarah Paulson, her “Impeachment” co-star, said of Feldstein. “That’s not to say she lacks seriousness, because nothing could be further from the truth. But she has a luminosity to her.
In “Man Handled”, this luminosity is largely attenuated. Monica has a few moments of moxie, like when she sneaks up on the President’s secretary, but she’s mostly at the mercy of agents who harass and cheat on her. Throughout “Impeachment,” but never as much as in this week’s episode, Feldstein surrenders to the role – heart, soul, tear ducts.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it, honestly,” she said with the absolute sincerity with which she says most things. “It was the most wonderful company.”
We had met at a beer garden in a pocket park in Midtown East on a blazing September day. Feldstein, in a leopard-print maxi dress and blinding white Reeboks, didn’t eat or drink anything – those allergies – and she wore her mask all the time, even outside. “I’m still very, very, very scared of Covid,” she said.
Up to “Impeachment”, Feldstein’s career – which also includes a starring role in the critical rock film “How to Build a Girl” and a one-season arc on the vampire comedy “What We Do in the Shadows” – only included comedy roles, but two years ago super-producer Ryan Murphy called and offered her the role of Monica.
Feldstein had been a child during Clinton’s presidency; she remembered little of the impeachment itself. But she immediately agreed and embarked on research – mainly Andrew Morton’s authoritative biography of Lewinsky and Linda Tripp’s illegal recordings, although listening to them made her feel, she said, very, very disgusting.
In the end, Feldstein decided that his performance would be based less on physical or vocal impersonation and more on something more fleeting. “My goal was to be emotionally true to what she was feeling at each moment,” she said.
The truth hurts, of course, and never more so than during the weeks spent filming “Man Handled”, in which she screamed and sobbed for hours. The hotel’s claustrophobic setup and tight schedule reduced breaks between takes. Usually, Feldstein said, she prefers a laugh and a cookie between shots. Here there was no time to let go of the character. And she didn’t feel like she should anyway.
“This episode pushed me emotionally in ways that I could never have anticipated or understood,” Feldstein said. “It was the most exhausting and painful acting experience I have ever had.”
Murphy, who directed the episode, would ask her over and over again if she was feeling okay, if she could handle another take. Lewinsky is a producer on the show, and Feldstein, who had met her for tea and texted her often, felt an overwhelming responsibility to tell her story as fully and authentically as possible. “All I did every day was think about paying homage to him,” she said.
So when Murphy called for another take, Feldstein dried his eyes and stepped into his light. “I was like, it’s for Monica, of course I’m going to go back,” she said.
Colin hanks, who starred alongside Feldstein in “Man Handled,” marveled at its intensity, hour after hour, take after take.
“People think playing is easy, and it often is,” Hanks said over the phone. “But the stuff she was doing, man, I don’t know a lot of people who could resist that kind of emotional assault.”
Mira Sorvino, who plays Monica’s mother in the episode, praised her ability to stay in the moment during “Man Handled,” even when those moments were heartbreaking. “She’s always been there emotionally,” Sorvino said, speaking over the phone. “It was a heavy weight for Beanie to carry and she carried it beautifully.”
Feldstein’s natural buoyancy allowed him to never stay ballasted for long. Paulson, who plays Tripp, spoke enviously about the levity with which Feldstein held up when the cameras were finally turned off.
“It was actually a crazy learning experience to just think, ‘Wow, you can be really great at your job and not want to tear your skin off every five seconds,” Paulson said. (She also said. that while she usually wears a character-appropriate scent for each role, she left it for that one. She didn’t want to send Feldstein to the hospital.)
But months later, Feldstein didn’t give up on the experiment. Not entirely.
“This remains the most enormous responsibility that I think I will ever have,” she said. “Because I know I’m going to play real people again. I’m about to play Fanny Brice. But there is nothing like it.