Lillian Disney, in a rare public criticism of her late husband Walt Disney's company (which released the film and in which she was a major stockholder), released a statement soon after the film opened expressing her extreme displeasure with it and that Walt Disney Company was involved in its release (although the film wasn't released by Disney but by Buena Vista Picturs, a Disney subsidiary). She believed the film was mean-spirited and biased; she also extended a personal apology on behalf of the Disney family to the Nixon family. Both families were close and often socialized together, so the Disneys knew the Nixons personally. Mrs. Disney thought that the film grossly exaggerated President Nixon's character faults and ignored what she believed to be many of his redeeming qualities.
In an interview with "Premiere" magazine, Oliver Stone outlined many elements of Richard Nixon's life and political decisions that informed his film. Amongst other things, Richard Nixon's reserved personality was largely a function of the death of his beloved older brother Harold; Nixon grieved over the deaths of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy while also being aware he would have lost the 1964 Presidential election to JFK (if it had taken place) and the 1968 race to RFK; he recognized that the U.S. was going to enter an era of less prosperity and tried to end the Cold War for that reason; he was "lonely, isolated, kind of mad"; and ultimately he was both victim and villain.
While shooting the scene where Nixon and Jones confront each other, the lights were aimed straight down at coffee tables in front of the fur-upholstered couch. The lights were so powerful that the rug beneath one of the tables started smoking. In the middle of the first take, an extra noticed the increasing amount of smoke, and muttered "fire" quietly during a pause between lines of dialogue. James Woods heard this and stopped the scene before the rug caught fire.
When Nixon returns from China and goes to the press area aboard Air Force One, the reporter in the front row on the left side can be seen knocking his head on the overhead compartment. This was the first of three takes of this shot. After Oliver Stone noticed on playback that Jim (the reporter) had bumped his head, Stone called for another take, which was followed by a third, "just to make sure". Ironically, the first take, with Jim the reporter's head bump, is the one that made it into the final film.
A major scene that was unable to be filmed was of Nixon and his family watching Patton (1970), Nixon's favorite movie, and one he watched repeatedly. The scene would've highlighted Patton's speech at the beginning of the film in which he says "Americans have never lost and will never lose a war, because the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans" which would have had resonance with Nixon's line "I will not be the first President to lose a war." But George C. Scott did not relinquish his image rights for Patton, and the scene could not be filmed.
The film was completed somewhere around the time the real Richard Nixon died in 1994. The footage of his funeral at the end, along with a narrated epilogue, was added several months before the film's release.
To gain the feel of Richard Nixon, Anthony Hopkins watched almost every speech Nixon ever made on tape several times. He also met some people who knew Nixon that could lend Hopkins some insight on him.
Warren Beatty suggested Joan Allen for the role of Pat Nixon. Allen was called to perform a reading of the script opposite Beatty, who was considering taking the titular role. Director Oliver Stone was so impressed by Allen's performance, he offered her the role.
Scenes which featured Sam Waterston as Richard Helms were deleted prior to the film's release but later reinstated on home video & DVD versions. At the time of the theatrical release, the real Richard Helms was still living and hotly objected to his portrayal in the film.
Anthony Hopkins casting as Richard Nixon initially met with much criticism. Early in the shoot, Paul Sorvino had lunch with Hopkins and offered suggestions as to how Hopkins should replicate Nixon's accent. This made Hopkins so nervous he actually quit the production, though Oliver Stone begged him to stay on. Upon the film's release, Hopkins performance garnered much praise and even an Oscar Nomination.
Dan Hedaya later played Nixon himself in Dick (1999), while 'Saul Rubinek' would go on to play Henry Kissinger in the same film. Madeline Kahn played Pat Nixon on Saturday Night Live. Kevin Dunn previously played J. Edgar Hoover in Chaplin (1992).
Roy Barnitt appeared as CIA Deputy Director Bob Cushman in this film. His scenes (along with the ones of Sam Waterston) were deleted from the final cut, but restored in the Director's Cut VHS and DVD releases.