A few moments after Julianne Moore appears in HBO's "Game Change" as Sarah Palin, Tina Fey's hilarious impersonation is forgotten.

"They are performing political satire," Moore says of the "Saturday Night Live" skits. "This is about illuminating the 60 days in American politics with as much veracity as I could muster."

She musters plenty. Moore's accent and stance are dead-on in March 10's movie that is based on Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's bestseller. It chronicles the two months after Palin was plucked from political obscurity to become the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee.

Moore recalls she was shocked when approached for the role. "I don't even know how they came up with the idea," she says, while relaxing in a hotel room in Pasadena, Calif.

Moore embarked on a 10-week intensive prep to portray Palin, clearing her calendar of anything except activities she needed to do with her children.

Choosing Sarah

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The film shows the cold calculations and absurd lack of vetting that went into picking the Alaska governor as Sen. John McCain's (Ed Harris) running mate.

Harris, who read the senator's books, says at a news conference, "You know, he's a man of a tremendous sense of honor and duty, and when he decided to go into politics, I think that, by his own admission, his ambition and his ego were in constant conflict with this sense of honor and duty and patriotism."

Palin was picked because political strategist Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) wanted a charismatic politician who he thought would carry the female vote.

"I'm not a Republican or, really, not really a Democrat. Probably more an anarchist," Harrelson says. "So the concept of playing this guy who, I think ideologically, couldn't be much, you know, further away from me, just felt like a real challenge."

The film shows in chilling detail that GOP strategists realized they were in trouble when Palin's lack of knowledge became evident. As experts briefed her, she took notes on which side Germany was on in World War II, and she did not know what NAFTA is.


On the other hand, Palin was fearless and an excellent campaigner.

As the movie continues, Palin's extreme inexperience is exposed, and political operatives worry that they have made a grave mistake. But it's too late.

Eventually they realize that Palin is an excellent actress, and if they give her a script -- though it must be one with which she agrees -- she is fine. At one point, however, the stresses of the campaign and of being separated from her family get to her, and everyone fears she will suffer a breakdown.

It's as a mom that Moore relates to Palin. "She's a really devoted parent," Moore says. "That baby was 4 months old, and one son was going to Iraq, and she had a teenage daughter who was pregnant. On the campaign, she was doing flash cards with the baby, putting people to bed and running for office."


advertisement | advertise on newsday

Going behind the scenes

Naturally, viewers know the outcome. But just as HBO did with "Recount," the political drama about the 2000 election -- from the same director and writer, Jay Roach and Danny Strong -- it's the telling of the behind-the-scenes story that makes this captivating.

Roach asked Palin to talk with them, but she declined.

"In terms of conjecture, of course, in any dramatization where you are condensing 60 days into two hours, having actors play the characters and trying to tell a kind of condensed version of what happened, there are things that we had to try to figure out how to tell without knowing exactly for sure what actually went down," Roach says. "But we had so many details available to us from Mark and John's great book, 'Game Change,' from Sarah Palin's books herself, and from the many, many interviews that Danny, and, in some places, I actually did to tell it as authentically as we possibly could with every detail we could possibly get right, right -- but, again, knowing that we would to some extent have to tell the best version of the story."

Moore does not bash Palin's politics. When she considers what haunts her about playing Palin, she weighs her words carefully. "I think it is an examination of the intricacies of the political process," Moore says. "Politics has become a form of entertainment. As a nation, it is something we are dissatisfied with, and it is time to take a look at that.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"I think what haunts me about the entire process is how little they knew when they picked her and continued to move forward," she says. "That to me is the most haunting about the electoral process, that a candidate can be presented to the American public who isn't ready."