Julianne Moore didn’t go as far as to move into a house she could see Russia from, but the actress was very serious about going the extra mile to create the definitive portrayal of Sarah Palin for HBO’s telepic “Game Change." The film focuses on John McCain's failed 2008 bid for the presidency and Palin's impact on both the campaign and politics as a whole. "Game Change" co-stars Ed Harris as McCain, and premieres this Saturday on HBO.
What kind of research did you do to prepare for playing Sarah Palin?
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 so I worked with a coach. We looked at hours and hours of footage. 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. You know, 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, I mean, certainly even her physicality. We would sometimes just have the computer there when I was doing the debates and things to be able to watch things very precisely, like beat by beat, to get the gesture just right because we are all very familiar with her and with those sort of iconic moments. I mean, it was just four years ago.
Did your opinion change of her as you were doing your research in playing this role?
I have profound respect for the historical nature of her candidacy. I mean, from where she was taken out of in state government, to be thrust into a national and international stage like this – that was a tremendous amount of pressure, and that was the other thing I was attempting to capture. What was that like, 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.
How much did the physical transformation to her style help inform you about the role?
It helped tremendously. I spent two and a half hours in makeup every day. And it was an exciting challenge for me and for my hair and makeup people. We really poured over all the photos we had of her and all the tape. Her movements, her mannerisms, the way she holds her mouth, the size of her eyes. The glasses were exactly her frames. Everything we tried to match as accurately as possible, because the audience is not going to believe you for one minute if you are not as close to that person as possible. Obviously I am never going to be her. But I need to portray her as precisely as possible. That is what we try to do.
What were some of the less obvious elements of Palin that you wanted to get across?
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. And so we have her displaying moments of sheer brilliance. I think, certainly, in her unveiling, I think the whole country took a collective gasp, like, "Who is she? Where is she from?" She was so incredibly charismatic, so unbelievably able to communicate, and a true Populist. And in a country where most of our leaders have been Ivy League‑educated white men, suddenly here was this working‑class mother who just popped out and seemed to be able to command the world. 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's what we were attempting to dramatize, her moments of brilliance, of populism, of charisma, and her lack of experience. One of the things that I watched was her reality show, you know, "Sarah Palin's Alaska," to kind of familiarize myself with the family and with her family dynamic, and, you know, that'sfrankly adorable. I mean, she's really a very caring, very involved parent, nd to see that politically as well, I mean, when have we seen a 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.
There have been so many parodies interpretations of Palin. Reading some of those famous soundbytes, was it almost hard to keep a straight face?
No, it wasn’t. I don’t crack up a lot when I am working. I am pretty serious. I think what is pretty interesting is how well known some of those lines were. We all remember her saying them. People are looking for that, too.
After doing this, do you think she might have been treated unfairly in the press?
Well, I think the amount of pressure she was under – and all the voices coming at her –was incredibly challenging. That was something we, the American public, were not aware of – who she was. She was sequestered, essentially. She was only allowed to talk with certain media outlets. Everything she said was prescribed. She didn’t understand why they had brought her in as a vice presidential candidate for her abilities and then not let her use them, so that was kind of an interesting thing. I was not aware that campaigns were conducted that way, and I certainly wasn’t aware that people are educated, dressed, made up. That is much more like what we do in our business, in show business.
She obviously didn’t cooperate with the making of the film and wouldn’t talk to you. But if she did, what would you have liked to talk with her about?
I don’t know. I haven’t thought about that. I know that in my portrayal, I tried to be as balanced and as fair as possible using the tools that we had. I read her book. I read her assistant’s book. I read all the other books about the election. I watched her on television. I listened to her voice. I tried to represent her the best I could with the research I was able to gather.
How do you make the decision in your own life of what causes you are going to support?
I think everybody responds to things that move us personally. A lot of my issues are about early childhood education and poverty in the United States, because I moved around a lot as a kid. And I saw it. It is always important to address that sort of income inequality here -- especially with children.
"Game Change" premieres Saturday, March 10th at 9 PM on HBO