The American President: The West Wing on the Big Screen

by hookedonhouses on January 18, 2009

The American President movie White House

In honor of Inauguration Week, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the Michael Douglas-Annette Bening romantic comedy “The American President” for Movie Monday. It was filmed in 1995 and all of the White House interiors were based on the then-Clinton White House.

Aaron Sorkin wrote the movie and felt that he had so much more to say that he went on to create the popular television series “The West Wing” a few years later. Much of the TV show was initially inspired by the film, especially in early episodes where some of the dialogue is almost identical and Sorkin used a lot of the material he had edited out of “The American President.” Even the sets used for the film were used again for “The West Wing.”

The American President movie Oval Office

Michael Douglas plays the popular Democratic President Andrew Shepherd, who has a 63% approval rating as he prepares to run for re-election. He’s a widower raising his daughter Lucy on his own. Then he makes the mistake of falling for the tough-talking environmental lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening). Before you can say “love at first sight,” Shepherd’s approval ratings are plummeting, Republicans are attacking his lack of “family values,” and it looks like he may have to choose between his new relationship and a second term.

What’s a President in love to do?

The American President movie Martin Sheen

Andrew Shepherd plays pool with his Chief of Staff, played by Martin Sheen. Aaron Sorkin promoted Sheen to President for “The West Wing.”

Sydney’s townhouse in Georgetown (well, it’s technically her sister’s place that she’s living in):

The President’s bedroom: his daughter helps him get dressed for his first date with Sydney.

Director Rob Reiner’s attention to detail when it came to the White House set was impressive. According to the White House Museum website:

The opening scene in particular of the president’s morning walk to the Oval Office is very hyper-detailed as it involves the Center Hall of the second floor, the Elevator, the ground floor corridor, the West Colonnade, right to the Oval Office. The office, right down to the grandfather clock, the Resolute Desk, the fireplace and the art, are all accurate to the last detail.

The President shows Sydney “The Dish Room” as he calls it:

The attention to detail is amazing. Compare the set of the China Room to this photo taken of the actual one in the White House (via The White House Museum):

Dinner at Sydney’s new place:

Sydney watches TV at home:

A romantic getaway to Camp David:

Producers found snapshots taken of Camp David from the Nixon era and based the sets on them. It used to be a Boy Scout camp and still retains some of that rustic feel.

Visit my Houses Onscreen page to see more, including…

North by Northwest Hitchcock movie Vandamm House

The Vandamm House on Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest

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Arleen January 18, 2009 at 10:48 pm

Hi Julia. I love this movie! I have watched it numerous times and never tire of it. And, of course, I love studying all the set designs.

Inauguration Day 2009 will be historic for sure. What great timing on your part to feature “An American President” this week!

Arleen’s last blog post..Interior Decorating at The White House

Linda January 18, 2009 at 11:39 pm

There are a handful of movies that I’ll watch any time they’re on, and this is one of them. Thanks for the all the background.

Linda’s last blog post..Silent Sunday…Camo George

Misti @ Studio M Designs January 18, 2009 at 11:41 pm

Great post~ My husband and I can’t get enough of this movie and loved the T.V. series. I too, watch for all the great details in the White House movies and TV shows. Very interesting blog!

Misti @ Studio M Designs’s last blog post..Paint Fanatic: More paint redo’s January 19, 2009 at 1:42 am

I stopped by looking to see if you were talking about house and remodeling stuff and I saw this and had to comment! This is Kim and I’s favorite movie of all time (well, it’s up there). I bet we’ve seen it twenty times!’s last blog post..Make the Most of Small Spaces

Kathi January 19, 2009 at 6:58 am

Thanks Julia. What fun to be able to stop and stare at the beautiful sets done for this movie. It’s hard to appreciate
them when you are caught up in the dialogue and plot. I found myself pausing at each photo to see the furniture, the wall colors, the accessories… Loved taking the time to enjoy!

Heather January 19, 2009 at 9:15 am

I too am super excited to witnessing history! I haven’t seen this movie in a long time and think I’m going to have to rent it soon.

Heather’s last blog post..Chicken Cacciatore

bungalow_bliss January 19, 2009 at 9:45 am

Perfectly appropriate post! The Georgetown townhouse is definitely more my style, but it’s always fun to see the elegance and grandeur of the White House (even if it is a studio set). You’re right about the attention to detail–amazing!

bungalow_bliss’s last blog post..Brighten Up!

Jen R Sanctuary Arts January 19, 2009 at 9:48 am

I love that movie! It’s perfect for your exciting week!

Jen R Sanctuary Arts’s last blog post..Blog roll round up…

sandra/tx January 19, 2009 at 11:13 am

That was fun, Julia. I like Sydney’s new place and Camp David the best. This IS an exciting week for our country, isn’t it?

Holly January 19, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Julia, I have an award for you at my blog!

Holly’s last blog post..My First Award!

Brandee January 19, 2009 at 1:07 pm

I loved The American President. Michael Douglas did a great job acting as the President. When the West Wing was on, my husband and I would never miss an episode. We loved it. I remember telling my husband that the White House looked more cozy with the decorations on the set than the real White House. I also loved the lighting they used in The West Wing.

It was heart wrenching when John Spencer (Leo) died. :-(

Brandee’s last blog post..Award & Addictions…

Brandee January 19, 2009 at 1:11 pm


I’m so excited for the inauguration. Why would anyone miss history in the making? Who, I ask? :-)

Brandee’s last blog post..Award & Addictions…

Angela January 19, 2009 at 1:41 pm

LOVE this movie! Thanks for sharing!! I’m excited about tomorrow as well. Hopefully, I can get away from my desk and catch some of it live on tv!

Angela’s last blog post..Hooked on: Lime!

Ramona January 19, 2009 at 2:44 pm

I too love this movie…it is wonderful. Have you noticed that the soundtrack from this movie is being used by many of the networks for their stories about the inauguration? I think I will put it on right now!

Thanks for sharing and happy Monday…bring on Tuesday!


Ramona’s last blog post..Hooked on Fridays ~ Old Ladders…The Rusty~er, The Better

Pam January 19, 2009 at 3:15 pm

Absolutely one of my favorite movies; it brought back a lot of memories for me. I left my post at the White House in December of 1995, so I was definitely watching the little details in the movie! LOL

Pam’s last blog post..McCall’s Christmas Jingle Candles are Here!

Kathy :) January 19, 2009 at 3:42 pm

GREAT movie, perfect timing Julia. I was such a HUGE fan of West Wing…

Obama was not my choice, but I pray he helps OUR country…I am looking forward to watching history unfold tomorrow :)

Great post Julia,
Kathy :)

Robin January 19, 2009 at 4:03 pm

Oh, one of my FAVORITE movies, I am so glad you included “the Dish Room” such a funny scene, he was so nervous. And I had forgotten about the sister’s townhouse, what a lovely color in the LR and I love all the built-ins. I had no idea it was an Alan Sorkin movie, maybe that explains why I love it and West Wing so much!

Now I want to watch it again, I wonder if Netflix has it on streaming video…..

Robin’s last blog post..Rockin’ Robin, tweet tweet tweet

Alauar Parrish January 19, 2009 at 4:16 pm

That movie is one of my favorites, I have a copy of it, and watch it all the time. It is just great, so romantic… ahhh love,,,, [sigh] I so miss watching West Wing, I never missed a show all the good shows are gone… :[

Have a great week.


Alauar Parrish’s last blog post..ISINT IT ROMANTIC;

Jason January 19, 2009 at 8:50 pm

That was a pretty good movie back in the day, certainly an appropriate post given this week’s events (but you already knew that)


Jason’s last blog post..Barack Obama is Not Your Messiah

Amy @ Living Locurto January 20, 2009 at 10:23 am

Great movie! I also really like National Treasure where they sneak in all those historical places. Have fun watching TV this week!

Amy @ Living Locurto’s last blog post..Something fun!

Gigi January 20, 2009 at 12:34 pm

I’ve watched this movie so many times. Also, thanks for the hat tip to The West Wing. My family and I have spent many hours watching and re-watching The West Wing on DVD.

Gigi’s last blog post..Hooked on Needlepoint Pillows

Summer Kitchen Interiors January 20, 2009 at 6:13 pm

Wow – it’s been a while since we’ve watched that movie, almost forgot about it! Have to add it to the net flix list to watch again. We love seeing glimpses of the White House, especially what the private rooms are like… almost magical, isn’t it?
Karla & Karrie

Lindsay January 20, 2009 at 8:49 pm

I absolutely LOVE this movie!! I could watch it over and over. :)

I can’t wait to see how the Obamas redecorate their portions of the White House! Today certainly was exciting!

Lindsay’s last blog post..Pride, Patriotism, and Pancakes

thatgirlblogs January 22, 2009 at 8:47 pm

I can’t believe how much work you put into these posts! fantastic. This movie always inspires/brings tears. Love it!

Sue January 22, 2009 at 10:39 pm

I have always LOVED Sydney’s apartment! I was tickled to see you had shown it! I have been known to rewind the film over and over just to take in the details!
The attention to detail in creating the WH was so precise! I have been on tour there twoce and gosh but the movie *gets* it right in the rooms I have been in!
Thank you for doing these…LOVE it!


Sue’s last blog post..A Winter’s Day

janet January 23, 2009 at 8:52 am


I love that movie and have watched it at least a dozen times. I love the speech when he tells the public ” My name is Andrew Shepard and I AM the President. Gets to me every time.


janet’s last blog post..RANDOM THOUGHT

o-girl January 24, 2009 at 10:24 am

Hi :) …found your site through and that blog through . Just wanted to say that I’m enjoying your site and that I LOVE ‘An American President’. :) Have a great weekend!

o-girl’s last blog post..Today at

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