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John McCain and Sarah Palin Were HBO’s Second Choice, Too

Hollywood crossed paths with Capitol Hill on Thursday night as the stars and creators of HBO’s “Game Change” attended a media-saturated sneak preview at D.C.’s Newseum.

The movie, which debuts 9 p.m. Saturday, trains all its attention on the polarizing race run by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential election. But as anyone who read the exhaustive campaign diary penned by journos Mark Halperin and John Heilemann knows, the political landscape they scoured stretched much farther than Seward’s Icebox.

“Game Change” screenwriter Danny Strong (Warren Rojas/CQ Roll Call)

According to “Game Change” screenwriter Danny Strong, HBO originally tried to go another way with the story.

“HBO started to develop a Hillary-Obama script. They spent about a year doing that, and they weren’t able to make that work,” Strong said of the stalled project. After director Jay Roach decided to give the McCain-Palin saga the feature-length treatment, the self-described “political junkie” signed on and began streamlining the now-familiar story lines.

Palin and McCain have both gone out of their way to distance themselves from the project. But Roach said their omnipresence in the modern news cycle often made it hard to differentiate between life and art midshoot.

“Sometimes I would see real Sarah Palin on TV at night and I would become disoriented,” Roach told HOH. “But then the bubble would break and I’d realize we were making a movie.”

Actress Julianne Moore (Warren Rojas/CQ Roll Call)

Julianne Moore, who studied video clips and news reports in preparation for playing Palin, was apparently shocked and awed by the both the grueling pace and breakneck speed of a modern political campaign. “You just don’t consider that the ground is shifting underneath them every day,” she said. “I thought it’d be a lot more organized.”

Sarah Paulson, who plays McCain-Palin senior adviser Nicolle Wallace in the film, was also empathetic. “Oh lord, it would be a similar situation if it were me,” she suggested of the deer-in-the-headlights episodes that ultimately doomed Palin’s candidacy.

Further blurring the lines between reality and life on the red carpet was the fact that many of the folks we spotted sipping champagne and gabbing into microphones at the “Game Change” reception are the same people we see on TV talking about politics every day. CNNers Howard Kurtz and Dana Bash were there, for instance.

MSNBC talk-show host Mika Brzezinski (Warren Rojas/CQ Roll Call)

MSNBC talking head and “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski was there. (She told HOH she “loved” the film.)

MSNBC talk-show host Joe Scarborough (Warren Rojas/CQ Roll Call)

So was her co-host, former Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.). To wit, a devoted “Morning Joe” listener standing just behind the interviewer offered the following assessment of Scarborough’s political career: “He was a great Congressman because he didn’t take anything too seriously.”

So glad our elected officials are doing such a great job of keeping everyone entertained.


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