Ben Affleck got the script from Warner Bros. executives for Argo and was immediately stunned. “I couldn't believe how good it was. They said, 'This is our best script.' I thought that was some executive hyping me on it, but it really was pretty incredible. I was amazed,” Affleck told Movie Fanatic.
Argo follows the story of CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) and his heroic action that got six Americans out of Iran who had escaped the U.S. Embassy when it was taken over in 1979. Our hostages spent 444 days in captivity, but there was a silver lining to that story that has been classified… until recently.
He talked to the film's producers -- George Clooney and Grant Heslov -- and could not hold back his enthusiasm. “I talked to [them] and said, ‘Look, I really want to do this. This is amazing!'"
Affleck approached Argo screenwriter Chris Terrio and had to get to the heart of the astounding true story. “I went back and talked to Chris and said, ‘How did you do this?’” Affleck recalled. Bringing the story to life seemed almost impossible. There was no way, he thought, that anyone would buy that this story really happened. Its roots in Hollywood lore would prove too much. But, Affleck persevered.
“I looked at some documentaries and read some books and thought, ‘God, this is really unwieldy. It felt like it should have been a 10-hour mini-series. How did you get that down into a three-act structure?’”
Not only had Affleck found his next directing effort, he also found the next role of his career in Mendez. “I wanted to play him because the script was really interesting. It struck me, right away, that you had this thriller and then, in equal measure, this comic Hollywood satire and this really intricate real-life CIA spy story based on truth,” Affleck said.
“That seemed like a fantastically interesting and unusual movie to be a part of, and I really wanted to direct it. And then, the 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.”
Affleck spent time with Mendez. It was important to do the story of Argo justice on so many levels.
“He wanted to meet me at this famous old CIA bar in Georgetown that he told me was where Aldrich Ames passed names of the American agents in Russia to his Russian handlers. When he told me that, it 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,” Affleck said.
Although Hollywood is well represented in Argo, this was a different story.
“It wasn’t just sliding down the roof and kicking in the window and shooting three guys, which is the kind of thing that we, in Hollywood, tend to think of as the CIA. It was a real thing, and it’s out there. These folks are making sacrifices for us, every day.”
The most difficult, and honestly, tense scenes to film for him were the initial protests that turn into the U.S. Embassy takeover. Getting thousands of extras in Turkey, in foul weather no less, to cooperate proved to be the director’s biggest challenge of his career -- this from a man who staged a cinematic robbery of Fenway Park in The Town.
“Trying to get thousands of people in Turkey to show up, there was a lot of anxiety about whether they would. And there were some issues because it was harder to get younger people. It was a student revolution, so you didn’t want it to look like a riot at the senior center,” Affleck said and laughed.
“We tried to make it as real as possible, and it required a lot of people and a lot of wrangling. When you have 2,000 people, if they’re cold, they just go home.”
Speaking of home, how did Affleck’s family react to his classically 1970’s look?
“My family unanimously hated the look, for different reasons. There was a united front. My kids kept saying, ‘Can you shave the prickles?’ and I said, ‘I’ve gotta wear this for work,'" Affleck recalled. "Finally, my daughter was like, ‘What kind of work would want you to look like that?!’”
If Affleck the director is following a Clint Eastwood-like path to acting-directing greatness, he admitted he is still learning and is simply finding success by surrounding himself with the best of the best.
“No matter what you’re doing, if you’re trying to make a movie, you need to be working with people that are really good and who make you better. I have a lot of titles in front of my name, but the movie works as well, if not better, than anything I’ve been involved in because of the amazing cast that I put together and who were willing to do it,” Affleck said.
But there is so much more. “I’ve learned that you can’t make a movie that even works, much less that’s good, without really good writing and really good acting. That lesson has led me 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.”
When it comes to the Oscar buzz that is surrounding Argo, Affleck is not only humble, but also pragmatic about wanting to get people to see his film… period.
“There isn’t anybody out there who has paid a dime to buy a ticket yet to see this movie,” he said. “When you work for as long as we all have, on something like this, the focus is just on the audience coming to see it. Otherwise, you’re just a tree in the woods. You’ve spent all that time for a plastic disc. The goal is to have it be as large a collective experience as possible.”
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