Jones, now 54, began working for the state of Arkansas in March 1991 and found herself in the spotlight three years later when she filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against former president Bill Clinton. In the Ryan Murphy series, premiering Tuesday, September 7, Jones is portrayed by Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford.
“It’s the dream of a lifetime, getting to play a role like this,” the actress, 36, told Glamour ahead of the first episode. “Especially in a series that is so beautiful from a creative standpoint, but also as an act of social justice. It’s forcing us to really look at ourselves with a deeper lens.”
While Jones has become somewhat of a controversial figure, Ashford believes her story still deserves to be told authentically.
“The whole point of the series is for us to reexamine this moment in time,” the Masters of Sex alum explained. “We’re really giving voice to a time in Paula’s life when she had no voice. These three women — Monica, Linda [Tripp] and Paula — had no agency over their stories.”
Though she was young when it happened, Ashford remembered “there was a lot of murky and gray knowledge” surrounding Jones’ involvement in the Lewinsky scandal and impeachment trial, she told the outlet. She also recalled “constant horrible comments about [Paula’s] nose and her physical appearance,” and when preparing for the role, wanted to shift the focus of Jones’ story.
“Her involvement in this giant story is really what unraveled the whole tapestry. It’s the first domino in the falling of the empire,” the Colorado native said. “That was interesting to me. … The media was really hard on these women when it came to their physical appearance — especially Paula Jones, to the point that she had two full make-overs during her time in the public eye, which included different hair and wardrobe. … I find that really heartbreaking and also a symptom of the patriarchy.”
Since settling her now-infamous lawsuit, Jones has taken a step away from public life, but continues to maintain that she’s a victim of Clinton’s. The 75-year-old politician, for his part, continues to deny the claims. In 2017, Jones hinted that she was ready to tell her story on her own terms in a memoir.
“Because there’s so much to be told about me and my upbringing and how people have tried to portray me, as though this is why Bill Clinton did what he did to me. They tried to find the people who would make me look bad — as though I deserved what I got, you know what I’m saying?” she told Vanity Fair at the time. “Nobody gives me an opportunity. … Why are they not interested? I feel like I’ve got some kind of plague or something.”
Jones faced intense scrutiny after bringing forward her allegations against the former Arkansas governor, but if pressed, she would do it all over again.
“Because I’m who I am today because of it,” she told Vanity Fair. “I’m a stronger person. I was a very, very introverted, shy, quiet, submissive-type person before all this. … I think it’s probably made it a lot better for women in the workplace because of what happened with my case.”
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