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Actress Sarah Paulson will be portraying Linda Tripp — a key figure in the 1998 President Clinton sex scandal that culminated in his impeachment in the U.S. House of Representatives — in the upcoming season of “American Crime Story: Impeachment” on FX. Speaking with Deadline, the actress discussed the challenge of finding “the humanity” of Tripp while portraying her.
According to Paulson, who portrayed prosecutor Marcia Clarke in the previous season about the O.J. Simpson trial, she had to avoid sitting in judgment on Tripp for the role she played in the impeachment — a trick she learned while shooting “12 Years a Slave.”
“I think about something that Steve McQueen said to me when we were shooting ’12 Years a Slave’ with him, how important it was for me to stand back from my own judgement of the character and to not sit in a space of judgement, and that it wouldn’t help me play the part, and it wouldn’t help me tell the story,” she said. “So, I remember that from many years ago, and it’s something I’ve been reaching for on this part.”
“Unlike Marcia Clarke, who was so misunderstood and vilified erroneously, this story with Linda is much more complicated,” she continued. “I don’t think a lot of people in life don’t stand in the mirror and constantly assess what they’re doing. I think Linda was just not one of those people who was, perhaps, not aware of just how far this story was going to go, and what her part was going be. It’s totally challenging in a way that is very exciting to me as an actor, but it’s not super easy to live inside of it as a human being.”
Paulson added that the current impeachment trial of President Trump has not changed her perception of the material.
“It’s not changed for me from our current political landscape,” she said. “I’m more interested in the gender dynamics that are in play.”
Linda Tripp became a household name in the late-1990s after she recorded several conversations between herself and Monica Lewinsky about Lewinsky’s affair with President Clinton. The discussion eventually gave way to a series of events that culminated in Clinton’s impeachment. At one point, Tripp encouraged Lewinsky to document her relationship and keep the infamous semen-stained navy blue dress from being dry-cleaned. Tripp’s tapes were turned over to independent counsel Kenneth Starr and served as key evidence in a perjury case against the president.
The New York Post provided a detailed timeline of events:
Tripp was a civil servant in the Pentagon when she became close to the then-22-year-old Lewinsky, who also worked in the public affairs office.
During their conversations, Lewinsky revealed that she had a physical relationship with Clinton when she was a White House intern, and Tripp began to secretly record their talks.
Tripp also encouraged Lewinsky to document her relationship with the president.
Tripp turned the tapes over to then-independent counsel Kenneth Starr in exchange for immunity from illegal wiretapping charges.
She also told Starr about a key piece of evidence – the semen-stained navy blue dress Lewinsky said she wore during a sex act.
Lewinsky had shown Tripp the dress and she encouraged her to keep it and not have it dry cleaned.
Using the information on Tripp’s recordings, Starr got approval from then-Attorney General Janet Reno and the special court overseeing the independent counsel to expand the investigation into the relationship between Lewinsky and the president.
Lewinsky’s conversations laid the groundwork for the perjury charges against Clinton, who had denied the affair.
He was impeached by the House in December 1998 but was acquitted by the Senate in 1999.
At the time, and over the ensuing years, the media largely deemed Linda Tripp a vindictive partisan. Speaking with The Washington Post in 2018, Tripp said she only regrets “not having the guts to do it sooner,” arguing she was a victim of a “high-tech lynching” of her own.
“It was always about right and wrong, never left and right,” Tripp said. “It was about exposing perjury and the obstruction of justice. It was never about politics.”
Linda Tripp died in April 2020 at the age of 70 from pancreatic cancer.