Argo, the movie within a movie, is central to the thrilling true tale of a CIA agent (Ben Affleck) and his effort to free six American hostages who escaped the 1979 Embassy takeover in Tehran, Iran. John Goodman portrays a real life Oscar winner John Chambers, a makeup expert who took moonlighting work helping the CIA.
Arkin stars as the Hollywood producer of the fake film within Affleck’s film. As his character so eloquently says in the Argo trailer, “If I’m making a fake film, I want to make a fake hit!”
“They’re making the cheesiest conceivable film. It’s just dreadful,” Arkin said as he and co-star Goodman laughed. The pair is visiting with Movie Fanatic in the very hotel that served as the site of the press conference for Argo in the film -- The Beverly Hilton.
“There is a quote from Mark Twain that I love that goes, ‘The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to be credible.’ So they go to great pains to make it look like a genuine production,” Arkin added.
Affleck’s character, Tony Mendez, approaches Goodman and Arkin with the hopes of heading to Iran under the guise of a Canadian movie company scouting locations for a Star Wars-like sci-fi epic called Argo.
The need for it to be wholeheartedly believable requires Goodman and Arkin to hold several very public events to announce the filming of the never-will-be-made epic including opening offices in Hollywood devoted to making the movie. “They have casting calls, a script reading for the press, costumes… It’s imperative, because any mistake could have resulted in them being found out.”
Goodman relished portraying the real life Chambers, but was keenly aware of having to do his best. “I mainly didn’t want to do anything to dishonor his memory because he’s an important figure in makeup,” he said and laughed. “He won the first Oscar given to makeup. He did a lot of important work and he taught a lot of people.”
But it was the patriot in Chambers that Goodman most admired. “The way he served his country was what he knew best,” he added.
“John Chambers loves his craft and is also keen on using it to help the CIA. He enjoys serving his country in that way. So when Ben Affleck’s Tony Mendez comes to him and says he needs help putting a movie together, Chambers is intrigued. I was very attracted to the whole double life aspect of the character, but, first and foremost, it’s just a plain great, gripping story. I really wanted to be a part of the story.”
Arkin reported he knew late 1970s producers like his character Lester and had a ball diving in to that legendary Hollywood archetype. “Lester is a tough, smart film producer who knows the business inside and out. He’s skeptical at first about the possibility of this plan working at all, but as he gets more involved, the challenge of it energizes him,” Arkin said.
“To me, one of the most potent aspects of the film Argo is that they were confronted with an untenable situation and found a creative solution that did not involve any violence whatsoever.”
Both actors have seen it all and each could not stop extolling praise in their director and star, Affleck.
“The one thing, Ben was prepared -- and smartly so. He really trusts people and he delegates his authority in such a way that he doesn’t have to worry about little things because it has been taken care of already. Everything was so richly detailed on Argo. That makes our jobs as actors so much easier,” Goodman said.
“It was interesting to watch him go back and forth between the two (acting and directing). He knew exactly what he wanted, but he was flexible and a very generous collaborator, too.”
Arkin had seen his first two films, Gone Baby Gone and The Town, and saw a helmer in Affleck that possesses an eye of artists twice his age.
“Those first two films didn’t look like first films from anybody. They looked like the work of an old, seasoned professional,” Arkin said. “I think he’s going to be one of the very best directors around. I think he is already one of the best directors around! Ben is going to do some major work.”