Argo - Ben Affleck
Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) © 2012 Warner Bros

Based on true events, Argo chronicles the formally classified story of a covert operation to rescue six Americans in 1980, following the Iran Embassy crisis. How did they do it? By pretending to be a movie production shooting a new science fiction film called “Argo,” which wasn’t greenlit by a studio, but by the Commander-in-Chief, President Jimmy Carter.

Ben Affleck, who directs the drama, which is already receiving enormous Oscar buzz, also takes on the role of CIA agent Tony Mendez.

Why did you want to direct this movie?

Argo - Alan Arkin and Ben Affleck
Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) © 2012 Warner Bros

When I got the script I couldn’t believe how good it was. What struck me right away was you have this thriller, and then in equal measure this kind of comic Hollywood satire, and this really intricate real life CIA spy story, and it’s all based on truth.

So that seemed like a fantastically interesting and unusual movie to be part of, and I really wanted to direct it.

What was it about Tony Mendez that made you want to play him as well as direct the film?

This actor side of my brain, that is still in that phase of auditioning and trying to make connections and get work, asked the director of the movie for a job, and the director was in a tough spot and had to say yes!

The thing I wanted to play about Tony is that he was a very withdrawn guy. He’s not the conventional protagonist hero, beating his chest .

He has this instinct from his days of being a spy to fade into the background, and I thought it was interesting to subvert the traditional Hollywood protagonist and have a guy in that position who instinctively doesn’t want to be noticed.

What was the most difficult sequence to shoot in this picture?

Argo -Director Ben Affleck
Director Ben Affleck on the set © 2012 Warner Bros

The most challenging thing was the big extras scene. It was a long lead up to trying to get thousands of people in Turkey to show up, and a lot of anxiety about if they would.

It was harder to get younger people, and it was a student revolution, so we didn’t want to look like a riot at the senior center.

We tried to make it as real as possible and it required a lot of people and a lot of wrangling, because you have 2000 people, and if some of them are cold, they just go home.

How did the Jimmy Carter narration at the end of the movie come about?

Argo - John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Ben Affleck
John Chambers (John Goodman), Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) © 2012 Warner Bros

I wanted to hear Carter’s voice saying to the audience, ‘Really, this took place,’ and cement that in the audience’s mind.

You’re the person who’s the President of the United States who ordered this mission we talk about, saying, ‘Yes, it was a film crew. Yes, this is legitimate.’ I thought that would work to lock in the narrative.

Chay Carter, who is a producer on the movie, went and interviewed President Carter and got this stuff out of him that was directly about our movie and our story.

It’s kind of amazing.

Ben was asked what he thinks of all the Oscar buzz surrounding the film – click below to listen to his answer.

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Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.