Ben Affleck on Preparing for ‘Argo’, Acting in the Film and Getting “Lucky” in Casting
Every media outlet wants to talk to Ben Affleck about Argo, his new film based on the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, and Affleck is happy to talk about his dual roles as a director and an actor (along with also being one of the film’s producers!) Though many of these interviews have focused on Affleck’s second-career success as a director, in others he has spoken about his acting approach to the film and how he worked with the cast as actors.
Affleck plays the lead role of CIA specialist Tony Mendez, though early speculation claimed that George Clooney would play the Mendez role. Affleck dismisses the speculation as a jump to a conclusion based on Clooney’s role as a producer. Affleck says, “Every time somebody buys a script for their company—in this case it was George Clooney’s company—they figure George is going to do it. I called him up and said that this is what I want to do and this is how I want to do it. And he said great. He was doing Ides of March and then he was going to do Gravity. So he had a full dance card himself. If he entertained doing it, it’s not something he told me.”
Affleck explains that he was drawn to the project not only as a director, but as an actor. He says, “I thought there was this really interesting part, because there was this guy who because of the nature of his job had to blend in. He was taciturn and quiet and had to be unobtrusive. At the same time, he had to be a leader that inspired these people to be brave enough to do what they had to do. As an exfiltration officer [Mendez] was often in this position to have to lead people and push them along, and that—the tension between those things—was really interesting to me. Plus I found that it’s just good as an actor if you could find a way to be in good movies, and this was a very good script.”
To prepare for the role, Affleck spent a lot of time with the real-life Tony Mendez, but admits he didn’t want to bug him too much. He reveals, “I spent a fair amount of time with him. We’d meet. We’d talk on the phone. Also Chris [Terrio, screenwriter] had done a gigantic amount of research with Tony and his wife and the houseguests [who had been hiding at Canadian officials’ homes prior to escaping], so I was able to draw on him without having to hammer Tony every day. But he was really helpful and so were the houseguests. They really wanted to see the story told.”
However, based on his interactions with the real-life Mendez Affleck picked up on one key element of his personality that he worked into his portrayal. He says, “When I talked to Tony, I saw he gives nothing away. And that was his idea, to be totally unmemorable. When you dug deeper and find out what he had actually done, he was quite impressive. So that’s what I was trying to do, struggle with that contrast between someone who puts nothing out there but is also a leader and accomplished.”
As for the other actors he also tried other techniques, including fostering familiarity among the six actors playing hostage escapees by having them live together in the house they filmed in for six days. Affleck points out, “The hardest thing to do is act familiarity. But they ended up being a unit.”
Above all, Affleck compliments the film’s cast on the quality of the finished movie. He says, “I know good acting, and I got lucky. And I really believed in the actors, and I knew I had to give them the best environment to do their job.”