Step aside Tina Fey: there’s a new Sarah Palin in town. Julianne Moore becomes Palin incarnate in Game Change, a made-for-TV movie which details the inner workings of John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid. And though the film — which debuts Saturday night on HBO — focuses on the campaign, it’s Moore’s Palin who steals the show thanks in part to her amazing physical transformation.
“The tanner, the eyes and the hair,” Melissa Farman, who portrays Bristol Palin in the film, told PEOPLE Wednesday at the New York premiere. “You forgot it was Julianne Moore.”
“It was the great jacket, [the clothes] were all perfect,” Sarah Paulson, who plays campaign advisor Nicolle Wallace, added of Moore’s pricey wardrobe. “But what she did with her body and her voice … it was her physicality, the way she stood. [She] was a dead ringer.”
Visiting Moore on set was “shocking” for the star’s family, husband Bart Freundlich told PEOPLE. “We took some pictures with the kids, and it’s like us with Sarah Palin,” he said. “We weren’t freaking out, because we’ve all been on so many sets with her. But it was kind of eerie, uncanny. Being a guy, I couldn’t dissect it, to figure out what was making her look like that.” The answer? “When she would take off the wig, I’d think, ‘Oh, that was a wig!'”
Moore told PEOPLE a lot of the transformation was in the skin tone. “She’s very tanned,” she said of Palin, “and I’ve never been tan in my life. So just changing my skin to that color took a lot. I don’t tan, I just get freckly, so we had to cover up my freckles, then darken my skin, and there was contouring. We have a different architecture to our faces.”
Phillip V. Caruso/HBO
The process required more than two hours in the makeup chair each morning, continuing with lips — “They were redrawn,” Moore shared — and eyes. “We matched the color of the eyes very carefully,” she explained. “I asked to make the iris of the lens bigger than my iris … she has enormous brown eyes, so it made my eyes look bigger.” (To achieve that look, the makeup team turned to Dr. Mitchell Cassel of Studio Optix, who also transformed Nicole Kidman‘s eyes in The Hours.)
Next came nails — “It was all about the [fake] nails,” Moore said — then there was eye makeup, and finally, those signature glasses. “The glasses were exactly the same ones [Palin] wears,” Moore said. “But they were scaled down, because my face is a little bit smaller.”
Once the look was complete, how did Moore feel? “It was pretty interesting, because I’d forget sometimes,” she admitted. “We had long days. So when you came into the makeup trailer and you started to wipe it all off, it was always a surprise that it was me again. People were like, ‘Oh, wow!'”
“People” meaning the film’s staff, and even a few strangers. “I was there every day. And we would just be in awe of her,” added Danny Strong, who penned the screenplay and executive produced the project with Tom Hanks. “And one day a FedEx guy came on the set and said, ‘Whoa … is that Sarah Palin?'” Mission accomplished.
Saturday, March 10 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. Tell us: Will you be watching?