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Interview: Ben Affleck discusses “Argo”

Actor-director Ben Affleck in a movie still from "Argo," based on true events.

Actor-director Ben Affleck in a movie still from "Argo," based on true events.

“You could never imagine it happening,” actor-director Ben Affleck said of the true but hard-to-believe plot of his new movie “Argo.”

The tense thriller tells the story of Americans who were spirited out of Iran following the 1979 revolution by a CIA operative posing as a filmmaker. “Argo” is the name of the fake film that was never made, but that provided the cover necessary for the escape.

“I hope people leave with a sense of national pride,” Affleck told us during a phone interview to discuss the movie, which is getting excellent reviews and generating Oscar buzz. “It’s important to remember as Americans: sometimes we do do it right. Sometimes we do get it right. It’s a pretty great place.”

In the movie Affleck plays Tony Mendez, who revealed details of the daring operation in his 2000 memoir “The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA,” after the matter was declassified.

“It’s a tribute to our clandestine service,” Affleck said. “What I was making then and what I’m even prouder I’m making now is a tribute to our forces.”

Indeed, although the the movie nails the late 1970s time period with the hairstyles, fashion, automobiles, electronics, television shows and even toys of the era, parts of it feel very contemporary. Scenes in which angry mobs encircle the embassy, chanting and burning the American flag, recall the recent attacks on American diplomats in Libya.

“Part of this movie is how history repeats itself,” Affleck said. “The audience brings current events to the movie, in the light of the tragic events in Bengazi.”

Here is a video clip of Affleck discussing the movie:

To prepare for the role, Affleck spent time with U.S. forces, traveling with troops to gain an understanding of the life of servicemen and women.

“It gave me a fuller more complete picture with what goes on,” he said. “It’s added to my apprecaiton to what it’s like to work in a chaotic situation.”

Given the nerve-wracking plot, Affleck works in moments of levity. Scenes set in Hollywood provide opportunities to poke fun at industry insiders, one of whom observes as plans for the fake movie take shape: “If you want to spread a lie, get the press to sell it for you.” (Zing!)

John Goodman is avuncular and lovable as legendary makeup artist John Chambers, who was in on the operation. Alan Arkin is the deadpan Hollywood producer Lester Siegel who promises the fake movie will be “a fake hit.”

“Anytime you can include Hollywood and the CIA you have to include some comedy,” Affleck said. “You can’t sort of strangle the audience with tension throughout. You have to take your foot off the gas.”

Former President Jimmy Carter appears in voice-over, lending the movie additional authenticity and gravitas.

“I didn’t want to say, hey this movie’s a referendum on the Carter presidency,” Affleck said. “Instead I was showing the audience the president validates the fact that it’s real.”

The movie is apolitical and even-handed, and its timing just happens to coincides with eerily similar conflict abroad.

“It makes me sad,” Affleck said of the current strife abroad. “It makes me hope we don’t find ourselves continually see history repeated itself.”

2 comments Add your comment

Tell the truth Ben!!! Thank Canada!!!

October 12th, 2012
11:35 am

What a sad slap in the face to the real hero in all of this – please folks, “google” Ken Taylor, the Canadian ambassador who was the true mastermind in all of this. The CIA operative was actually in Iran for a mere 36 hours, with all the behind the scene work being done by Canadians who literally put their lives on the line for months, to save their neighbors to the South. It was the Canadians who came up with just about all of the ruses, including issuing the fake documents, to get these folks out of the country and not the CIA. In fact, in one of the few scenes where the CIA was actually involved, the Canadians had to tell them to correct the fake passports which actually had them leaving the country before they entered due to the CIA incorrectly translating an Iranian calendar. This film premiered in Toronto, Canada, causing a big uproar over the snub to Ken Taylor. This is why at the end of the film you will see a comment by the ambassador Ken Taylor. Shame on you Ben!!! And thank you Canada, our modest neighbors to the North.

Oh, Canada !

October 15th, 2012
10:01 am

I saw the movie Friday – great movie – Alan Arkin in a national treasure – the Canadians’ contribution was not lost on me – nor was Ken Taylor’s – I left the theater with more respect for the Canadian’s and their diplomacy than before I saw the movie – Ben did the best he could to cover as much as he could in 120 mins. – it’s a Tony Mendez movie after all