Ben Affleck proud to bring 'Argo' story to light
Film chronicles daring mission during Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1980
Thanks to "Argo," discerning film fans can finally stop complaining about movies lacking originality.
Based on incredible true events from more than 30 years ago, "Argo" tells a story that not even Hollywood could dream up -- and director-star Ben Affleck wasn't about to let the opportunity to tell it pass him by.
"When I read the script, I immediately knew that I won the lottery. Yes, we had to cast it and figure out how to do it, but there was already something there that was pretty incredible," Affleck told me in a recent interview. "It was a story that had the elements of a thriller, a comedy and spy intrigue, and it was all true. When do you ever have a chance to make a movie like that?"
New in theaters Friday, "Argo" recounts daring plan to rescue of six Americans amid the hostage crisis during the Iranian Revolution in Tehran in 1980. The group took shelter in the home of the Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber) until CIA "exfiltration" specialist Tony Mendez (Affleck) concocted an unusual plan to rescue them.
Setting up a fake production company with an Oscar-winning makeup artist (John Goodman) and a prolific producer (Alan Arkin), Mendez gains entry into Iran under the guise of a Canadian producer who's scouting locations for a science fiction movie. If the ruse -- a "Star Wars"-knock off called "Argo" -- doesn't fly, the trapped Americans face almost certain death.
The information about the U.S.' involvement in the "Argo" mission wasn't declassified until 1997 by President Bill Clinton, and it was finally detailed in a chapter of Mendez's 2000 book "The Master of Disguise" and Joshuah Bearman's 2007 Wired Magazine article "The Great Escape."
As far as the movie is concerned, "Argo" is like none other. The plot of the "Wag the Dog" maybe distantly reflects its uniqueness, because in the 1997 political satire, a filmmaker was hired to produce a fake war to be passed off as real to the public.
But then again, the basis of "Wag the Dog" was just a movie plot. "Argo," is the real deal.
"There's no movie plot that's ever been like 'Argo' because it's not a plot," Affleck observed. "Truth is stranger than fiction."
In an odd sort of way, Affleck reflected, the real-life mission behind "Argo" shows how similar the CIA and movie industry really are.
"It's true that both the CIA and Hollywood both traffic in fooling people on some level," Affleck said. "In Hollywood, it's about entertaining people and hopefully communicating something artful to them -- and for the CIA, it's obviously for less fun purposes. It's misinformation, it's propaganda and it's spy craft, and sometimes it's literally war."
Affleck did a fair amount of research at the CIA to prepare for "Argo," and was also thrilled for the production to have access to Mendez in planning out the monumental task of turning the story of the rescue into a film.
"I got to spend a fair amount of time with Tony -- his presence and involvement was the great asset to the movie," Affleck said. "Chris Terrio, even before he came on board with the script, spent a bunch of time with him and incorporated everything he had to say in it, so Tony was aware of it and inspiring it. We also, of course, had Tony's book, the story of this is just a chapter."
For Affleck's part, the actor-director said he grilled Mendez "over and over again" to get personal details on the mission. To top it off, he convinced Mendez to appear in the film.
"He was on the set and we gave him a cameo in the movie -- he walks right by me at Dulles Airport," Affleck beamed. "Plus, he was up in Toronto with us for the premiere of the film. I made sure Tony was with us the whole way."
Even though the story behind "Argo" has remained under the radar for the public for so many years, Affleck, who won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar with his actor buddy, Matt Damon, for "Good Will Hunting," said he absolutely had to get the story right for, ig anyone, the people involved with the mission.
"You have a much bigger responsibility with a true story than with a fictional one, where your only responsibility, as Marlon Brando once said, is not to bore the audience," Affleck said. "I feel with a movie like this, not only is it dealing with people's lives, it has a resonance with events that are unfolding right now that are really tragic."
Affleck, of course, is referencing the events surrounding the Sept. 11 attack on the American Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, where Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
While the incident is being investigated as a possible coordinated attack, the deadly incident is also being blamed on inflamed protests that erupted as a result of the controversial film "Innocence of Muslims."
For the purposes of "Argo," Affleck said the key was to reiterate the events in the most thorough way possible.
"We've seen the nature of irresponsible filmmaking and what it can do," Affleck said. "For me, I just wanted to pay attention to details. There's a natural sort of 'Rashomon' dynamic that takes place, where people see the story from their point of view. Sometimes people remember things differently, and if I had to make every detail, it would be a 10-hour miniseries -- so I had to compress things."
Affleck, 40, said he doesn't have any concerns on whether "Argo" will fan any flames in Iran's current tensions with the U.S.
"The movie that caused a lot of damage was outrageous, deliberately provocative, ugly racist stuff," Affleck said in reference to "Innocence of Muslims." "Some people responded to that negatively and it all spiraled out of control."
"For me, "Argo' is factual and I just try to stay as close to the facts as I possibly could, and as close to the spirit of what actually took place," Affleck added. "Everybody, as we know, has their own agendas and if people can use it for propaganda, they'll go ahead and use it. I think you only have to feel bad about it if you've done something irresponsible, and in this case, we certainly haven't."