Julianne Moore Personifies Sarah Palin in HBO's Game Change
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Washed-acetate gown, Bottega Veneta. Bangles, FROM TOP: Serpente bracelet in 18k pink gold, diamonds, and onyx; Parentesi openwork bracelet in 18k yellow gold with diamonds; Spiga bracelet in 18k yellow gold; and B.Zero1 bracelet in 18k yellow gold, Bulgari
|Dress, stylist’s own. Vintage necklace, yellow gold with yellow sapphire, citrines, and diamond, Bulgari|
Last year, when HBO Films announced it would be making a movie based on the tour de force best seller Game Change, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, insiders and political watchers were not particularly surprised. After all, it made sense to spin the behind-the-scenes tell-all of the roller-coaster 2008 presidential campaign into Hollywood gold. The contents were juicy, the dialogue sharp, the sourcing impeccable, and the characters ripe for portrayal. Ed Harris as Senator John McCain was plausible; although years younger, one could envision Harris as the formidable Republican candidate—a touch of hair and makeup magic, and voilà. McCain’s senior strategist Steve Schmidt would be played by Woody Harrelson; fair enough. Ron Livingston as Mark Wallace, an instrumental advisor to the McCain campaign; Peter MacNicol as Rick Davis; sprightly Sarah Paulson as Nicole Wallace—yes, those are all good fits, no raised eyebrows there.
However, it was the announcement of who would play vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin that had tongues wagging. Could Julianne Moore, the flame-haired, Manhattan-based actress with liberal leanings and a penchant for portraying complex middle-aged women in the throes of personal ennui, take on Mama Grizzly, with her Alaskan accent, French-twist updos, power suits, and gesticulations with a wink? Could Moore, as Palin famously put it, go rogue? “It never crossed my mind that I’d be asked to do it; it really came out of left field,” says Moore from her West Village home on a recent weekday afternoon, recalling her initial reaction to being offered the part. “So I sort of, well, I said yes, and then I didn’t really think about it until after I’d hung up the phone. And then I thought, Holy cow, how am I going to do this? But I was really intrigued by the idea, and that’s always how I prefer to start a project.”
What followed was an intense period of preparation, perhaps more than for any of her other roles. Moore had to wrap her brain around the notion of this character, someone whose personal beliefs were not only diametrically opposed to her own, but who was also very much alive and fresh in the minds of most Americans. “It was a crazy, crazy challenge just to attempt to portray her—a living and extremely well-known and well-documented figure,” says Moore. “I basically had two months to prepare, so I cleared my schedule of everything, literally. I cleared everything that didn’t involve my family—I just let go of it and spent all of my time doing the research.” Moore spent days with a vocal coach, watching Palin footage, listening to her vocal patterns, and reading everything that had been written about her. “It was total immersion. The trickiest thing is to take all these physical and vocal characteristics and somehow filter the character’s essence through them. And then you personally have to meet them somewhere, too. There’s this melding that has to happen.” If you’re thinking this is more than mere impersonation, you’re correct; Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live it most assuredly is not.
However, for Moore, playing Palin in Game Change, which debuts on March 10, meant more than conquering Palin’s physical mannerisms. It also meant coming to understand her public persona and the impact of her meteoric rise on the political stage. “She was so electrifying as a figure,” says Moore of Palin’s emergence, which changed everything about McCain’s campaign and altered the 2008 race for the White House. “One of the main things they talk about in the book, and we also talk about it a lot in the film, is the nature of charisma and star quality—and what that means to people and why they respond to it. We expect [candidates] to lead, and we expect them to be like movie stars, and that’s a pretty tall order.” Moore’s heat-seeking intellect quickly zeroed in on Palin’s advantage and the nature of candidate popularity as a whole. “We continue to respond to people who are the most charismatic. And it seems to me, when you have a candidate like [Palin] who has a natural ability to reach people, that sometimes shoves every other quality out the door.”
As Moore delved into the book and the background maneuverings while doing her research, she developed a visceral sense of what drove Palin’s popularity. Moore says she understood implicitly the qualities Palin used to keep Americans riveted to her every move. “Here’s a woman who’s a parent, who’s an actual working mother, who worked her way up from local government, who was definitely middle working class, married to a commercial fisherman. She was incredibly relatable, she was attractive, she was young; she was speaking to a wide portion of the population that didn’t feel that they’d been noticed or seen or heard,” explains Moore, sounding every inch the political historian. “In a way, she was representing an entire swath of the public that had previously felt invisible.”
Photography by Tesh/Corbis Outline; Styling by Freddie Leiba; Hair by Giannandrea; Makeup by Julie Harris
Celebrating the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner at Carnegie Library.