When angling for the lead in the you-couldn’t-make-it-up movie of a group of American embassy staff who escaped from Iran by posing as a film crew, Ben Affleck was at a distinct advantage.
“I was sleeping with the director,” he admits dryly.
Before anyone starts getting outraged on behalf of his wife Jennifer Garner, it should be noted that it is Ben himself who directs Argo.
The tension-riddled thriller set in 1979/80, during the time of the revolution in Iran, came to him via producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov.
“I was stunned by how good it was,” says Ben. “It was a drama, a thriller, a comedy and a true story. So I called George right away and said ‘I have got to do this. Here’s how I am going to do it’.
“We talked for a couple of hours. I think he said yes just to get me off the phone.”
Forty-year-old Ben was just a boy when the drama took place, starting when militants stormed the American embassy in Tehran and took 52 people hostage.
Six Americans managed to escape and sought sanctuary with the Canadian ambassador. There they remained until the CIA launched an audacious but covert plan to send a specialist, Tony Mendez (Affleck), in to persuade the six to pretend they were Canadian film makers researching locations for a new Star Wars-inspired sci-fi movie.
However, all the credit had to be given to the Canadians as the CIA’s involvement couldn’t be revealed until the operation was declassified in 1997.
“I remember very little of it. I vaguely remember Ted Kennedy’s primary challenge (for the Democratic nomination) when he ran against Carter,” recalls Ben.
“I remember the Star Wars action figures (that Tony Mendez’s son has in his bedroom). I was exactly the age of the little boy in the movie so most of what I remember is my Star Wars sheets.”
However, he has injected an authentic 70s feel into the style of the movie, faithfully recreating images seen on news reels.
“I thought the subconscious mind of the viewer might be more thoroughly convinced they were watching something that was taking place because the optics are such that it looks like it was made at that time.”
In order to get his six actors to react to each other as if they had been cooped up together for a long period of time, he made them go method by sequestering them for a week in a home with 1970s decor and cut them off from the modern world.
It meant no computers, mobile phones, outside TV or any technology beginning with an i.
Ben said he wasn’t too concerned about there being any Big Brother style bust-ups over the board games and books that were their only entertainment.
“I didn’t think there was any risk they might have a falling out but it didn’t matter whether they liked or hated each other – both of those things would manifest on camera and it would feel authentic.
“I thought it might even be better if there were two people who didn’t like each other and I could have them improvise with one another, or put them in the same room and do all kinds of quasi social experiments/scenes.
“To my disappointment they all got along very well.”
There was some reluctance among the actors to give up all links to their normal lives.
“Tate (Donovan) wanted to bring his yoga mat and I was like ‘There is no yoga in ‘79.
“He said ‘What are you talking about? Yoga is a movement and has been around for centuries. Everyone was doing it in the ‘70s’.
“I said ‘Okay, 48-year-old state employee Bob Anders (whom Tate plays) was not doing yoga in Tehran’. I had to peel the mat out of his hands.”
“At the end they came out saying ‘This was amazing, it really helped’. Whether they were saying that to suck up for more screen time or whether it was real I don’t know but it was satisfying to hear.”
Ben’s capable handling of the movie has proved that he is his own best director, his performances rising to match his skill behind the camera.
“I always wanted to be a director. I made some very bad student films in my youth.
“Probably the smartest thing I have ever done is to use my acting career as a free film school. They can’t kick you out for asking questions if you are actually in the movie, so that is what I did.”
Argo has already been given an award at the Toronto International Film Festival and Oscar buzz is beginning to surround it.
Ben refuses to be drawn into such an optimistic speculation.
“I have been around for many award seasons. I have lived through many that have passed me by,” he laughs.
“Movies are tricky. You work so hard on them and you want people to come and see it. If nobody does it is just a tree falling in the woods.”