Annaleigh Ashford on Transforming Herself Into Paula Jones for ‘American Crime Story’


And then the next thing that I think of is her involvement in the political arena over the last five-plus years. She was one of the people that Donald Trump invited to be a guest at the second presidential debate with Hillary Clinton.

You worked with a movement and vocal coach to play Paula, so what was that like?

I did some movement work that I thought was really important. I noticed in my research that, physically, she was much more closed off. There was a childlike quality about her in the beginning. As she got some media training, you can see it change. You can see her get more confident as the years go by. She knows how to talk to people about uncomfortable conversations, so I wanted to show that. What’s really fascinating is that even though her hair changed and she got braces and had a nose job, she always had the same mascara and eyeliner. I felt like her eye makeup grounded her in this kind of sweet, special way, and her accent and her cadence and the timbre of her voice also really stayed kind of consistent through all those years. Those were things that I focused on.

I watched a recent video of Paula Jones, and it’s remarkable how much you sound identical to her. 

Thank you. I was shooting B Positive and Crime Story at the same time, so sometimes there would be a couple of weeks where I’d been away from Paula. So the night before I would play her, I would check in with her, like, “Hello, old friend.” I’d watch lots of clips of her. There was something about her spirit that came so naturally to me. I think part of it is because I’m also a people pleaser. I try not to be, but I also sometimes speak higher in my vocal register when I’m trying to please even more. I’m a caretaker, I’m maternal, so there’s things about her spirit that connect with me somehow. It always felt like an easy fit.

At the Television Critics Association summer press tour, you mentioned you were in hair and makeup for only 30 minutes. That astonished me.

I realized I should have said that was just for the prosthetic nose. The rest of it took, like, three hours. There was at least six days where my call time was 4 a.m. I think I even had one at 3:45 a.m.. But it was never as long in hair and makeup as Sarah Paulson. She had the lion’s share.

I’ve seen the first five episodes; so far, you don’t have any scenes with Sarah or Beanie Feldstein. I assume you won’t, since they never really cross paths in person, correct? 

I never worked with them. We never saw each other. We would send each other messages through the crew. Like, “Tell Beanie I love her! Tell Sarah I love her!” They’re both geniuses. I knew the material they were getting to work on, so I was like, “Send them my love for this, because they’ve got a crazy week of, like, really hard stuff.” It was just gorgeously written. [Writer] Sarah Burgess did a phenomenal job.

You do work a lot with Judith Light, who plays Susan Carpenter-McMillan, a conservative advocate and spokesperson for Paula Jones. 

I love Judith Light and think that her name is just so apropos. She is a light in this world. It’s always a delicious treat to get to play with Judith, especially in this circumstance. It’s amazing that she played somebody who didn’t have really my best interests at heart because in real life she has only my best interest at heart. Working with her and Taran Killam, who plays my husband…it was like having a party amid all this really heavy material. We laughed so much and had so much for love for one another. I am so grateful for both of them.


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