Moore Than Meets the Eye

Sure, she’s a knockout, But it was Julianne Moore’s combination of blazing talent and quiet determination that propelled her from TV soaps to cinema stardom. Now she portrays controversial Sarah Palin in the new HBO movie Game Change while living a game change of her own—a happy family life with her younger husband 

by Leah Rozen
julianne moore image
Photograph: James White

Julianne Moore is mad for beavers. (You’re all mature. No sniggering, please.) “I always tell my children”—son Caleb is 14, and daughter Liv turns 10 in April—“that my favorite animal is the beaver, because it’s so industrious,” the actress says. Then she adds, laughing, “And when they grow up, they’ll be, ‘Can you believe she said that all the time?’ ”

But Moore is serious. “Beavers don’t seem that industrious when you look at them,” she continues, “but they make those dams, little by little.” She doesn’t just admire the toothy rodents; she identifies with them. “I am diligent,” she says. “That’s one of my qualities: diligence. Not very glamorous, but true.”

Her hard work (she has acted in nearly 50 movies, including Boogie Nights, Far from Heaven, The Kids Are All Right and last summer’s Crazy, Stupid, Love), combined with Streep-like subtlety, has led to four Oscar nominations and a reputation as an actress who fully inhabits her characters. And her stature will only be enhanced by Game Change, the made-for-HBO movie about Sarah Palin’s vice-presidential run, debuting March 10.

While the best-selling book on which the movie is based covered all the national candidates in the 2008 election, the film focuses on Palin and her increasing estrangement from Republican nominee John McCain (played by Ed Harris) and two key campaign advisers, Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) and Nicolle Wallace (Sarah Paulson).

Moore plays the former governor of Alaska and self-described hockey mom in all her contradictory glory. The portrait she creates is nuanced, complex—and surprisingly sympathetic (the film is less so, depicting Palin as intellectually and emotionally unprepared for the office to which she aspired). Moore, a registered Democrat who voted for Barack Obama, took the part for the challenge it presented. When director Jay Roach sent her the script, she says, “I was flabbergasted. I felt the role was as far away from me as I could possibly go. Once I said yes, I went into a full-fledged panic, because I was like, I don’t know where to start.”

But she did know. Step one was to wipe her iPod clean and fill it with the audio of Palin reading her memoir, Going Rogue; she also downloaded dozens of Palin speeches and interviews. For the two months before shooting began, Moore says, “I listened to her talk nonstop. I read every book that she wrote, the books that everybody else wrote about her, and I watched every speech and interview on YouTube. I immersed myself in her life, and I canceled everything else in my life.” What wasn’t part of her research: speaking to Palin in person. Moore says she didn’t even try to make contact. “I don’t think she was interested,” she says.

Moore’s intense preparation and commitment impressed her director. “I’ve never seen an actor work that hard to tap into the essence of a character,” Roach says. He remembers that Moore often suggested they substitute a line that Palin had actually spoken in an interview for a line in the script. “She would never push you on it, but if she had found something that was stronger or more authentic, she’d make a pitch for it. She won a lot of those debates,” adds Roach, who calls her performance “an embodiment, not an impersonation.” Costar Sarah Paulson says, “I never felt that she was commenting on Palin’s choices or her political moves from an acting perspective but rather that she was trying to play her with as much truth as possible.”

First published in the March 2012 issue

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