Ben Affleck and Chris Terrio explain choices behind “Argo”

The duo struggled to add "slightly mythical, slightly campy" tones into the high-stakes hostage narrative

Topics: Argo, Ben Affleck, chris terrio, Movies, Film, Hollywood,

In an interview issued by TheWrap today, director-writer duo Ben Affleck and Chris Terrio talked about the challenges and scene-by-scene decisions they made when working on the critically acclaimed film “Argo.” (Note: The interview and this post contain spoilers.) Set during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, the film tells the true story of six Americans who escaped under Iran’s watchful eye on the premise that they were actors in a Hollywood film, an outlandish plan concocted by CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck).

Affleck and Terrio explained that the most intriguing aspect of the story — its Hollywood twist — also gave them the biggest challenge: combining, as Affleck stated, ”the absurdity of the blue Wookie and the guy with his skintight suit saying, ‘Fire the thrusters!’ and then the propaganda, and seeing how the hostages were brutalized….”

In the excerpts below, Affleck and Terrio elaborate on some of their key concerns with the film.

On balancing the conflicting moods of the movie, Affleck said:

We had multiple tones in the movie, including this quasi-comic aspect, and the idea was to try to fuse those tones. It was done so deftly on the page that I didn’t even notice — but when I went to direct it I was worried. I wanted to foreshadow to the audience that, yes, there’s going to be drama and tension and life-and-death stakes, but also there’s this other aspect to it.

There’s also the storytelling theme — this slightly mythical, slightly campy feeling that can be woven in. That’s why I put in the storyboards and the fade-up fade-out incorporating real photographs and real video with drawings.

When the two knew the movie would work:

Terrio: That [the scene of actors reading the fake script] was one of the first things that I wrote. I had it in my head that if that sequence could work, then the movie would work. The idea was to combine those grave, almost J.R.R. Tolkien-ish intonations about the fantasy world with the geopolitical stuff from Iran and from the CIA.

Affleck: It was very tricky. When I read it I was entranced by it, and then I was filled with dread, because it very clearly said to me: This is what you need to execute to make the whole world of this movie work. If you can weave it together, you’ll have a movie. And if you fail at this, the movie will be broken.



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Affleck on the film’s truthfulness:

Typically, as a director, you have this prime directive, where all choices have to be made in light of what’s going to make the movie better. But when you’re doing a true story you have to serve two masters, because you’re trying to make the best movie you can but also one that hews faithfully to real events.

I felt really comfortable that we never did anything that corrupted or betrayed the basic truth. The end of the movie is the only sort of invented, fictionalized piece. And that is about having a third act that works, having that catharsis, and having a release that is appropriate to the stakes of the movie.

Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at pgupta@salon.com.

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