Only in Hollywood could the wildest, plausibility-stretching screen story about the CIA posing as a movie crew to rescue hostages in the Middle East turn out to be completely true.
In ”Argo,” a real-life movie about the fictional movie of the same name used as a smokescreen by the CIA to infiltrate Iran to rescue six Americans hiding at the Canadian embassy during the 1979 hostage crisis, director and star Ben Affleck jumped at the opportunity to explore all of the cinematic possibilities, both suspenseful and comedic, in the unlikely true tale.
For his third full-length outing as a director following 2007's "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town" in 2010, Affleck reveals what he found so compelling about both the little-known rescue mission, its Hollywood connection, and the specialist who made it all come together.
On the allure of the bizarre real-life story as both filmmaker and star:
“What struck me almost right away was that you have this thriller, and then in equal measure this kind of comic Hollywood satire and this really sort of intricate, real life CIA spy story – and it's all based on truth. So it seemed like a fantastically interesting and unusual movie to be a part of, and I really wanted to direct it. And the sort of actor side of my brain that's still in that phase of auditioning and trying to make connections and get work asked the director of that movie for a job. And the director was in a tough spot and had to say yes.”
On what he found compelling about his role as the agent behind the desperate plot:
“The thing that I wanted to play up about the part was that Tony was a very withdrawn guy. He's not the conventional protagonist hero, kind of beating his chest. He's an inscrutable, opaque guy who has this instinct from his days of being a spy to fade into the background. I thought it was interesting to subvert the traditional Hollywood protagonist and have a guy in that position who kind of instinctively doesn't want to be noticed, and have that guy have to make people do things they're scared of doing and try to save folks lives.”
On spending time with the real Tony Mendez:
“He wanted to meet me at this old, famous CIA bar in Georgetown and he was telling me it was where Aldrich Ames passed the names of the American agents in Russia to his handlers. When he told me that, it sort of sunk in all of a sudden that this was real. This was a real story about a real guy who worked in a real world where real lives were at stake. It wasn't just sliding down the roof and kicking in the window and shooting three guys – the kind of thing that we in Hollywood tend to think of the CIA. It was a real thing, and it's out there with these folks making these sacrifices for us every day.”
On treading carefully around real-world parallels in today’s Middle East:
“It was always important to us that the movie not be politicized. We went to great pains to try to make it very factual, fact-based and both on the sort of knowing that it was coming out before an election in the United States when a lot of things get politicized. And also we obviously couldn't forecast how terrible things would become now. But even when we made the movie, we saw some resonance to the Arab Spring, to the countries that were in tumult, so naturally we just wanted to be judicious and careful about presenting the facts, and also stand firmly behind that and say, 'This is an examination of this part of the world, and just because a part of the world is undergoing strife and tumult, doesn’t mean that you stop examining it or you stop talking about it or looking at it.’ I think that would be a bad thing.”
On the lessons he’s learned directing each successive film:
“It's kind of been reinforced to me – and it's a little cliché, so it's probably not a great answer – but I've learned that you can't make a movie that even works, much less is good, without really good writing and really good acting. So that lesson has led me to not worry about and to not be distracted so much by the other stuff going on in filmmaking, and to focus on the essence of a story and the words and the events and the way that those are interpreted by the actors. That philosophy has taken me to a place that I really like.”
"Argo" opens in theaters on Oct. 12.