(Lenny Gilmore / RedEye )
Years after Ben Affleck directed critical and commercial successes “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town,” many stories still peg the director/actor’s latest effort “Argo” as a comeback.
“That narrative has been going around for a while. I was like the GQ 2006 Comeback Man,” says Affleck, who does admit that he’d take back some of the movies he starred in if he could. “I guess I’ll know if a movie doesn’t work because they’ll be like, ‘You’re not coming back with this one; this isn’t the comeback one.’”
That storyline should be played out for good now. Affleck’s effective, real-life political thriller “Argo,” opening Friday, reiterates that the once-lambasted star of flops like “Gigli” and “Daredevil” is no joke—in front of the camera or behind it. The movie, based on documents declassified by President Clinton in 1997 about a secret CIA rescue operation launched during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, has huge Oscar buzz. Affleck stars as CIA operative Tony Mendez, who cooks up a plan to rescue American hostages by having them pose as a film crew for a movie that no one is actually making.
At the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, the 40-year-old Oscar winner (for co-writing “Good Will Hunting” with Matt Damon) considered his best work, his preferred method of execution and how he’d weave together items even more disparate than Hollywood, Iran and the CIA.
You praised Chris Terrio’s “Argo” script and embraced the challenge of weaving together different tones and elements like Hollywood, the CIA and Iran. I’ll give you three other concepts, and you tell me how you’d pull a story out of there: Wall Street, the Eiffel Tower, Victoria’s Secret models.
I think you have to start with the Victoria’s Secret models. And just see if the other elements make their way in at any point. I’m not sure they need to be in the story. I think you have a movie already with the models.
What’s the story? What are they doing?
The models are on the run. There could be an attack at a shoot. They have to escape. I don’t know; I’m still working on it.
“It was agony” is how you described the terror of directing your first two movies. What’s something in “Argo” you think you wouldn’t have been able to pull off without that prior experience?
Well, a lot. I just definitely learned a ton from doing two movies and feeling like I grew and knew how to handle different situations and was a little bit more confident. It was still a healthy amount of fear. I think fear can be a good driver if it doesn’t overwhelm you. If it gets you up early in the morning and keeps you working hard … but one of the nice things is I wasn’t quite as fearful as last time.
What percent of the shoot would you say you felt those nerves?
It wasn’t nearly as strong. “Gone Baby Gone” I had the fear that maybe I really couldn’t do it. Maybe I wouldn’t finish the movie. Maybe something terrible would happen. “The Town” I was more just fearful of executing the action stuff. That was new. This one, it was the tone. Combining these three tones, making it funny and tense. I thought was a really daunting [task] directorially. So that was where I was focusing my anxiety.
You mentioned that many recent war-related films have been too depressing for audiences. How much do you think people need that lightness in their true stories to want to see them?
I don’t know, ‘cause there’s been great war stories and stuff. It just seems to ebb and flow in terms of levels of popularity, audiences, the zeitgeist. It’s impossible to say. I think you’re 100 percent right, though, that if there’s levity in it and there’s a release valve for audiences and they can laugh, I think they’re going to have a better time at the movies. And that’s one of the reasons why I really liked the comedy in this movie is to not just make the movie just a thriller or just a war story and give them something they could genuinely laugh with.
If you were in a position where you had to choose, would you rather be hanged or beheaded?
I would opt to avoid both.
That’s not an option.
“Death is not an option.” Huh. I guess it depends on the method of beheading. I mean the guillotine’s pretty merciful, but there’s some other ways that are pretty grisly.
It’s the guillotine.
I would say morphine overdose. Quiet, in my sleep. One of those Kevorkian [operations], or whatever they do.
I was going to say the third choice is being locked in a room and listening to LMFAO for the rest of your life.
Well, I suppose that’s one option as well, yeah.