Mikhail Baryshnikov reportedly was insistent with the film's producers that gramatically-correct Russian be spoken in the film instead of the often nonsensical hybrid often used in American motion pictures. Baryshinkov also did a scene in the film where he spoke French - in real life, it was his second language.
Actress Helen Mirren played her Russian part with great authenticity, which is not surprising as she is half-Russian. She was born Helen (or Yelena) Mironoff, and her father was an emigrant to England from Smolensk, Russia.
Director Taylor Hackford was widely ridiculed for using the same old Helsinki shots to stand in for Leningrad. In reality he had used actual shots of the Kirov Theater and other locations in Leningrad taken by a Finnish travel company on his behalf. Despite the unfair criticism, he kept the true story of these shots secret for years afterward to protect his Finnish partners.
Lionel Richie's song "Say You, Say Me" wasn't included on the soundtrack album to the film. This is because Motown Records did not want Richie's first single since the Can't Slow Down album to appear on another record label.
One of three early-to-mid 1980s movies directed by Taylor Hackford with a hit song associated with the picture. In White Nights (1985), the songs were "Say You, Say Me" written and performed by Lionel Richie and "Separate Lives (Love Theme from White Nights)" written by Stephen Bishop and performed by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin; in Against All Odds (1984), the song was "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)" sung by Phil Collins; and in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), the song was "Up Where We Belong" sung by Joe Cocker. All of these themes were Oscar nominated for the Best Original Song Academy Award. The ones performed by Collins did not win, but the Richie and Cocker songs did take home the gold statuette.
Mikhail Baryshnikov's birth name is Mikhail Nikolaevitch Baryshnikov. In Russia, children are given the name of their father as their middle name with a masculine or feminine suffix. Mikhail Baryshnikov's father's name is Nikolai, same as his character in this movie.
In selecting shooting locations, director Taylor Hackford had an obvious problem: most of the action of White Nights (1985) was set in the U.S.S.R., in Siberia and Leningrad, where permission would not be given to film the movie's subject matter, and where Mikhail Baryshnikov could not safely visit. Nor could Siberian exteriors be built on sound stages because the quality of light of an Arctic summer night would be impossible to reproduce accurately in a studio situation. In an Arctic summer, there is virtually no night, only a lingering twilight. Faced with this challenge, the filmmakers made several reconnaissances in countries close to the Arctic Circle and eventually decided to shoot on the island of Reposaari, off the northwest coast of Finland, where in late summer they would experience the same unique quality of light required for the scenes set in Siberia. It required great diplomacy on the part of co-producer William S. Gilmore before this was allowed to happen, since most people in Reposaari, whose population at the time was 1017, were Communists. They had to be satisfied that White Nights (1985) was not a run-of-the-mill anti-Soviet movie offensive to their enigmatic neighbor. Finnish Communists, however, are pragmatists, according to the film's production notes: the movie would bring in a considerable investment of money and some temporary jobs. The mayor canvassed his people, many of whom were unemployed. The island's once-thriving port was in decline, as were a mutually destructive chemical plant and a fish processing factory. Only three residents objected to the village becoming for two weeks a make-believe Siberian town.
The plane crash sequence was filmed at Campbeltown Airport on the south west coast of Scotland. Mainly due to its remoteness and the runway is around 2.5 miles long. A number of local people were cast as extras for interior shots of the plane.
The word "Americanetz' heard in dialogue in the film is Russian for a male American man or loosely an American person. The Russian word for a female American woman is "Americanka" whilst the Russian adjective for American is "Americanski".
Of the casting of the film's two lead actors, director Taylor Hackford said: "Each knew and admired the work of the other but I knew that it would require a story of substance to attract them to a project. [Mikhail] Baryshnikov had turned down films time and again, and he had declined to film the story of his defection. As for [Gregory] Hines it called for him to play an American deserter. I was concerned that each might feel the story was too touchy, too close to sensitive areas; too near the edge for a black American to play, too close to reality for a Russian who has defected to the West to play".
The 747 aircraft seen at the start of the film is actually a 707 airplane with an artificial hump on the top of the forward fuselage. This was due to the Columbia Pictures studio not being able to afford to lease a 747 plane.
When director Taylor Hackford began considering this project, Hackford reached back to his interest in music and dancers, searching for a story that would link them in a dramatic manner. His work has always focused on music, frequently making use of innovative contemporary vocal and instrumental music to underline action.
The opening theatre sequence was filmed at the Bristol Hippodrome and the gentleman paging the curtain for Baryshnikov is John Randall (sadly now deceased) who was the Theatre's technical director at the time.
The movie's "White Nights" title is drawn from the film's opening moments, set in Siberia, of an eerie, prolonged Siberian twilight phenomenon known as the "Midnight Sun". Filmed on location on the remote Finnish island of Reposaari, this is where the same unique quality of light could be captured. In the Arctic Circle, day and night, of course, are theoretically six months long, producing one 24-hour period of daylight and one of night in each year. In reality, the actual periods of light and dark during the year are modified by a prolonged twilight.
Debut American and Hollywood film as an actor of exiled Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski whose first English language film as an actor had been the English film Moonlighting (1982) around three years earlier.,
One of two espionage movies debuting in cinemas in 1985 which had a significant Russian female character with the last name of "Ivanova". In White Nights (1985), Galina Ivanova was played by Helen Mirren, whilst in A View to a Kill (1985), Pola Ivanova was portrayed by Fiona Fullerton.
The high concept for the film's lead casting was centered around the pairing and star teaming of the world's top tap dancer and leading ballet dancer. These actors were Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov respectively with Baryshnikov top first billed and Hines second billed.
The plane crash sequence was filmed at RAF Machrihanish near Campbeltown (now a civilian airfield), the survivors were shown filmed in the Gaydon Hangar and the hospital scenes were filmed in the Station Headquarters building.
Co-producer William S. Gilmore discovered that in Helsinki, Finland's capital, there were sections that could double for Leningrad, backstreets and buildings that owed their "Russianesque" character to the fact that they were in a part of the city designed by 19th-century architects from St. Petersburg. An important Russian interior which remained to be found prior to filming was an auditorium to double for Lengingrad's Kirov Theater. Eventually, it was decided that the San Carlos Theater in Lisbon, Portugal was the closest match in western Europe to the Kirov Theater in terms of ambience and baroque elegance, a decision with which star Mikhail Baryshnikov agreed. The theater at the time had been in continuous use for almost two hundred years, and was a cherished symbol of Lisbon's rebirth after the catastrophic earthquake and tidal wave that destroyed the city in 1793. Over the years, it has been host to dance companies, but is primarily an opera house, where Callas, Gobbi, Scotti, Gigli, Scippa, Sutherland and other greats have sung.
As outlined in the film's production notes, writer James Goldman and director Taylor Hackford conceived the following premise that was to become the concept for this movie: "What would happen if a celebrated Russian, a ballet star who adopted the West after a much-publicized defection ten years previously, inadvertently were to be returned to Soviet soil when the airliner in which he is traveling crash-lands in Siberia? Would the Soviet authorities seize the opportunity to gain propaganda advantage by persuading him to perform again in Russia? What pressures would they employ? And what if a black American, who had expatriated to Russia in protest against Vietnam, were to be drawn by the KGB into a plot to coerce the Russian to dance again?".
The far-flung locations used for the movie included Finland, the Hippodrome Theater in Bristol, England, the Royal Air Force Base in Scotland (which doubled for the Siberian Base), and the San Carlos Opera House in Lisbon (which doubled for the Kirov Theater in Leningrad). Other filming was done on sound stages at the Thorn-EMI Elstree Studios near London.
While the interior of the Kirov Theater was filmed in a theater in Portugal, the exterior seen in the film is the actual Kirov theater in Leningrad in the then USSR. The filming location (Mariinsky Theater, St. Petersburg, Russia) differs, because the present name of the theater, the city and the country are used.
The movie was nominated for two Academy Awards in 1986 which were both for Best Original Song. The tracks were "Separate Lives (Love Theme from White Nights)", written by Stephen Bishop and performed by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin, and "Say You, Say Me", written and performed by Lionel Richie, with the latter song winning the Oscar in this category, as well as winning the Golden Globe Award the same year for Best Original Song - Motion Picture.
One of the songs from the movie, "Separate Lives (Love Theme from White Nights)", written by Stephen Bishop and performed by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin, was a chart topper, topping the American Billboard charts and peaking at the No. #1 rank for a time during 1985.
The picture's second unit filming location country of Russia, which shot in St. Petersburg, was not included in the list of countries billed as shooting locations in the film's closing credits, they being England, Finland, Portugal and Scotland, but not the then USSR.
Director Jerzy Skolimowski works as an actor on this movie playing the character of Colonel Chaiko and was not the film's director. Skolimowski's earlier film as a director, Moonlighting (1982), starred actor Jirí Stanislav, who also appears in White Nights (1985) as Chaiko's Driver in Leningrad (St Petersburg). Skolimowski also performed acting duties in Moonlighting (1982) appearing uncredited as the boss. Crew members, publicist Allen Burry, and still photographer Murray Close, also worked on both pictures in their respective capacities.
Bridge of Spies (2015) was released in the 30th Anniversary year of this romantic cold war thriller White Nights (1985). One person at lest, George Doering, is billed for working on both movies, both as a musician in the music department, credited as a musician for White Nights (1985), and billed as an instrumental soloist for Bridge of Spies (2015). Both pictures also won one Academy Award, but in different categories, Best Original Song for White Nights (1985), and Best Supporting Actor for Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies (2015).
A grandfather of English actress Helen Mirren was Russian. Mirren stars in this espionage drama-thriller which is mainly set in the former Soviet Union. This grandfather of Mirren had emigrated to England from Russia where he had been born.
This picture was not a remake of Luchino Visconti's 1957 same-titled film "White Nights" which was about a humble clerk who courts a woman who night after night awaits for the return of her lover [See: Le Notti Bianche (1957)].
The film's closing credits state: "The Producers would like to express their sincere appreciation for the invaluable assistance given by the following organizations: United Kingdom Ministry of Defence with special thanks to the Royal Air Force Personnel at RAF Machrihanish Airfield-Scotland; Aer Lingus with special thanks to Jerry Curran, Captain J. J. Sullivan and his 747 crew; Teatro de San Carlos in Lisbon, Portugal; The Hippodrome Theatre in Bristol, England; Danmarks Radio for the use of their recording of Vladimir Vysotsky's 'The Horses'; The people of Reposaari, Finland."
According to the 80s Movie Rewind website, "Gregory Hines did what was called "Tap Improvography" and Roland Petit was the original choreographer for the ballet "La Jeune Homme et la Mort". Twyla Tharp is the choreographer of the other dance numbers in the film."
Both of the two lead actors, Gene Hackman and Mikhail Baryshnikov who starred in the latter spy film Company Business (1991), around five years prior to this picture debuting, had starred in espionage movies that were first released in the year of 1985. The two productions were Target (1985) and White Nights (1985) respectively.