Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
At today’s TCA panel on HBO’s movie Game Change, director/executive producer Jay Roach said he tried to get Sarah Palin’s cooperation for the film about the 2008 presidential election, which is based on the book by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. “On behalf of the (film), I wrote a long letter explaining that I thought it would ‑‑ we would just do better at getting the story right if she would talk to us,” said Roach, also the director of HBO’s Recount, about the 2000 presidential race. “And I got a very quick email back from her attorney saying, ‘I checked. She declines.’ So I took that as, you know, the final answer.” Still, Game Change writer Danny Strong (who also penned Recount) said he was able to interview 25 people connected with the 2008 campaign. He did not get John McCain or his speechwriter Mark Salter but said, “I got everybody else, including people who are not portrayed in the film.”
Strong called Game Change nonpartisan and added that Republican politicians were very receptive to Recount (“James Baker threw us a premiere,” he said). Although the book covers on the entire campaign, including much material on the Obamas, the movie focuses on the McCain-Palin ticket and particularly on the Vice President candidate. Strong and Roach said the choice made sense for the movie because Palin’s rise from political obscurity was one of the great political stories of all time. Julianne Moore plays Palin, Ed Harris plays McCain and Woody Harrelson plays McCain’s campaign chief Steve Schmidt. The actors appeared on the panel today with Strong, while Roach was onscreen via satellite. Moore said she hired a voice coach to help her achieve Palin’s distinct speech patterns. When asked whether playing the controversial politician changed her opinion about the former Alaska governor, Moore said: “I have a profound respect for the historical nature of her candidacy.” Harris said that “my respect and my understanding of Sen. McCain, certainly deepened” after playing him onscreen. Deadpanned Harrelson, an outspoken democrat, about the film’s impact on him: “I’ve became a Republican.”
Roach was asked about the decision to use news footage in the movie. “One was there was no way we’d be able to really achieve the scale of the campaign without relying on archival footage, but we also thought it would be very interesting to see, especially things like the Katie Couric interview or the Anderson Cooper interview interwoven with what we were up to, to connect you to ‑‑ back to what those events actually felt like and how gripping some of those moments were,” he said. “And I really looked forward, actually, to the moment where Julianne Moore, as Sarah Palin, would be watching Tina Fey as Sarah Palin. I thought that would be a very interesting bit of the story.”
During the session, Strong said that the movie’s point is to examine how politics is intersecting with entertainment. “A USA Today story referred to the Republican primaries as American Idol,” he said. “It doesn’t matter, it’s ephemera, you are supposed to forget the next day.” After the panel, Strong told Deadline that the recent Republican debates have set the scene for Game Change to be appreciated. “The debates perfectly express what the film is about — seeing the electoral process become a reality,” he said. “Celebrity is more important than the issues, we wait for the candidates to be voted off the island. I think the 2008 campaign was the birth of that.” Asked whether he would have been as willing to take on a Democrat, Strong said: “Absolutely. I was dying to do the John Edwards movie, but Aaron Sorkin swooped in and bought up the rights.” Here is a new teaser for Game Change, which will be launched tonight before the Season 10 premiere of Real Time With Bill Maher: