I went searching for Sam Waterston‘s death eyes in this scene from the director’s cut of Oliver Stone‘s Nixon (’95), and in so doing was reminded of how good this Helms-vs.-Nixon confrontation scene really is. Perfect focused and haunted performances from Anthony Hopkins and especially Waterston — God, he’s so much better at conveying chilly remove than caring and compassion.
The eyes have it at the 9:13 mark.
In early 1995 Oliver Stone did me a great favor, and I’ve thanked him at least two if not three times since. He and publicist Stephen Rivers arranged for me to pay a brief visit to the Nixon West Wing — Oval Office, cabinet room, hallways, various offices, etc.
Production designer Victor Kempster had built the amazingly detailed set (including an outdoor portion with grass and bushes) on a massive Sony sound stage.
I was allowed in just after Stone and his cast (including Anthony Hopkins) and crew had finished filming. It was sometime around February or March of ’95. I wrote up my impressions for an L.A. Times Syndicate piece. Nixon opened on 12.20.95.
The Nixon unit publicist (or somebody who worked for Rivers) escorted me onto the stage and left. Nobody was around; I had the place all to myself. I had a video camera with me and shot all the rooms, and took my time about it. I was seriously excited and grateful as hell for the opportunity because it was, in a sense, better than visiting the real Oval Office in the real White House, which I would have never been allowed to do even if I’d been best friends with someone in the Clinton administration.
Every detail was Eric von Stroheim genuine. Wooden floors, real plaster, ceilings, rugs, moldings, early 1970s phones, bright gold French aristocracy drapes, china on the shelves and mantlepiece, etc.