The American President: The West Wing on the Big Screen

The American President movie White House

The Michael Douglas-Annette Bening romantic comedy “The American President” 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).

His Chief of Staff was played by Martin Sheen. Aaron Sorkin promoted Sheen to President for “The West Wing.”

The American President movie Martin Sheen

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):

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.

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  1. says

    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

  2. Kathi says

    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!

  3. says

    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

  4. says

    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!

  5. says

    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?

  6. says

    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…

  7. says

    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!

  8. Kathy :) says

    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 :)

  9. says

    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

  10. says

    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;

  11. says

    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

  12. says

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

  13. says

    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

  14. says


    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