A few moments after Julianne Moore appears onscreen in HBO’s Game Change as Sarah Palin, Tina Fey’s hilarious impersonation is forgotten.
“They are performing political satire,” Moore says of the SNL skits while relaxing in a hotel room in Pasadena. “[Game Change] is about illuminating the 60 days in American politics with as much veracity as I could muster.”
She musters plenty. Moore’s accent and stance are dead-on in the movie, which is based on Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s bestseller.
Moore recalls she was shocked when approached about the role. “I don’t even know how they came up with the idea,” Moore says. She embarked on a 10-week intensive prep, and wiped her calendar free of anything except activities she needed to do with her children.
The film shows the cold calculations, and absurd lack of vetting, which went into picking the extremely popular Alaska governor as Sen. John McCain’s (Ed Harris) running mate in the 2008 presidential election.
There are scenes that are chilling when the political ramifications are considered. Palin was picked as the vice presidential candidate because political strategist Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) wanted a charismatic politician who he thought would carry the female vote. The GOP strategists, however, realized they were in trouble when experts briefed her and her lack of knowledge became evident. She took notes on what side Germany was on in World War II and did not know what NAFTA was.
On the other hand, she was fearless and an excellent campaigner. Palin was undaunted by the Republican stronghold and had no problem going rogue.
As the movie goes on, and Palin’s extreme inexperience is exposed, the political operatives worry that they have made a grave mistake, but it is too late. Eventually they realize that Palin is an excellent actress and if they give her a script — critically, it must be one with which she agrees — she is fine. At one point, however, the stresses of the campaign and of being separated from her family get to Palin, and the political bosses fear she will break down.
It’s as a mom that Moore relates to Palin.
“She’s a really devoted parent,” Moore says. “That baby was 4 months old and one son was going to Iraq and she had a teenage daughter who was pregnant. On the campaign, she was doing flashcards with the baby, putting people to bed and running for office.”
Naturally, viewers know the outcome, but just as HBO did with the political drama Recount, by the same director and writer — Jay Roach and Danny Strong — it is the telling of the behind-the-scenes story that makes this film captivating.
“I think it is an examination of the intricacies of the political process,” Moore says. “Politics has become a form of entertainment. As a nation, it is something we are dissatisfied with and it is time to take a look at that.”
Moore does not bash Palin’s politics or say anything remotely disrespectful. When she considers what haunts her about playing the woman who could have been — and could still be — president, Moore says, “I think what haunts me about the entire process is how little they knew when they picked her and [yet they] continued to move forward.”
She reflects on the wardrobe scenes, in which Palin spent $150,000 on clothes for her and her family, and on the lessons experts gave her and how teams worked to polish her.
“That to me is the most haunting about the electoral process,” she says, “that a candidate can be presented to the American public who isn’t ready.”
Game Change premieres on HBO March 10.