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.”
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?
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.
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.
(As usual, I took these photos myself while watching the movie. Sorry for the black bars, but I can’t stand the “full screen” versions of movies that chop parts of the picture off the edges.)
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.
In some other examples of the film, the White House and West Wing are not hyper-accurate in their floor plan but they do such a good job it almost doesn’t matter. The president and his chief of staff are shown playing pool in what must be the Treaty Room decorated in Clinton’s chosen color of burgundy (but as wallpaper and not paint). In almost every other scene of the movie we find things to be quite accurate.
This film is a real treat for White House enthusiasts in its detail. And you won’t be disappointed when viewing the reproductions listed above as well as the Master Bedroom (with hidden closet), Cabinet Room, West Sitting Hall, East Wing Entrance, Green Room, Grand Staircase, state floor Entrance Hall, Situation Room, Press Briefing Room, Roosevelt Room, and a great scene in the China Room. This is a movie that can be trusted to give any White House buff their fill.
Some pundits have compared Barack Obama‘s eloquent and inspiring speeches to those of President Shepherd’s character in “The American President.”
But it was a character on “West Wing”–presidential hopeful Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smits)–who was actually based on Obama: “‘I drew inspiration from [Obama] in drawing this character,” West Wing writer and producer Eli Attie told the Guardian. “Obama was just appearing on the national scene. He had done a great speech at the convention and people were beginning to talk about him.”