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Interview: Ben Affleck

5th November 2012

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Ben Affleck directed and stars in Argo, a spy thriller based on the true story of the 1979 hostage crisis in Tehran. The film depicts the escape from Iran of six American Embassy workers after the building was stormed by students and militants in support of the Iranian Revolution. The events that followed were stranger than fiction, and remained a State Secret until they were declassified by Bill Clinton in 1997. 

Argo is set for release on Wednesday. Here, Affleck discusses the film. 

What is it like to juggle acting, directing and producing?

It is interesting. It's different, you know? Although I have to say, because I've been an actor for a while, I'm really used to being on a set, acting in front of the camera. So that doesn't feel like extra work, you know what I mean? It feels like the normal investment you have. The problem is that the time you take to think about your performance and what you're going to do just takes away from the amount of time you have to think about what you're going to do as a director. So, the big problem is just those two jobs fighting over time, and you only have a limited amount because, as they say, time is money.

Sometimes you're sort of peripherally aware of stuff that's going on when you're acting in a scene. And, a lot of actors, I think - acting, directing, it's about taste. Feeling as though the scene is working, or the scene isn't working, or liking what's going on with the extras. And a lot of actors will have the instincts about that, so it's not uncommon to have those kinds of sensory perceptions while you're working on a movie. It's just that you have to sort of learn to cultivate them. You have to really learn to listen, and then I just do it a bunch. And then go over to the monitor and say, sort of, "Did anybody notice anything weird?"

How did you cast the hostages?

I obviously want to have the best actors possible, but I also wanted people that I could make look just like the real people. Because I wanted that correlation, that similarity. It was a true story. To show people that, in fact, this is real, it really happened. And so that when they're in a magazine or in a book, or at the picture at the end of the movie, you could be kind of struck by the similarities. But it turned out that, mustaches and glasses, and a wardrobe kind of goes a long way toward getting people to look like the other, different people in the seventies.

And so what I did that I think was helpful was I made them all live on the set, in the house that we have dressed as the ambassador's residence in Tehran. And we put the period movies in, period magazines, and books, and their wardrobe. And they had to live. I couldn't find seventies food boxes, but they had to live together and get used to one another as if they've been cooped up together. And when they got out, you really did - It felt different. It felt like these were people who knew each other in a more intimate way.

What did you do to stay true to the historical events you were depicting?

You say a movie is based on true events, particularly a movie that's as outrageous as this one, and extraordinarily - with a thriller and a comedy and CIA story, and all this stuff, you have a responsibility to stay close to the truth. When you tell the audience this is a true story, you have to make it as true as you possibly can. So I kept, the spine and the heart of the story is absolutely true. These Americans escape from the embassy when it was taken over, they stayed with the Canadians. A CIA agent with a Hollywood Oscar-winning makeup artist came up with a plan to get them out that involved pretending they were making a movie. That's all real. John Chambers, the makeup artist that was friends with Tony Mendez? An absolutely real guy. He also looks almost exactly like John Goodman, and he was - he won the first Oscar for makeup, he did Planet of the Apes. He was the head of makeup for Warner Bros. But he also had his secret compartment makeup drawer with a lock on it. That's where he kept all his CIA disguises. The mask that got people out of, snuck people out of Southeast Asia and that kind of thing. So that was really true. The Alan Arkin character is a bit of a composite, and we made him a little bit more of a sort of old, famous, worldly producer. The real guy, Sidell, was a little bit less. Had a little bit less interesting history. And I thought Alan, to play that, you would get an even better sense into Hollywood, both a part that you kind of roll your eyes at and the part that's really interesting.

Read about more actors-turned-directors here

Watch the trailer for Argo below...

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