The grandfather of director Paul Mazursky was born in Kiev, Russia. In 1905, he defected from Czarist Russia by jumping a Russian train troop. Mazursky's grandfather met his grandmother whilst emigrating, when traveling on the boat bound for the U.S.
In preparation for his role, for about a year, lead actor Robin Williams studied Soviet customs and learned the Russian language. Reportedly, Williams spent five hours a day learning Russian and had learned to speak it well within a month. By the time of principal photography, Williams was at a proficiency level where he could carry out a conversation. William's teacher was a Russian actor called David.
The music instrument that Vladimir Ivanoff (Robin Williams) played was a saxophone. Robin Williams spent months learning to play the sax and apparently according to his music tutor, got to a level of accomplishment that would normally take a student two years.
Appearing in this film was Russian actor Saveliy Kramarov who was a real life defector from the U.S.S.R. Kramarov had appeared in over 40 Russian films and was given permission to emigrate to the U.S. in the early 1980s. Kramarov gave up his Russian film career for small parts and religious freedom in the United States. This was Kramarov's first American movie and ironically, he played a KGB agent.
One of the movie's main movie posters featured a long preamble that read: "America is sometimes a strange place even for Americans. Let alone for Vladimir Ivanoff, a Russian defector with a black roommate, a Cuban lawyer, and an Italian girlfriend. Who's learning to live with Big Macs, cable TV, hard rock, softcore, unemployment and a whole new wonderful word for him. Freedom."
One of the film's main movie posters which was an aerial view of New York City was the subject of a successful civil lawsuit from artist Saul Steinberg. Steinberg sued alleging that the movie poster infringed the copyright of his renown 1976 ink, pencil, colored pencil, and watercolor on paper "View of the World from Ninth Avenue" illustrative cover of the 29/03/1976 edition of 'The New Yorker' magazine [See Case: Steinberg v. Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., 663 F. Supp. 706 (S.D.N.Y. 1987)].
On the DVD commentary for Moscow on the Hudson, writer/director Paul Mazursky said that he had written, and for many years tried to get made, a sequel to this movie titled "Moscow on the Rocks." Mazursky said that the plot would again center around Robin Williams's character Vladimir, who would now be a successful but cutthroat New York businessman who was exploiting his mostly immigrant workforce. The plot of the unproduced screenplay had Vladimir traveling back to Russia for his sister's wedding and falling in love there with a Russian doctor. During the commentary, Mazursky also said he despaired of the sequel ever being made at this point, for a variety of reasons, including the fact that Robin WIlliams was by that point a much bigger star than he had been while making Moscow on the Hudson (although Mazursky didn't specify the date on which the commentary was being recorded, he does mention in it that the Oscars are upcoming and he predicts that Gladiator will win, which most likely dates the commentary to early 2001). As of 2014 (and the deaths of both Paul Mazursky and Robin Williams) the sequel has still not been made.