Ben Affleck knows the truth about Argo

AT HIS BEST: Ben Affleck's Argo is the favourite to win best picture at the Oscars.
Getty Images
AT HIS BEST: Ben Affleck's Argo is the favourite to win best picture at the Oscars.

Ben Affleck's Argo is the favourite to win best picture at the Oscars on Sunday (Monday NZT), yet he is still fielding questions on the film's accuracy.

It's been a long conversation for the director and star of the film, as the truth of the matter was Affleck's first question as well.

Affleck says when he received the script "I read it and it had this incredible nail-biting thriller, and this really funny comedy, and this incredible CIA spy story, all written you know into one, I just couldn't believe it. The fact that it was true completely blew me away. So, as soon as I read it, I looked on the internet. Like, did this stuff really happen? I've got to do this movie".

Despite being a story "based on fact" with no claim to documentary status, the movie has been criticised for its historical inaccuracies, particularly playing down the role of the Canadian government in facilitating the extraction of six US diplomats from Iran disguised as a fake science fiction film crew and reimagining their adrenalin-charged departure from Tehran's Mehrabad airport.

For Affleck, these are essentially insignificant changes, necessary to adapt the true story for the screen.

"The majority of the characters are exactly real people," he explains.

"They have the same names. They do the same things. It's what happened. It's absolutely true that these people, with these names, were working at the US embassy. It got taken over. They hid out with the Canadians. And one of them was Kent Taylor. Then John Chambers, Hollywood make-up artist, and Tony Mendez, CIA agent, came up with an idea to get them out, rescue them using the cover of a movie story location scout. That's completely true. All of those characters are completely real.

"The stuff that we had to do to sort of help make a three-act structure was kind of tertiary."

Even when it came to digital effects, the key for Affleck was that any changes were unnoticeable.

"There's no real footage in the movie except some news footage.

"What we did was we used special effects. Usually people use that to make Harry Potter's wand turn into fire or what-have-you. We used it to change things to Farsi letters or take off the new McDonald's logo off something and make everything period, but not obvious and not funny. We didn't want the clothes to be like Shaft and all the stuff to just be endlessly about like 'Remember this brand?'. We wanted to layer it in so that it was in the background and it felt convincing. But we spent a decent amount of special effects time doing stuff that you would never know was special effects because it was just basically 1979 special effects."

Far from trying to rewrite history, Affleck hopes the film's success will provide a hook to audiences to learn more about what happened.

To that end, special features included in the home entertainment version will mean "you'll be able to see a bunch of the interviews with people who are involved in this, who you didn't get to see in the movie, because it's this incredible story that would have taken me 10 hours to tell. And because I couldn't do that, I still wanted the audience to be able to see some of the documentaries and to be able to hear the voices from the real people who were there. So we have these incredible interviews with hostages at the embassy and all kinds of people who participated in the actual event".

Affleck is receiving accolades and awards for his efforts on Argo, but he admits to having worked just as hard on his equally famous flops such as Gigli.

"It's always hard trying to make a movie good," he says. "I've never been in a situation where I felt that it was easy. Movies that I've done that I think have worked OK and the ones that I'm not as happy with, they're just as hard, both of them. They're equally difficult."

"Fortunately, [Argo] turned out to be what I think is the best movie I've ever been involved with. I just think it's amazing."

*Follow the all Oscar action with Stuff on Monday. 

Sydney Morning Herald