The seventh episode of Impeachment: American Crime Story reveals a character it was probably difficult to imagine taking a back seat when the series first began: Hillary Clinton. Played by four-time Emmy winner Edie Falco, the then-first lady is seen only in brief glimpses in the first half of the season, as the affair between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky—and its aftermath—takes focus. But in the seventh episode, titled “The Assassination of Monica Lewinsky,” the story breaks in the press. In one striking scene, Bill Clinton wakes up his wife and tells her what he claims is the truth—that he and Lewinsky never had an affair at all.
On this week’s episode of the Still Watching podcast, Falco tells Richard Lawson about her approach to playing one of the most famous women on the planet, and why her performance is a “possible interpretation” of what could have been happening in Hillary Clinton’s mind in those tumultuous early days of 1998.
Listen to the episode above, and find a partial transcript of the Falco interview below. You can subscribe to Still Watching on Apple Podcasts or anywhere else you get your podcasts.
Richard Lawson: There’s a lot to talk about but we’re starting a lot of these interviews asking people what they remember from that time. Were you someone who paid a lot of attention to this whole story?
Edie Falco: I did not, actually. Had I been, then, who I am now I would have—in so far as being a bit of a political junkie. But I was less so, at the time. So, I was aware of it. It was in the air but I was not fully cognizant of it, no.
Which, I guess, would make it interesting to delve into the world of this show. I’m curious about when this opportunity presented itself. What were your reasons for wanting to be part of this and play this role specifically?
Let’s see. Quite some time before I did it, more than a year, it was mentioned to me that Ryan Murphy was interested in using me and I didn’t know what that meant. There were a lot of things floating around at the time and then, they said, he wanted to speak with me. We spoke on the phone and at that point, I realized I am actually considering playing Hillary Clinton. I wonder if I gave that enough thought, frankly, but of course, it’s daunting for anybody but also because I am someone who respects her so much and cannot imagine the pressure of just being who she is in the public eye. I guess I stepped in it a little, not really knowing when or if it would happen. There were a lot of questions in the air. At a certain point when I was going to fittings, I realized, holy crap, I really am doing this.
Now, you’ve played real people before but maybe none quite as well known as Hillary Clinton. Are you someone who does a lot of research, are you watching videos to get speech patterns right? How is your approach to playing someone who we’ve all heard speak and maybe seen in person many times?
Right. The truth is, I have played a lot of real people. This is, of course, the highest profile real person I’ve ever played but the truth is, I would way prefer not to play a real person. It’s not something I enjoy as much because in a perfect world, we’re telling a story not necessarily a story that people know with people that people know. So, they come in with some preconceptions as to what the story will be like and what the people will look and sound like. I prefer to start the whole thing with a blank slate. You don’t know these people and you don’t know the story and so, I can create all of it out of my imagination. So, given all of that, I agreed to do this job but Hillary Clinton, in particular, is someone who has been imitated and impersonated on every platform by every person who does such things.
So, without giving it a ton of intellectual thought, I definitely didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to be another person they could put on a reel of all the people who have played Hillary Clinton. So, I was way more interested in just telling the story from the point of view of a woman, intelligent, thoughtful, married to the president and what the story was like for her.
So, Hillary Clinton has been in my world, in all of our worlds, for many, many years and you can’t help it. It’s like, knowing the words to a song you don’t remember ever having heard before. You know what I mean? It’s just always been there and that’s a little bit of my feeling about Hillary Clinton. So, I don’t know. I didn’t really want to go in there and make sure I sounded and looked and walked just like her. Between the hair and makeup and clothing, these people, who worked on the show, were so diligent and well sourced and hardworking. I felt well covered. But it was more, for me, about portraying her interior life.
Are you trying to show us something different about her, or is it really interior?
No. No, no. This is not my interpretation of Hillary. It is my interpretation of the writers and producers’ interpretation. You know what I mean? I am not telling the story or pretending to have pieces of the story that the public doesn’t have. I’m just a cog in a very large wheel. I guess, part of it was that, as I have grown up in a culture that knows this story, I certainly have had to wonder like, “Maybe…” I imagine other people have wondered like, “What was that like? What was the home life of these two people while all of this was going on? How did she make sense of her husband, her place in this marriage, her place as a person in the American public or in the world public.” And everybody knows what’s going on in her family. Well, I just wanted to know, what were those conversations like? My God. And the truth is, we still don’t know but this is certainly a possible interpretation. What some of those conversations were like, what the feeling in the home was like, that kind of thing. I think, the main reason I was interested in doing this was, to allow a possibility for what that might have been like.
I’m curious, particularly, in this scene, in this episode, where Bill has come to Hillary and told her, “Here’s the news. This is what’s out.” And then later, she makes a decision. Can you talk me through a little bit, what do you think the character’s mindset is? Why does she make that pretty big choice?
Again, trying to imagine, treading water in a situation like this where he is running. He’s got the most important job in the world, arguably, and she is his wife, a big part of his support system. This is an agreement she made. Yes, she agreed to be married to this man but this is an agreement she made to the world, to the country. So, it felt a little bit to me like, she needs to put out fires, right now, and how to deal with the long game, is another story. Do the next right thing, is what it felt like. She was just a little bit like, whack-a-mole. I’ll take care of this then, I’ll do this and I’m sure mixed into all of that is, some idea of, what will this mean for our political future? Mine and his, together, mine and his, separately but I think, a bigger part of it was just, how do I get through this moment?
You have this incredible scene partner in Clive Owen. So, I’m curious about that working relationship was like and if you’d known him previous to this project?
No. We just met on the first day of shooting and it was funny because he said to me, “Luckily, nobody knows who these people are so, we’re okay.” I was like, clearly he’s having the same trepidation I did as we stepped into this very daunting task. He was so lovely, such a nice smart, talented, kind man who took the job very seriously, was professional but also not unapproachable because of that. He was just great. I really quite liked him. Obviously, we work in very different ways.
He lives in London and he is British. So, between his accent and not having grown up in this country, he had a lot more ground to cover but he was definitely going for a much more accurate, physical portrayal of Bill, and it’s something, in the beginning, that I was concerned about. And I was basically told that it’s okay. As long as we play the truth of the scene, everyone will know who everybody is. And, and I don’t know. I actually don’t know if there’s a rule about these kinds of things. You must look and talk exactly like them but if there was a rule about it, I was never really told it. So, the fact that we came from different places, I hope we’re still able to tell the story of these two people that people know.
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