October 5, 2012

A Trio of Unlikely, Unsung Heroes of "Argo"

Helping Ben Affleck's character in Warner Bros.' new thriller “Argo” mount the daring and covert mission to rescue six Americans trapped in Iran, following the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy, is a trio of unlikely accomplices played by Bryan Cranston, John Goodman and Alan Arkin.

On November 4, 1979, as the Iranian revolution reaches its boiling point, militants storm the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage. But, in the midst of the chaos, six Americans manage to slip away and find refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. Knowing it is only a matter of time before the six are found out and likely killed, a CIA “exfiltration” specialist named Tony Mendez (Affleck) comes up with a risky plan to get them safely out of the country. A plan so incredible, it could only happen in the movies.

Cranston plays Jack O’Donnell, the assistant deputy director of the CIA and Tony Mendez's direct superior. “Tony Mendez answers to Jack O’Donnell, so Jack feels responsible for him and for the mission,” Cranston offers. “In my research about the CIA, one of the things that stood out to me was the credo that they don’t leave anyone behind. You go to any lengths possible to get them out of harm’s way, and that applied to the six trapped Americans who were there because they were working for the government. That really helped inform my character.”

Cranston says that, once he read the script, he had no hesitation in taking the part. “There are things that you respond to immediately, viscerally, and ‘Argo’ was definitely one of those. It was tense and dramatic and engrossing, and every time I read it, I got charged up again. Opportunities to be a part of something like this don’t come along often, so I’m very glad I am.”

Mendez might never have come up with the fake movie plan if he did not have a real movie contact in renowned makeup artist John Chambers, who had been awarded an Honorary Oscar® for his masks for the original “Planet of the Apes.” Clandestinely, however, Chambers has been also applying his skills to the more serious pursuits of the government’s Intelligence operations.

John Goodman, who portrays the makeup pioneer, remarks, “He loves his craft and is also keen on using it to help the CIA; he enjoys serving his country in that way. So when Tony comes to him and says he needs help putting a movie together, Chambers is intrigued. I was very attracted to the whole double life aspect of the character, but, first and foremost, it’s just a plain great, gripping story.”

Although the movie is only a charade, it has to be a believable one, so Mendez and Chambers need a bona fide producer. Affleck explains, “When you look at it from the point of view of building a cover, well the cover had better be strong, so they had to have a presence. We wanted someone who would be emblematic of Old Hollywood, somebody who knows everybody, the kind of guy you would go to if you needed to make your fake movie look legit.”

Enter movie mogul Lester Siegel. To play this industry icon, the filmmakers cast an industry icon: Alan Arkin.

“Lester is a tough, smart film producer who knows the business inside and out,” Arkin describes. “He’s skeptical at first about the possibility of this plan working at all, but as he gets more involved, the challenge of it energizes him…the fact that it did seem impossible. To me, one of the most potent aspects of the film is that they were confronted with an untenable situation and found a creative solution that did not involve any violence whatsoever.”

Despite Lester’s edict that if he’s going to produce a fake movie “it’s going to be a fake hit,” Arkin admits, “They’re making the cheesiest conceivable film; it’s just dreadful. The only reason they chose it was because it can be used as a blind to get into Iran, not because it has any merit whatsoever as a film,” he laughs. “There is a quote from Mark Twain that I love that goes, ‘The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to be credible.’ So they go to great pains to make it look like a genuine production. They have trade ads, casting calls, a script reading for the press, costumes… It’s imperative, because any mistake could have resulted in them being found out.”

Opening across the Philippines on Oct. 17, “Argo” is distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

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