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‘Game Change’ and the Challenges of Casting Obama

By Alyssa Rosenberg  

"‘Game Change’ and the Challenges of Casting Obama"

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I’ll have longer thoughts on Game Change, HBO’s adaptation of John Heilmann and Mark Halperin’s 2008 campaign book, closer to the movie’s air date. But one thing that struck me as strange about the movie was that it focuses entirely on John McCain and Sarah Palin, a story that’s both been done to death and is essentially irrelevant: Palin is a PR phenomenon and McCain will never be president. They’ve both returned from whence they came. By contrast, the story of how President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarded each other in the buildup to and during the 2008 campaign, and how they came to be partners rather than enemies, is both directly relevant to ongoing events and a much richer story than that of John McCain’s taking a flyer on his VP selection.

But I wonder if part of the problem is that it would be extremely difficult to cast a credible Obama. Fred Armisen’s impression of the president is laughable. Jordan Peele has Obama’s voice entirely locked down, but he doesn’t particularly look like him. I have no idea if Adrian Lester has the voice, or could figure out how to do it, but he’s got the look, or could pull it off plausibly. I also really like the idea of the main character from Primary Colors, who was responsible for wrangling John Travolta’s Bill Clinton stand-in character, returning to the movies as Obama. There are obvious decent stand-ins for Hillary: Emma Thompson could also step back into those shoes post Primary Colors, not to mention my personal favorite candidate Judith Light. But Obama is tricky—and important—to get right.

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