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‘The Imitation Game’: The White House’s Oscar Favorite

Based on cryptic responses from inside the White House, President Obama and the first family’s viewing plans on Oscar night must be a closely guarded secret.

What can be safely assumed, though, is that executive branchers will be pulling hard Sunday for one nominee they can (almost) call one of their own — “The Imitation Game” scribe Graham Moore.

An Academy Award nominee for adapted screenplay, Moore becomes the Obama Administration’s de facto inside man because his mother, Susan Sher, served as First Lady Michelle Obama’s initial chief of staff and “confidant-in-chief” in the first years after the Obamas’ move from Chicago to Washington.

Michelle Obama lauded “The Imitation Game” and other films and TV shows last month for helping to break stereotypes about gay people. The film depicts Alan Turing’s heroic efforts to break a crucial Nazi code during World War II, even as he was ostracized for his homosexuality.

“You have the power to shape our understanding of the world around us,” the First Lady told a group of writers and creatives in a Jan. 30 speech. “You challenge our most strongly held beliefs.”

David Axelrod, previously President Obama’s top political strategist, also has praised screenwriter Moore’s biopic as “brilliantly written and acted,” adding, via Twitter, that the “riveting” film was ”Oscarworthy.”

Though they aren’t in the habit of choosing sides (and thus opponents) in most cultural and sporting contests, the Obamas have told Sher how proud they know she must be of her oldest son. Now an administrator at the University of Chicago Medical Center, Sher called all the attention “very sweet.”

Sher laughs that she does not need much prompting to kvell about her son, 33, and his early flights of both left- and right-brain fancy — thriving in science camp, playing in a band, then skimming through jobs as a bike messenger and a sound engineer in a nightclub.

Moore and his mother like to joke how, in early 2009, they both turned into couch-surfers. As an old Michelle Obama friend from Chicago, Sher had signed on in the White House but did not yet have a D.C. home. She crashed on a friend’s sofa. Graham did the same when he first arrived in L.A. to try his hand at scripting.

“We took turns telling each other, ‘You know, if this doesn’t work out, you can always come home,'” Moore recalled.

But Moore, who studied religious history at Columbia University, showed uncommon discipline. After toying with a few part-time jobs, he had already completed a novel, “The Sherlockian.” (The story follows a Sherlock Holmes buff who solves the murder of an Arthur Conan Doyle scholar. Jill Biden, wife of the Vice President Joe Biden, threw a book party in the couple’s official residence. It became a bestseller.)

To assure his professional dedication did not waver, Moore thought it best not to become a pajama-clad laptop jockey. So, early on, he developed a practice of dressing each day in jacket and tie. Then he would sit down in his tiny apartment to write.

“The coat and tie became a habit, and I still wear them every day,” Moore said. In Hollywood, that means he is often mistaken for an agent.

He spent years helping to bring Turing’s story — based on Andrew Hodges’ biography “Alan Turing: The Enigma” — to the screen. His screenplay hit the top of the Black List in 2011. Then there was revising. And more revising.

Moore called “The Imitation Game” “quietly insouciant in its politics,” suggesting people in his mother’s orbit might appreciate that. “We didn’t want to make a film that preached loudly to the converted,” he said, “but rather, we wanted to make a film that brought Alan Turing’s story to an audience that might not otherwise have been exposed to it.”

“The Imitation Game” was released in the U.S. last year on Christmas Day by the Weinstein Co. and has grossed $81 million so far.

Despite the awards season whirlwind — Moore has already won the adapted screenplay prize from the Writers Guild of America — he has managed to keep working on revisions to his second novel. It’s a legal thriller set in New York in the 1880s. That’s about all he’ll say for now.

Moore said he is looking forward to hosting his mother, brother and stepsister on Hollywood’s night of nights. And his mother — who once told him, “You better have a Plan B if this writing thing doesn’t work out” — is bursting. Said Sher: “We are all tremendously excited.”

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