“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.”