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Game Change – How Julianne Moore is uncannily like Sarah Palin

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Game Change - Julianne Moore and Ed Harris
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) and Arizona Senator John McCain (Ed Harris) © 2012 HBO

Based on the book of the same name, HBO’s movie Game Change offers a searing behind-the-scenes look at John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, from the selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, as McCain’s vice presidential running mate, to their defeat in the general election.

Four time Academy Award nominee, Julianne Moore (The Kids are Alright, Children of Men), looking and sounding uncannily like Sarah Palin, gives a stellar performance as the wannabe VP.

What did you do to prepare for playing Sarah Palin?

Game Change - Julianne Moore
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) © 2012 HBO

I did a tremendous amount of research. The first thing I did was hire a vocal coach because, for me, she has an incredibly idiosyncratic way of speaking, and I really felt I needed to capture that.

We looked at hours and hours of footage. There is a tremendous amount of documentation on Palin, and all of it is available on YouTube: her interviews with [Katie] Couric, [Charles] Gibson, Sean Hannity, Charlie Rose, the debates, the Republican National Convention, and various speeches and appearances throughout the country.

I listened to her on tape. I read her book. I read Game Change. I read her assistant’s book. I read absolutely everything I could get my hands on. I listened to her voice endlessly on my iPod. I basically immersed myself in the study of her, and attempted to authenticate her as completely as possible.

It’s a daunting task to play somebody who is not only a living figure, but a hugely well-known one. So, for me, the most important thing was accuracy. I wanted to be as accurate as possible, as I could in my characterization, certainly her physicality. Jay [Roach, the movie’s director] was enormously helpful.

We would sometimes just have the computer there when I was doing the debates to be able to watch things very precisely, like beat by beat, to get the gestures just right because we are all very familiar with her and with those iconic moments. It was just four years ago.

Was there any other material that assisted you?

Game Change - Jamey Sheridan, Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson
McCain speechwriter Mark Salter (Jamey Sheridan), Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) and Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) © 2012 HBO

One of the things that I watched was her reality show, Sarah Palin’s Alaska, to familiarize myself with the family and with her family dynamics. It was frankly adorable. She’s really a very caring, very involved parent.

When have we seen a [politically active] parent portrayed in that way? This is a woman who had a 19-year-old son and a four-month-old, and she was in politics. You don’t generally see that happening on a national stage.

So that too was something that was really compelling and very interesting about what she was juggling during those 60 days.

You have a lightning-rod role. You did not ridicule the family in any way, but it looked like you had to play her clueless in the beginning and then willful in the end. Can you talk about your choices?

Yeah, absolutely. I’m portraying a real human being and it’s my responsibility as an actor to portray them as accurately as possible. And her situation was a pretty extraordinary one. Here’s somebody who had been involved in state politics, who was suddenly thrust into international politics and in all of the research that I did, she was not prepared.

And so we have her displaying moments of sheer brilliance. Her unveiling, I think the whole country took a collective gasp, like, ‘Who is she? Where’s she from?’ She was so incredibly charismatic, so unbelievably able to communicate, and a true Populist.

But, of course, upon further inspection, she didn’t necessarily have the experience necessary to be able to lead our country as Vice President or potentially President of the United States. So that brilliance, of populism, of charisma, and her lack of experience [was] what we were attempting to dramatise.

Game Change - Director Jay Roach and Julianne Moore
Director and executive producer Jay Roach and Julianne Moore on set © 2012 HBO

What qualities do you share with Sarah Palin? Are you a ‘Momma Bear’ when it comes to your child?

I chased down an ice skating coach once because they messed up the music to my daughter’s program! So I think we’ve all had experiences that maybe we’re not so proud of, where we’ve gotten very intense about our children.

So, absolutely, I can relate to that.  I think every parent can relate to it.

In terms of the pressure that she was under, it was interesting because I was in a [similar] situation once. As an actor, when you are working, and people keep changing the lines, you are memorizing a new set of lines every day. That was one of the things that was happening to her.

They were coaching her, and they would say, ‘Now approach it from this angle.’ And then somebody else would say, ‘No. This idea is better.’ Anyone can relate to that as a human being. And, certainly, when you are called upon to perform that way, with that much pressure, I think it’s incredibly relatable.

Has your opinion changed about her since playing her?

Game Change - Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson
Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) and Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) © 2012 HBO

I certainly have a profound respect for the historical nature of her candidacy. From where she was taken out of state government, to be thrust onto an international stage like this [where there] was a tremendous amount of pressure.

What was that pressure-cooker atmosphere? What does that do to somebody psychologically? The fact that she was able to perform the way she was able to was simply amazing.

Game Change is premiering on HBO on March 10, 2012