Ben Affleck on trying to transcend his ‘Boston Guy’ image in ‘Argo’
“Argo” winks at its audience a few times, but in its boldest instance, John Goodman’s character summarizes Hollywood’s stupidity for Ben Affleck’s character by telling him, “You could teach a rhesus monkey to be a director in a day.”
It’s a funny moment in a serious film, and it seems like the sort of self-effacing joke that Affleck, as director, might’ve advised his actor to say on the fly.
“That one was in, that Chris Terrio did,” clarifies Affleck, giving credit to the screenwriter. “I think all writers on some level hate directors, so I think he was a little bit like, ‘I don’t know, if you don’t like the rhesus monkey thing,’ and I was like, ‘It’s genius!’”
At this point, Affleck throws his hands in the air and his voice takes on a comically higher pitch. In person, he is a combination of confidence and uncertainty, which is why it would make sense that he might have tossed a line about monkeys directing into a movie that he’s directing. “Argo” is a little bit like a Russian nesting doll in this way, as there are so many components within one another. It’s a true story that’s a movie within a movie. Affleck plays a CIA operative who saved American diplomats trapped in Iran during the hostage crisis by pretending they were in the country only to do location scouting for a science-fiction film.
“This would have been the worst movie ever made if it weren’t true,” says Affleck. “It would just seem completely absurd.”
The stakes are high in “Argo” because anybody who learns the truth about the team as he or she leaves Iran will be killed. And the stakes are high for Affleck because although he has directed two successful films — “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town” — this is his first one outside of his hometown.
“I felt like I had something to prove because everyone just thought of me as ‘Boston Guy,’” he says.
Throughout a half-hour discussion, Affleck gives credit to almost everybody who worked on the movie but himself, from the costume designer to the extras, and especially his actors.
“John Ford said, ‘Directing is 90 percent casting,’ and I think in this movie, that was even maybe a little bit higher,” he says, almost as if making “Argo” was the same sort of traumatic and triumphant team effort that the story was based on.
“It was scary,” he says. “It was hard and I was nervous, just because I saw my future career being kind of dictated by it. But I’m a little bit neurotic.”
You can go home
After Affleck proves he can do a movie set in Iran and that he’s not just ‘Boston Guy,’ what is his next move? To do the most Boston thing possible: Come back home to do a film about Hub mob legend Whi-tey Bulger with Matt Damon!
“I’m really glad I made this movie,” he says of “Argo,” “so I could say, ‘OK, I can go make a Boston movie now and not feel totally pigeonholed.’ And [the Bulger story is] an amazing story. … It’s a really tough story because it’s so long. And I really want to do the whole span. … I want to go from Alcatraz and when they experimented on him with LSD and all the way ending up in the farmers market in Santa Monica and he’s 83 years old. So it’s tricky to have it not be fact, fact, fact, fact, fact, and get that far and also have resonance. … I will direct it, Matt will star in it, my brother will play Billy.”