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SYFY WIRE Oppenheimer

Did Oppenheimer's Oval Office Look Familiar? How Nolan Biopic Borrowed Veep Set in Last Minute Save

Ask not what your film production can do for Selina Meyer — ask Selina Meyer what she can do for your film production.

By Josh Weiss

While Veep ended its television run in 2019, the presidency of Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) continued to live on during the production of Christopher Nolan's critically-acclaimed Oppenheimer.

According to the film's production designer, Ruth De Jong, the original plan was to shoot the brief, yet pivotal, meeting between physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) and President Harry Truman (Gary Oldman) in the recreation of the Oval Office found at the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California.

RELATED: The Brilliant Reason Why Christopher Nolan Shortened Oppenheimer Filming By 4 Weeks

A week before filming was scheduled to take place, however, the location fell through. Per the official making-of book written by Jada Yuan, permission was revoked because of a sudden staffing change at the Nixon Library. And since Gary Oldman was only available for a short period of time, they couldn't push the scene down the photography agenda.

Oppenheimer borrowed its Oval Office set from HBO's Veep

Christopher Nolan behind the camera.

The slightly panicked De Jong turned to her supervising art director, Samantha Englander, for help. “It was one of the craziest things that happened the whole shoot,” Englander states in the above-mentioned book. 

“My stomach dropped. I was like, ‘How is that possible? Ruth is like, ‘I don’t know. But we need to come up with another plan.’ ” In the end, she found a suitable replacement in the form of the Oval Office set constructed for Armando Iannucci's comedic takedown of American politics.

"Not only was Veep’s Oval Office built to scale, but it was lying flat-packed, and Englander still had it on hold," writes Variety, which heard the amusing anecdote firsthand during a recent installment of its Artisan Screening Series. The pieces were then shipped to the Universal lot and assembled in under a week, though some major adjustments were needed. "The crown molding was falling off," De Jong remembered. "It was a mess."

“We knew that chances were we’d be turning up on set that morning and it would probably smell of wet paint, and that indeed was the case,” producer Emma Thomas states in the making-of book. "But it was exactly what I love about making movies. You go in, disasters happen, people are resourceful, and they figure it out."

How to watch Oppenheimer movie at home

Oppenheimer arrives on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital this coming Tuesday — November 21. The special features, which comprise three hours of content, are as follows:

  • The Story of Our Time: The Making of Oppenheimer
  • Trailers
  • Innovations in Film: 65mm Black and White Film in Oppenheimer
  • Meet the Press Q&A Panel: Oppenheimer
  • To End All War: Oppenheimer & the Atomic Bomb

Is the Oppenheimer movie still playing in theaters?

Yes, it is! Click here to pick up tickets. To date, the film has racked up nearly $950 million at the worldwide box office, making it the highest-grossing biopic of all time and the third-largest movie of the year after Barbie and The Super Mario Bros. Movie.

Looking for more theatrical action? Head on over to Peacock for exclusive access to Five Nights at Freddy'sThe Super Mario Bros. Movie;  Asteroid CityFast XRuby Gillman, Teenage Kraken; and Strays!

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