PASADENA, Calif. - When sizing up Sarah Palin for the HBO movie "Game Change," in which she plays the former vice-presidential candidate, actress Julianne Moore knew what she had to master immediately.
"The first thing I did was hire a vocal coach because, for me, she has an incredibly idiosyncratic way of speaking," says the North Carolina-born Moore.
The movie (debuting 9 p.m. ET Saturday, with repeats through March 31), based on the book of the same name, focuses on Republican John McCain's (Ed Harris) 2008 bid for the White House. But it's the arrival of Moore on the screen in a hypnotizing performance as Palin that will rivet audiences.
Critics are already saying Moore's performance is award-worthy.
Moore, who has been nominated for four Academy Awards, says she took the role seriously and stands by the project as being accurate. "Game Change" shows a Palin, at the time Alaska's governor, who is overwhelmed once on the national stage.
Moore pored over video footage and studied Palin's mannerisms. The actress, 51, routinely spent hours in the makeup chair. The time was needed just to get Moore's skin tone to match Palin's.
Even with all the preparation, Moore had to fight the numerous Palin impersonations that had emerged -- most notably, Tina Fey's.
"Everything we tried to do we tried to do accurately, to match (Palin)," Moore says. "The audience will know in an instant if you don't get something right.
"Obviously, I'm never going to be her, but I want to portray her as tightly as possible."
Politically, Moore and Palin don't have matching views. During the 2004 presidential election, Moore donated $2,000 to John Kerry's presidential campaign, and she's been a pro-choice activist.
Beyond the physical challenges of looking like Palin, Moore had the task of understanding her.
"She was only allowed to talk to certain media outlets (during the campaign), and she began to feel her (personality) was prescribed," she says.
"She couldn't understand why (the Republicans) brought her in for her abilities (to connect with people) and then not let her use (those talents fully)."
The marketing of politics was something Moore hadn't considered in detail until she played Palin.
"The way she looked, the clothes she wore ... I found it all interesting because that sort of (detail) is what (actors) do in (their) business," she says.
Palin did not cooperate in the making of the movie and would not speak with Moore about playing her.
"I tried to be as balanced and as fair as possible with the materials we had," Moore says. "I have thought a lot about what I would have asked her if I had had the chance."
Moore read as many books as she could about Palin -- including her own book and the books of those who worked with her during the campaign.
"I watched her on television and listened to her voice," Moore says. "I tried to do the best I could to (play her)."
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)