Arizona Senator John McCain (Ed Harris) and Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson), McCain?s senior campaign strategist © 2012 HBO

HBO’s upcoming TV movie Game Change, based on the book of the same name, spotlights John McCain’s run for the White House, and his intriguing choice of Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Ed Harris portrays Senator McCain, Julianne Moore plays Sarah Palin and Woody Harrelson takes on the role of Steve Schmidt, one of McCain’s senior campaign strategists and advisors.

Feeling the need to do something bold in order to beat Barack Obama, Schmidt believed they’d found the ‘game changer’ with the charismatic Sarah Palin, and convinced McCain to go with her, ultimately realizing that his eagerness to bring on a provocative yet inexperienced running mate was a losing strategy.

Ed Harris and Woody Harrelson spoke with TV critics during their tour about their controversial new movie, which premieres on HBO next month.

When you got out of the make-up trailer and looked at yourself in the mirror as John McCain, what did you think?

Arizona Senator John McCain (Ed Harris) and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) © 2012 HBO

Ed Harris: It was fun. It took a little time and trial and error. I felt pretty good. Once we felt that we were physically inhabiting the people, we just kind of went with it.

Having lived through this election, did playing these roles change your opinions on what happened?

Woody Harrelson: I’ve become a Republican. (he laughs)

Ed Harris: My respect and my understanding of Senator McCain, certainly deepened.

I spent a lot of time reading some of the books that he had written with (Mark) Salter, particularly Faith of my Fathers, which is an autobiographical account of his time growing up, his father/grandfather being admirals in the Navy and him knowing that he was going to be going to Annapolis.

His years as a prisoner of war and the aftermath of that, and his decision to go into politics.

He’s a complex guy with a great sense of honor and duty. I think that, by his own admission, his ambition and his ego were in constant conflict with this sense of honor, duty and patriotism. It was an interesting thing to play with in portraying him.

Woody, did you get a chance to meet Steve Schmidt?

Nicolle Wallace (Sarah Paulson), a senior advisor for the McCain-Palin campaign, and Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson), McCain?s senior campaign strategist © 2012 HBO

Woody Harrelson: Yeah, I did get the chance to hang out a bit with Steve Schmidt, and I actually really liked him. I guess we probably think a little bit differently politically, but I thought he was a really charming, interesting, passionate guy. He does care.

Was it hard for you to play a Republican?

Woody Harrelson: I’m not a Republican or a Democrat, probably more of an anarchist. So the concept of playing this guy who, I think, ideologically, couldn’t be more further away from me, just felt like a real challenge.

The concept of playing such a character during a pivotal moment in American politics, coupled with Danny Strong’s phenomenal script, really piqued my interest.

It was an amazing campaign, which was certainly historical, but in a sense, it was the birth of a phenomenon.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane