Diane Disney, in a rare public criticism of her late father 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 (the film was released through Buena Vista Pictures, 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.
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.
To gain the feel of Richard Nixon, Sir 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.
Scenes which featured Sam Waterston as Richard Helms were deleted prior to the film's release, but later reinstated on video cassette and DVD versions. At the time of the theatrical release, Richard Helms was still living, and hotly objected to his portrayal in the film.
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.
Sir 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.
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 title role. Oliver Stone was so impressed by Allen's performance, he offered her the role.
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 may have lost the 1964 Presidential election to J.F.K. (if it had taken place) and the 1968 race to R.F.K. 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.
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.
E.G. Marshall was born less than a year after the real John Mitchell, and at eighty years old when he filmed the part, he was an older man than Mitchell ever was, who died in 1988, at the age seventy-five.
The closing song, "Shenandoah" (performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir) was reportedly Nixon's favorite song, and the preceding train whistle was probably a reference to Nixon's 1968 GOP acceptance speech, when he spoke of hearing the train whistles as he laid in bed as a child.
Roy Barnitt appeared as C.I.A. 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.
The film's opening prologue reads: "This film is a dramatic interpolation of events and characters based on public sources and incomplete historical record. Some scenes and events are presented as composites or have been hypothesized or condensed."
One of three Oliver Stone films (to date, September 2017) about an American President which has a title referencing the name of the American President who is the subject of the movie. The first was JFK (1991) (John F. Kennedy), the second was this movie (Richard Nixon), and the third was W. (2008) (George W. Bush).
The film was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Actor in a Leading Role - Sir Anthony Hopkins, Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Joan Allen, Best Music, Original Dramatic Score - John Williams, and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. But the film failed to win an Oscar in any category. Similarly, Frost/Nixon (2008) was nominated for five Academy Awards, and also failed to win any.
Sir Anthony Hopkins for this movie, and Frank Langella for Frost/Nixon (2008), were Oscar nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award, for portraying former President Richard Nixon. Both failed to win. Of the four nominations garnered by this movie, and the five garnered by Frost/Nixon (2008), both were mutually nominated in one of the same categories, which was for Best Actor. However, both were nominated for their scripts, this movie for Best Original Screenplay, and Frost/Nixon (2008) for Best Screenplay Adapted from Another Medium.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The film's spoken closing epilogue by Oliver Stone says: Richard Nixon was buried and honored by five Presidents on April 26, 1994, less than a year after his beloved wife Pat had died. Nixon always maintained that had he not been driven from office, the North Vietnamese would not have overwhelmed the south in 1975. In a sideshow, Cambodian society was destroyed, and mass genocide resulted. In his absence, Russia and the United States returned to a decade of high budget military expansion and near war. Nixon, who was pardoned by President Ford, lived to write six books and travel the world as an elder statesman. For the remainder of his life, he fought successfully to protect his tapes. The National Archives (of America) spent fourteen years indexing and cataloging them. Out of four thousand hours, sixty hours have been made public.