Director: ‘Game Change’ humanizes Palin, McCain

Julianne Moore, who plays Sarah Palin in
Julianne Moore, who plays Sarah Palin in "Game Change," and director Jay Roach attend a screening of the movie Wednesday.
  • "Game Change" explores the decision-making process of the 2008 GOP ticket
  • Director Jay Roach: "(Sarah Palin) spoke to people's disenchantment with politicians"
  • Roach: "There were a lot of things that drew people to (Palin) immediately"

(CNN) -- HBO's new political docudrama "Game Change" isn't just any made-for-TV movie inspired by reality.

The film explores the behind-the-scenes decision-making process that guided the 2008 McCain/Palin presidential ticket, and the human qualities of both candidates. Director Jay Roach ("Austin Powers," "Meet the Parents") didn't want to just rehash the story lines that dominated the news that fall.

In addition to some of the widely publicized stories -- from the vetting process to the Katie Couric interview and the "Saturday Night Live" sketches -- "Game Change" shows how the campaign staffers, particularly Steve Schmidt (played by Woody Harrelson), tried to control the candidates' perceptions of themselves and counter Barack Obama's platform.

"It's interesting that politicians are forced to study perpetually their own media depictions as well as focus on the issues and what they actually care about," Roach told CNN. "I'm fascinated by the spin doctors. That whole culture of behind-the-scenes, occasionally dark art, or message management and campaign strategy is just fascinating. I hope this film could tap into (it), and raises questions about it."

"Game Change," which premieres Saturday at 9 p.m., stars Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin and Ed Harris as John McCain.

Here's what Roach told CNN about the film:

CNN: Palin and McCain associates have labeled the film as an inaccurate attack. Why would they say this?

Jay Roach on 'Game Change' criticisms

Jay Roach: No, that's the big question. It's tough to even respond when you hear people criticize something they haven't seen. Obviously they've seen the trailer and read the book, so it's not a huge surprise that they'd take issue with it. I wish they'd see the film because it has a very evenhanded tone to it, in trying to get the story right and allow anybody with any prejudices against the main characters to go past the media iconography and see them as human beings. They are human beings who are trying to do what they think is right. They have strengths and they have weaknesses.

Julianne Moore talks playing Sarah Palin

One of the things that makes McCain more relatable is the fact that he curses a lot.

'Game Change' dir. on production process

I thought so. Even when I was reading the book I had that reaction. You don't get to see behind the scenes. I've been around enough people in politics that it's not that uncommon. But it is jarring when you see a senator for decades go off like that. I asked ("Game Change" authors) Heilemann and Halperin if that was for real and were they just spicing up their book. They said, "No, no. We might be under-representing it." Keep in mind, he's a fighter pilot. He grew up in a military family. I agree with you, it did make him seem more human.

The film presents the idea that politicians are constructed by mass media and that's what makes or breaks them.

We're all in a culture where we all are increasingly putting out a media version of ourselves, whether on Facebook or our tweets. It is unique in politics how much it's become about managing an avatar version of the candidate in the public. You have to be fascinated by what the contrast is to that: the iconic version of that person versus what they're dealing with as human beings. In certain ways, they're even more transparent because they're being followed 24 hours a day. But in another way, they're much less transparent because their guard is so much up and the image makers are so busy adjusting it. That's what hooked me so much to this film.

Tina Fey famously spoofed Palin during the election cycle. Did you and Julianne consult with her at all about playing Palin?

No, we didn't. We made a deliberate choice to separate what Julianne was going to do from what Tina had done. What (Fey) did was powerful and kind of brilliant. Often using Sarah Palin's own words, she was able to point out that Palin wasn't prepared well and she didn't have time really to get properly schooled, if you will. We were also constantly aware of people's perception that we may go somewhere towards the Tina Fey version.

Some people were very critical of Palin. Was it important to you to understand those people who did connect with her?

Many members of my close family are Sarah Palin fans. In fact, I got e-mails from them when it was announced and they said, "Don't pick on Sarah." So I had access to a number of people who were not just admirers, but fully committed, devoted people. (Palin) spoke to people's disenchantment with politicians in general, how things work in government and feeling, to some extent, cut off from being able to do anything about it. That's understandable. There were things about her in 2008 that were impressive.

She had 80% popularity. She did take on oil interests in Alaska and raised taxes on the oil companies and was able to give checks back to people in Alaska. She really was a maverick, a charismatic mother of five, and was sending her son off to Iraq. She really was a person who started her political career fighting for local issues she cared about. There were a lot of things that drew people to her immediately. And once you're hooked on that, then it was completely understandable that people became followers.