‘Nixon’ boasts realistic portrayal, set

GOOD MORNING from the Lincoln Memorial, with the eerie pre-dawn light casting an awesome aura — in Stage 30 at Sony Studios, where Oliver Stone is on the final week of “Nixon.” Even more awesome was the sight of Richard Nixon (Anthony Hopkins) mounting the stairs of the Memorial to confront the youngsters who had camped out overnight on May 9, 1970, to protest the Vietnam War, five days after the massacre at Kent State U. I met Nixon several times and I can honestly say Hopkins has captured, sans caricature, Nixon’s carriage, manner, total overall look and voice. And all with a minimum of makeup. “He has given Nixon flesh,” said Stone. (Even Rich Little came over to admire Hopkins!) Tony admitted to me he turned over his characterization and manner totally to his director. Hopkins was very nervous about playing the role of the president, a man who was much “like Captain Queeg” in “The Caine Mutiny,” he said. Since accepting “Nixon,” Hopkins has been asked to play many bios (Churchill among them), but has turned them down. “I’m not Paul Muni,” he laughed. However, Hopkins’ next is “Surviving Picasso” (starting Sept. 25), which will be a very sensual role … Stone is winding the pic Friday, with a shooting sked of 61 days and a budget of $44 million; pic has 85 speaking roles. It’s skedded for Buena Vista limited release in December for anticipated Oscar nods, especially for Hopkins … The Lincoln Memorial scene was filmed on Stage 30 because of the obvious inability to move freely at the actual site in D.C. The remarkable duplicate statue — 19 feet tall, 33 feet with its base — was created by production designer Victor Kempster and sculptor Fred Arbegast with his staff of five sculptors. It is made to scale of urethane foam and should be saved for a school, museum or — ?

“PEACE NOW, FREEDOM” banners are draped on Lincoln’s arms, and a “Freedom” wreath lies at the foot of the $ 50,000 movie Lincoln. It is truly imposing. The steps leading to the statue are filled with the semi-sleeping protesters awaiting the dawn to continue their demonstration. Placards strewn across their bodies and the steps include “Too Young to Vote, Too Old to Die.” Nixon made this surprise dawn appearance without the knowledge of any of the White House staff except his longtime valet Manolo (played by Tony Plana, an alumnus of Stone’s pics). H.R. Haldeman, played by Jimmy Woods, rushes out in the night to whisk Nixon from the very tense site where Nixon gets into arguments with the kids about the Vietnam war, freedom, the presidency, etc. … President Clinton is very interested in the movie, Stone said, and had even talked about the possibility of the troupe shooting in the White House — Mary Steenburgen, who plays Richard Nixon’s mother, is a close friend of the Clintons. However, D.C.’s current climate about Hollywood and showbiz, plus the climate itself in Washington, convinced all to shoot within the studio walls. Producer Clayton Townsend, however, told me they did get a White House OK to shoot a motorcade in the Ellipse on the south side of the White House. As the finale to the sked, they’ll shoot two days of street interviews and footage at the Jefferson Memorial next week … Stone says the GOP is not happy he’s making this movie and there will be much controversy, even though he shows all sides of Nixon’s character. Stone says the movie is very timely, saying Sen. Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich are using Nixon themes in their political strategy … I asked Stone about the use of computerized inserts of real scenes and persons. Yes, real footage of JFK will be inserted in a debate with Hopkins; the actor also will be computerized into the sequence of Nixon making the final walk to the ‘copter taking him from the White House to San Clemente after his resignation. And footage of the 1972 Republican Convention will be backgrounded into Hopkins’ speech — thus gaining reality and saving expenses. But Stone said he is not doing a lot of “Forrest Gump”-like computerized insertions, not wanting to detract from Hopkins’ performance … Woods says this movie has been his most moving experience — so much so he cannot find anything yet to follow it. So he’ll take time off. He said Stone asked him to direct “The Mayor of Castro Street.” He’s not certain whether to tackle it … While Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” was playing for the students protesting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the movie music will be composed/conducted by John Williams, who previously tuned Stone’s “JFK” and “Born on the Fourth of July.”

CONCERN FOR PIERRE COSSETTE brought in close to $1 million Sunday at the Concern Foundation’s (for Cancer Research) annual block party on Rodeo Drive — this time renamed Pierre Cossette Drive. The rare July rain disappeared in time for the event to be its usual success. The town’s top eateries contributing all you could possibly eat and Regal Rents made the event truly regal, as celebs bartended, NARAS’ Mike Greene m.c.’d, Keith Carradine and Dee Hoty (“Will Rogers’ Follies”) sang in tribute to Pierre as did Hal Linden and, of course, Cossette finale’d with his repertoire of jokes (?).

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