James Hibberd
January 13, 2012 AT 08:10 PM EST

HBO’s Game Change portrays Sarah Palin as having an emotional meltdown during her 2008 bid for the vice presidency and displaying such a lack of basic political knowledge that she has to be taught that the United States fought Germany during World War II. Yet when promoting the upcoming film at the network’s press tour presentation in Pasadena, the film’s writer and cast told critics they have plenty of respect for the former Alaska governor.

“I have profound respect for the historical nature of her candidacy,” said Julianne Moore, who plays Palin. “From where she was taken in state government and thrust into national, even international [politics]. There was a tremendous amount of pressure. That’s another thing I was attempting to capture: What was that like? That pressure cooker kind of atmosphere? What does that do to somebody psychologically? The fact she was able to perform the way she did was simply amazing.”

Moore hired a vocal coach to nail Palin’s Alaska-meets-Fargo accent and says she read everything she could get her hands on about the candidate. The resulting portrayal is a rather remarkable likeness, though fans of Palin might object to moments where she’s depicted as utterly clueless. At one point, a character worries that Palin is having a nervous breakdown. In another, she yells “I am not your puppet!” into her cell phone, presumably to one of McCain’s staffers. Filmmakers assured the film is accurate based on all available accounts. Palin did not agree to be interviewed for Game Change, which is based on the book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, though writers did rely on her book, Going Rogue.

“She was so incredibly charismatic and a true populist,” Moore said. “But upon further mildew inspection, she didn’t necessarily have the experience necessary to lead our country as vice president or potentially the president. That’s what we were attempting to dramatize. The moments of brilliance and charisma and populism and her lack of experience.”

Also, Moore noted, Palin is a “very caring, involved parent,” something she pointed out that voters rarely see on the national political stage.

Ed Harris voiced similar respect for his character, Sen. John McCain, who is portrayed warmly in the film (as is Palin’s husband, Todd). “My respect and understanding of Mr. McCain certainly deepened,” Harris said. “He’s a man with a sense of honor and duty.”

Even hardcore lefty Woody Harrelson was on his best behavior. He noted that he rather liked GOP adviser Steve Schmidt, whom he met before portraying him. “I’m not a Republican and not really a Democrat. I’m probably more an anarchist. This guy ideologically couldn’t be further away from me; it felt like a challenge.”

Writer Danny Strong said he doesn’t expect the film to be a game changer in terms of anybody’s political beliefs.

“I don’t think this movie is going to change people’s minds one way or the other,” Strong said. “And it’s not designed to change peoples minds … there’s not an agenda here … We felt the story of Sarah Palin was one of the great American political stories of our time. You have such an amazing character at the center of it. You have an individual that people knew very little about, including the people who picked her [for the Republican ticket]. And they picked her and all of a sudden she was thrust onto the international stage when she’s never been in national politics before.”

For those who missed it, here’s HBO’s Game Change preview:

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