Ben Affleck was at not one but two dinner parties hosted by the Peggy Siegal Company last night to celebrate his film Argo. The movie tells the outrageous real-life story of how CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) rescued six Americans trapped in Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis: He pretended they were part of a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a crappy sci-fi movie. (The six were otherwise holed up at the home of the Canadian ambassador.) Vulture spoke with Affleck about ripping off movies and why the entire cast looked like their real-life counterparts — except for him.
Have you ever gotten a movie idea from watching a movie, like how Tony got the rescue idea from Planet of the Apes?
I haven’t done a movie that I haven’t ripped off from another one! [Laughs.] This movie, we ripped off All the President’s Men, for the CIA stuff, a John Cassavetes movie called The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, which we really used as a reference for the California stuff, and then there was kind of a Battle of Algiers, Z/Missing/Costa-Gavras soup of movies, that we used for the rest of it. To me, that’s a healthy way to work, to get everybody on the same page. Obviously, we’re not remaking those movies, but I just would show them to our cinematographer, our actors, to go, “Here’s the tone.” I actually find it quite helpful.
Everyone else looks just like their real-life counterparts, although you don’t look a lot like Tony Mendez, even with the beard …
John Goodman looks just like the real guy [John Chambers], right? It’s incredible. And the houseguests, too. I’m the only guy who doesn’t look like the guy he’s playing, but you know, I wasn’t about to fire myself. But that’s why I did the hair and the beard. [Laughs.] The hair wasn’t the worst; the beard was the worst. My kids were hounding me, like, every day, “Dad! Shave!” Every day. I was like, “Just put up with the beard.”
With the six people trapped in the house, the houseguests, how did you achieve the sense of claustrophobia? Did you stick them in a room to live together for a week? Are you a Cianfrance-type director that way?
Yeah, we put them in the house, and we took away the Internet, took away their computers and phones, took away the TV, and we gave them stuff from that period — so they would have to actually talk to each other. I wanted them to be familiar with each other, and I wanted you to see that familiarity.
[Other reporters ask what he think he’s accomplished and what he still wants to do.]
This is the best professional experience of my life. This is the movie that I’m proudest of being associated with. But there are a still a ton of people I want to work with — Benicio Del Toro, Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Leonardo DiCaprio. I’ve not acted in a movie yet with George [Clooney] — Ocean’s 14! [Laughs.] By any standard in the world, I’m really fortunate, and I’m really happy to find myself where I am.