Less than a year after President Obama was inaugurated, journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin released the definitive chronicle of the heated 2008 election. Game Change was an immediate best-seller, offering a shocking behind-the-scenes look at four of the major presidential campaigns. While Obama, the Clintons, and John Edwards weren’t given any passes in the book, it was the McCain/Palin campaign that proved to be the most fascinating storyline. As Sarah Palin and her family were ripped apart by the national media and their personal secrets and faults exposed on front pages across the country, the story seemed ripe for a film adaptation. This Saturday, just two years after the book’s publication, Jay Roach’s Game Change will premiere on HBO with a big-name cast featuring Julianne Moore as Palin and Ed Harris as John McCain.
But you can’t make a movie about Sarah Palin without including her daughter, Bristol, who was pushed into the spotlight as the poster girl for teenage pregnancy. Stepping into the crucial role is Melissa Farman, with whom we spoke about the controversial film, working with Julianne Moore, and the pressure of playing a real-life celebrity.
It’s nearly impossible to not know the story of Game Change already, but had you read the book before you started shooting?
I did! I’m actually a senior at University of Southern California where I’m a double-major in political science and English lit. I was actually reading the book for class a few months before I auditioned. So it’s funny, having studied the book and kind of seeing the script come to life just a few months later.
It’s interesting that it’s focusing primarily on the McCain/Palin campaign, which I think is the more juicy part of the story. Was it kind of a challenge to portray someone is who still alive and still making news? Were you hesitant about that?
I think it’s daunting. You have a responsibility toward that person that is very much alive, not only just alive but alive in the media. There’s definitely going to be a lot more scrutiny, and there’s a sense of wanting not to just mimic the person and wanting to be free to create a character. At the same time, having that responsibility is what makes it all the more exciting. It’s also helpful to have someone who’s so much in the public’s conscience right now, in the sense that there was so much media around Bristol. The film focalizes on the campaign trail and how all of a sudden she was thrown into the limelight. I could really watch so much footage of her really getting used to the camera and kind of developing her personality once she was on the public stage. There was a lot of material for me to study, which was great.
I saw the Palin people have already attacked the film.
My cousin just sent me a YouTube video where some Palin supporter re-cut the trailer to show that the film was full of lies. There’s concern for sure, but, you know, if a movie’s being made about you, you’re going to wonder if it’s going to be what you want it to be. I think the film is a very balanced portrayal of Sarah Palin. In politics there’s always bound to be controversy, but I think this is storytelling, and it shows the behind-the-scenes of a campaign — both positive and negative. I think the film really empathizes on a personal level with Sarah Palin the woman. I think that’s something that maybe the Sarah Palin team is scared is not going to happen, but it does.
Has Bristol said anything?
No, she has not come out with anything publicly. I know Megan McCain has, but Bristol hasn’t.
How was it working with Julianne Moore? Is she kind of like an awesome movie mom?
Oh my gosh, it’s amazing. You know, I grew up idolizing her. She’s one of the reasons I started acting. As a kid I was super shy, so my mother put me on stage to help me get rid of my shyness, which is kind of a practical joke when you think of it. But then as I got into theatre, my mom and I would watch movies and go to plays together, and one of my mother’s favorite actresses was Julianne Moore. I grew up basically watching everything Julie did. Having her as an on-screen mom was kind of surreal, but the second I met her I got over it. She’s just so down to earth and makes everyone around her family. She’s really hard-working, and it’s really wonderful for me to watch her work because here’s someone who is at the top of her game and has had such an amazing career. Still, she just keeps working at it, challenging herself in such new ways. Watching her do this and carve this character out when we were working together was really, really inspiring.
You’re currently in school now. Are you finishing up this year?
I’ll probably be finishing up in the summer.
What’s it like balancing an acting career and school?
It’s hard. I was just on CSI last week and I missed a few classes, and the deal with my teachers is that if I miss a class I’ll do double the work. So it’s definitely a commitment, but it means a lot for me to be in school. I love being in school personally, and it gives me a sanctuary where you’re in the city of youth and your only responsibility is to learn; then you go out there in the real world and you’re working. Being a political science and lit major really kind of fuels my acting because I’m really just studying human nature all day and studying storytelling. I’m taking it from a different perspective, so that really fits well with my career.
Do you have anything lined up for once you’re finished?
You’re going to see my on CSI and then on TNT’s Perception, which is coming out in the summer. I got to play the role of Joan of Arc, and my grandmother is very excited. She’s French, so it’s finally a role she’s proud of. Usually I’m with a gun, or pregnant!
Photo by Peter Svenson