“Game Change,” the best-selling account of the 2008 presidential election by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, only dedicates a portion of its chapters to John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. But that polarizing moment is the focus of the HBO film “Game Change,” which stars Ed Harris as McCain, Woody Harrelson as his campaign strategist Steve Schmidt and Julianne Moore as their “star” — the then-relatively-unknown Palin. Moore captures the likeness of the former governor with uncanny precision — without devolving into a “Saturday Night Live” parody.
“It’s a daunting task to play somebody who is not only a living figure, but a hugely well known one,” Moore says. “So, for me, the most important thing was accuracy.”
The actress put a “tremendous amount of research” into understanding America’s most famous hockey mom, including, she says, reading “everything I could get my hands on.” At the top of her list was Palin’s memoir, “Going Rogue: An American Life,” as well as “Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin: A Memoir of Our Tumultuous Years” by Palin aide Frank Bailey — and, of course, “Game Change.”
Moore also watched hours of footage on the campaign, and even had video on hand while filming scenes to nail the candidate’s physicality. “We would have the computer there when I was doing the debates to watch things very precisely, like beat by beat, to get the gesture just right,” she explains.
But the first thing the actress did was hire a vocal coach. “[Palin] has an incredibly idiosyncratic way of speaking,” Moore says, “and I needed to capture that. We are all very familiar with her and with those sort of iconic moments. I mean, it was just four years ago.”
‘Moments of real brilliance’
The unveiling of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 presidential election certainly was a “game changer.”
“I think the whole country took a collective gasp, like, ‘Who is she? Where is she from?’” Moore muses. “She was so incredibly charismatic, so unbelievably able to communicate, and a true populist.”
But upon further inspection, Palin didn’t have “the experience necessary to be able to lead our country as vice president or potentially president,” Moore says. “So that’s what we were attempting to dramatize [in the film]: her moments of real brilliance, of populism, of charisma — and her lack of experience.”