This movie was the first major film production from the West to be filmed substantially in the Soviet Union, with full permission from the Russian Government. This movie was filmed on location in Russia, in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. The beginning and final scenes were filmed in Lisbon, Portugal.
Michelle Pfeiffer held up filming in Moscow, when she discovered a rule forbidding Western film companies from feeding the Soviet extras they hire, so she stomped off and refused to come back unless they were fed. To resolve the crisis, officials from the Soviet film commission had to be called in. Begging her to return to work, they explained that this was just the way things were done. In an interview with Esquire Magazine at the time of the film's release, Pfeiffer commented on the incident. "In a country where you can't get food, where you can't get soap, here they were watching us shoveling down these platefuls of hot, steamy spaghetti. I didn't sleep that night. It was very traumatic. Then I realized, You know, this is so typically American of you. This is what, as a country, we're accused of all the time. Now, whether I was right or wrong isn't the issue. The issue was, Do I have the right, as an outsider, to come in and force my sensibilities on this culture? At a certain point, I decided to leave my identity at the border. I thought to myself, Okay, you have no identity. And at that point I was able to experience the country as it was, on a purer level, and finally to even embrace it."
During principal photography, the infamous symbol of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall, finally came down. John le Carré, author of the film's source novel, worked for British Intelligence's Mi5 and Mi6 during the 1950s and 1960s, and worked in West Berlin. Le Carré was in West Berlin when the wall was being constructed. Le Carré drew on this real life experience when he wrote the novel 'The Spy Who Came in from the Cold', which is set about a year after the Berlin Wall was built.
In the year that this film was released, John le Carré was awarded the Helmerich Award. The Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award is an American Literary Prize bestowed by Oklahoma's Tulsa Library Trust. The award is given every year to an "internationally acclaimed" writer who has "written a distinguished body of work and made a major contribution to the field of literature and letters".
The character of Harry Palfrey, a.k.a. Horatio Benedict de Palfrey, who is played by actor Neil Morrissey in the mini-series The Night Manager (2016), and also appears in its source novel of the same name, first appeared in the earlier John le Carré "The Russia House" novel, but not in its movie adapation.
When Sean Connery suddenly became available, the producers of The Hunt for Red October (1990) hired him to play the submarine commander. Unfortunately, Klaus Maria Brandauer had already been signed, and so Paramount had to pay his contract out. As an extra bonus, Connery made sure that Brandauer got a plum part in this film. Connery had previously worked with Brandauer in Never Say Never Again (1983).
This movie was partially filmed in Russia, but it was not the first time that Sean Connery had filmed there, as The Red Tent (1969), in which he starred, filmed there. From Russia with Love (1963), in which Connery starred, did not actually film in the U.S.S.R. A Red Sickle (synonymous with Russian iconography) is formed out of the letter 'R' in many of the opening credits.
The nickname, of the Mi6 headquarters on the Thames River, in the The Night Manager (2016) mini-series, based also on a John le Carré novel, is "The River House", a phrase which is similar in sound and wording to "The Russia House".
The synopsis of the novel "The Russia House" (1989) by John le Carré, on his personal website, reads: "It is the third summer of perestroika. Barley Blair, London publisher, receives a smuggled document from Moscow. Blair, jazz-loving, drink-marinated, dishevelled, is hardly to the taste of the spymasters, yet he has to be used - sent to the Soviet Union to make contact. Katya, the Moscow intermediary, is beautiful, thoughtful, equally sceptical of all state ideology. Together, as the safe clichés of hostility disintegrate, they may represent the future - an idea that is anathema to the entrenched espionage professionals on both sides."