Reality TV

Monica Lewinsky Is Ready to Tell Other People’s Stories Now


Monica Lewinsky does not have trouble finding the words to describe how she feels at the end of Impeachment: American Crime Story. “I’m relieved,” she says over Zoom the morning after hosting an onstage interview with series creator Sarah Burgess and stars Sarah Paulson (who plays Linda Tripp), Annaleigh Ashford (who plays Paula Jones), and Beanie Feldstein (who plays Lewinsky herself). “It was so lovely to all be together and to have this moment of discussing the show and the process and the experiences in a warm environment like that.”

It’s interesting to speak to the real Lewinsky—an anti-bullying advocate, speaker, and writer for this very magazine—moments after watching the final episode of Impeachment, which leaves a much younger version of Lewinsky in a very vulnerable moment. Having published her biography, Monica’s Story, written by Andrew Morton with her cooperation, she’s signing books at a New York City bookstore and feeling overwhelmed by the crowd, telling herself, “I’ll be okay” before the episode cuts to black. In reality the signing was in London, but Lewinsky says the moment was very similar in real life. “For over a year I had run every time there were cameras in my face,” she says, though at the book signing, she voluntarily put herself out in public. “It was terrifying. Overwhelming is probably a better word.”

On this week’s episode of the Still Watching podcast, Lewinsky speaks about her role in Impeachment as a producer, how specific moments of the finale reflect her real experience (“I really, really hope nobody finishes the episode and thinks that this was a happy ending”), and what she’ll be doing now that such a definitive version of her story has been told (a hint: it might involve spies and/or outer space). Elsewhere on the episode, Julie Miller and Richard Lawson join me for a discussion of the finale—and why it feels right to leave all of these women in the late ’90s rather than flashing forward to their futures. 

Listen to the episode above, and below find a partial transcript of the Monica Lewinsky episode. Though this is the last episode of Still Watching that will cover Impeachment, you can subscribe to hear Richard Lawson and Sonia Saraiya discuss the current season of Succession, and sign up to receive texts from us at Subtext


How do you feel now that the season is done? 

I’m relieved. It has been an extraordinary experience to wear both hats of being a producer and a subject. And my first time doing both of those in that way has meant that I’ve learned a lot on the job, but as a producer, I’m very proud of the show and I think everyone involved just worked really hard, especially during COVID. They really poured themselves into this idea of trying to bring forth this story that everybody thinks they know, and they know details of, in a more nuanced way with more humanity. It was fascinating. Someone last night made such an interesting point about how the first six episodes really reshape episodes 7 through 10, which—7 through 10 is sort of the part where the rest of the world came into this story. And so I’m really fascinated by this idea of what it means to provide all of that context and nuance, which I hope is what happens for people.

Last night you were at a screening and a Q&A with all the women of Impeachment, basically. What was that experience like? 

I think magical is actually the word that comes up for me. So I got to be the moderator, which—I enjoy asking the questions instead of answering. Although I somehow managed to stress myself out and overprepare in the exact same way. So I moderated a panel with Sarah Paulson, Beanie Feldstein, Annaleigh Ashford, and Sarah Burgess. And it was so lovely to all be together and to have this moment of discussing the show and the process and the experiences in a warm environment like that, just kind of loose. I’d spent some time with Beanie, and Sarah Paulson, Beanie, and I hung out together in July; they did a screening of episode one in July. And so it’s a very surreal experience. I think we all sort of toggle back and forth, but we have this shared landscape now, of experience. And certainly Beanie understands my lived experiences in a very unique way.

I wonder if that reframes the way you think of it as just having another you out there who really is seeing through all of this.

Oh, no. One me is enough. I think most people who know me well would be like, I’m already enough, too much. I think one thing that was really interesting, and I was curious to hear from Beanie because the thing that I’ve heard a lot from people is how they’ve been surprised, even though they obviously didn’t have the same experiences that I had, that they’ve been surprised to find themselves in Monica’s experience. And I think that that has so much to do with how Beanie sort of created this space for the audience in a way of really finding the humanity in my story.

And by focusing on those things, I think really trying to bring the emotional truth with those aspects. Everyone has had heartbreak; most people have been betrayed in some way or some point. Beanie spoke really eloquently last night about, and so true, what your early 20s are like. There’s this very strange pod of time in your early 20s where there’s sort of this age you’re looking to get to, and you think, Ah, now I’m going to be an adult, and once I’m an adult, I’m going to this and I’m going to that. And then you come into the world, you have no idea about consequences. You have no idea about, I think, so many different things. That sort of fabric of life that we get with age. But at this same time, in hindsight, you realize just how fucking young you are, how little you know. So I think that when you’re just trying to figure out who you are in the world, so much of that starts to come from reflections of what you see and hear from other people in a way that’s different from how we’re shaped by our family.

You’ve talked about how you didn’t want to let yourself off the hook as a producer and you encouraged the writers to include moments that maybe weren’t as flattering to you. And you talked about the thong moment, but the one that really stuck with me is in the Revlon job process. And there comes in an offer to work at the U.N., and Beanie as you is like, “I don’t want to work at the U.N.” And it’s this very kind of childish moment.  I wonder about you signing off on that moment and including it and why it felt worth doing.

Well, I think just first to be really clear, I didn’t have approval in that way. So I think that there was meaningful dialogue, but there were things in the show and things in my past that I wish hadn’t been there or different things, but if I liked everything that was in the show, then I don’t think everybody did their job.

But I think that it was an important moment because it reflected my age in some ways too, the immaturity. I think some people could look at it and say it was a moment of entitlement, which they’re fair to look at it that way. I think how I perceive it more, knowing myself having been there, I think it was very much just about not understanding how the world really works in that way. Remember, I had my internship and then my job in legislative affairs. It was the first time I was hired postcollege. I had part-time jobs. This was my first full-time job.

 I want to ask about the final episode and where it leaves you. Because I was really hoping for a real jump in the future. And it leaves the Monica of the show at this real moment of moving forward, as Beanie Feldstein saying, “I will be okay.” And you’re not sure that she will, and that seems very true to the way that you speak about that time in your life. Does that feel true? Does that feel like the way to end the story, that it’s not necessarily a guaranteed happy ending, that there’s a lot of work to do left after the show ends?

I really, really hope nobody finishes the episode and thinks that this was a happy ending, because you’re 100% right that there is an ambiguity that’s sitting there, or a subtlety. But the point around it is, like, in a trauma response effort, Monica is trying to tell herself she will be okay. And I’m using me in the third person just because it’s such a weird—what’s great is that I have a wonderful friend who’s in the industry who’s just helped me a lot throughout this process and giving me guidance and different things. And he’s always reminding me, “It’s Monica in quotations. There’s you, and then there’s the character Monica.”

Well, that’s what she says in this episode too. She’s like, “I got to go out and be Monica.” So it’s an extra layer of character.

Right. And I think it’s so hard for people to understand; it would be hard for me to understand. We know fame, celebrity, notoriety, whatever those things are. Most of the time we see them because someone has sought them in some way, and so they’ve just kind of prepared. And to have been someone who, aside from maybe wishing I could be a better performer in musical theater, I didn’t want to be famous. I didn’t want to be well known. So it was such a steep climb to just be thrust onto the world stage at such a young age and then become a public person and to come to understand your expectations of you. You’re a commodity.

Is that how you remember that book signing in particular?

So the thing is, like a lot of the things in the show, there are truncated time lines and locations. So the actual location was in London, my first book signing was in London. And I had a freak-out because for over a year, I had run every time there were cameras in my face and people were flashing. I ran, I hid. The instinct was, people were taking something from me, and here I was; I had voluntarily been sitting there. I had made this decision to do that. And it was terrifying. Overwhelming is probably a better word.

You HBO Max documentary, 15 Minutes of Shame, is about, basically, exactly what the title says. People now enduring what you did for their 15 minutes of being shamed online. And it’s a lot about what you’re talking about, about not signing up for it. And it debuted last month as the series has been airing. So what’s it felt like having those both out there in the world at the same time? Is it the past and the present colliding? Does it feel like they speak to each other?

Yes, very much so. In some ways the documentary is kind of a soft coda. There ended up being this interesting crossover and overlap. On me personally, it’s been challenging because I don’t like doing media. And so it takes a lot for me to show up, to do these kinds of things. So to have two projects coming out, it was a little overwhelming, but I was really lucky that all of the people with whom I spoke about those projects came to the table with just an interest in the projects or an interest in me that wasn’t gotcha journalism like I had before. So I’m very grateful for that.

For me, what was fascinating with 15 Minutes of Shame, not only just to see how this has exploded as a social pandemic, but I was really into the history that threaded through of stepping back and looking at where did we go? Shaming has been around since the beginning of time and throwing stones, and what it meant when it was a social tool to then becoming commoditized, and see where my story and technology, all braided together, and what those moments meant, was really fascinating to me.

Your documentary and this show are coming at this moment where we’re looking back at stories of the past and rethinking them, with your story, the Britney Spears documentaries. There’s a lot of it happening for a lot of women, not a coincidence that it’s mostly women. And yet I think, as your documentary shows, when a new person shows up on social media, everyone just jumps on it again to judge them. We can’t resist that urge to see people one-dimensionally. Why are we so bad at this still? Are we getting better at it at least, you think?

Would I have liked to have seen more progress in the last five, six years? Fuck yes. Do I think the fact that we have certainly seen throughout history there have been many times where there have been problems and issues and they’ve been buried underneath and people don’t talk about them? So the fact that we have an incredible outlet like HBO Max who’s paying to have a documentary to talk about these issues, and we are looking at them, is, I think, a positive sign. Human nature is complicated. And I think another place where these two things dovetail, in terms of American Crime Story and 15 Minutes of Shame, is around the American Crime Story, the anthology series. I’m so fascinated to learn this: It’s not that it’s a crime that happened in America. It’s a crime that was abetted by Americans. And the audience is implicated in what happens. 



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