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).”
Other highlights for the week ahead (listings subject to change; check local listings):
“Harry’s Law” (8 p.m., NBC). Kathy Bates returns as the rascally attorney, who files a lawsuit against a cigarette company. The case also forces Harry to face a lawyer from her past.
“Real Fear” (8 p.m., Chiller). This documentary looks at the true-life events that inspired classic horror movies.
“Shahs of Sunset” (10 p.m., Bravo). A group of Persian-Americans living in Hollywood is the center of this new reality series.
“Fashion Star” (9:30 p.m., NBC). The future of fashion rests in the hands of judges Jessica Simpson and Nicole Richie in this new talent search. Does this mean we’ll be seeing more cutoff jeans in Macy’s and H&M?
“My Super Psycho Sweet 16 Part 3” (10 p.m., MTV). A two-time survivor of serial-killer attacks goes to college and finds yet another menace lurking — and it’s not midterms.
“South Park” (10 p.m., Comedy Central). The animated comedy marks its 16th season, and those potty-mouth kids are still in fourth grade.
“Restaurant Stakeout” (10 p.m., Food Network). A New York restaurateur shows eatery owners what’s really happening when their customers aren’t watching.
“Missing” (8 p.m., ABC). Ashley Judd stars in this action drama about a mom (and federal agent) searching for her son, who disappears without a trace.
“Behind The Music” (9 p.m., VH1). The stories behind artists such as Pitbull and T-Pain are explored when this docu-series returns for a new season.
“In Plain Sight” (10 p.m., USA Network). Entering the fifth and final season, witness-protection agent Mary Shannon (Mary McCormack) tries to juggle her job and the challenges of having a baby in her care.
“Leprechaun’s Revenge” (9 p.m., Syfy). A teenage girl accidentally releases an evil leprechaun on a small town on St. Patrick’s Day.