The actor spends most of Tuesday’s episode in tears or frenzy as the show re-creates Monica Lewinsky’s custody by the FBI. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get over it,” Feldstein said.
Benny Feldstein is allergic to almost everything – cats, dairy, fragrances, dust. “I basically live in a bubble,” she said. Sticks and sprays that help actors cry on cue? He is also allergic to them. So earlier this year, shooting 16-hour days on a set built to look like a Ritz-Carlton suite, she cried herself in take after take, with no artificial tears to help her.
“I just had to like, dig, dig, dig, dig, dig and put myself out there,” Feldstein, 28, said on a recent afternoon. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to sit with myself at the end of the day.”
“Man Handled” recreates an F.B.I. The operation was nicknamed “prom night” because, as one agent jokes, it’s hours with a girl in a hotel room. In the episode, an all-male cadre of agents ambush Feldstein’s Monica, still in his sweaty workout clothes, and imprison her in a suit if she is then-President Bill Clinton’s special counsel. If she does not cooperate with the investigation, she is threatened with imprisonment.
The character spends most of the episode in tears or frenzy, Feldstein in the films “Ladybird” and “Booksmart” and on Broadway in “Hello, Dolly!” “Funny Girl” has to be typecast for Fannie Brice, a dream role that Feldstein will play in the Broadway revival next spring. But even though she and Lewinsky are both Jewish brunettes with Los Angeles roots and a love of show tunes, there wasn’t a victim character like Monica.
“He’s an incredibly sunny person,” Sarah Paulson said of her “Impeachment” co-star, Feldstein. “That’s not to say that he lacks gravity, because nothing could be further from the truth. But he’s got a shine for that.”
In “Man Handled”, that brightness dims quite a bit. Monica has Moxie moments when she secretly calls the president’s secretary, but mostly she is at the mercy of agents who bully and deceive her. Throughout “Impeachment,” but never more than this week’s episode, Feldstein gave himself up for the role—heart, soul, tear ducts.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever recover from this, honestly,” she said with the sincerity with which she says most things. “It was the most tremendous undertaking.”
We met on a blazing September day at an outdoor cafe in a pocket park in Midtown East. Feldstein, dressed in a leopard print maxi dress and blinding white Reebok, didn’t eat or drink anything—those allergies—and she wore her mask the entire time, even outside. “I’m still very, very, very scared of Covid,” she said.
Up until “Impeachment,” Feldstein’s career—which also included a season-long arc on the coming-of-age rock-critic film “How to Build a Girl” and the vampire comedy “What We,” was a part of his career. Do in the Shadows” – this includes only comedic roles. But two years ago, Uber-producer Ryan Murphy called and offered her the part of Monica.
Feldstein was a child during Clinton’s presidency; He remembered little about impeachment. But she immediately agreed and threw herself into research—primarily Andrew Morton’s authorized biography of Lewinsky and Linda Tripp’s illegal recordings, even though hearing them made her feel, she said, very, very difficult.
Ultimately, Feldstein decided that his performance would rest on physical or vocal impersonation than something more short-lived. “My goal was just to be emotionally true to what she was feeling every moment,” she said.
The truth hurts, of course, and never more than the weeks she spent shooting “Man Handled,” in which she screamed and cried for hours on end. The claustrophobic hotel setup and tight schedule meant that the breaks between takes were shortened. Usually, Feldstein said, she likes to laugh and be cookie between shots. There was no time to let go of the character here. And he didn’t feel he should be doing it anyway.
“This episode pushed me emotionally in ways I could never have expected or understood,” Feldstein said. “It was the most gruesome, painful acting experience I’ve ever had.”
Murphy, who directed the episode, asked her repeatedly if she felt okay with whether she could manage another take. Lewinsky is the show’s producer, and Feldstein, who met him for tea and texted with him frequently, felt an enormous responsibility to tell his story completely and authentically. “I only thought of honoring him every single day,” she said.
So when Murphy asked for another take, Feldstein rolled his eyes dry and stepped on his light. “I was like, this is for Monica, of course, I’m gonna go again,” she said.
Colin Hanks, who starred opposite Feldstein in “Man Handled,” took his intense, hour after, take after take.
“People think acting is easy, and many times it is,” Hanks said in a telephonic conversation. “But the stuff she was doing was like, man, I don’t know too many people who can withstand that kind of emotional attack.”
Mira Sorvino, who played Monica’s mother in the episode, praised her ability to be in the moment during “Man Handled”, even when those moments were painful. “She was always there emotionally,” Sorvino said while speaking by telephone. “That was a heavyweight for Benny and he carried it brilliantly.”
Feldstein’s natural buoyancy ensured that he was never too loaded for long periods of time. Paulson, who played Tripp, candidly talked about how light-hearted Feldstein kept himself when the cameras were finally off.
“It was really a wild learning experience just to think, ‘Wow, you can be really excellent at your job and not want to tear your skin out every five seconds,'” Paulson said. (She also said that while she typically wears character-appropriate perfume for each role, she left it for that. She didn’t want to send Feldstein to the hospital.)
But months later, Feldstein didn’t let the experience go. Not completely. “It’s the most tremendous responsibility I think I’ll ever have,” she said. “Because I know I’ll be playing real people again. I’m gonna play Fanny Brice. But nothing like that.”