The hair. Everybody asks Ben Affleck about the shaggy hair and close-cropped
beard he sports in "Argo," which makes him look like a pastiche of
under-the-gun figures from smart 1970s movies: Warren Beatty in "The Parallax
View" plus Michael Douglas in "The China Syndrome" times Al Pacino in
"I know my hair didn't impress anybody," he says with a laugh of the style that he has said his family hated. "You know, you can't cheat. You've got to do it right. While nobody says they thought it looked great, nobody says they didn't think it was realistic, either."
Don't let the casual tone fool you. The actor, whose career soared with 1997's "Good Will Hunting" and who went on to appear in critical punching bags like "Gigli" and oversized action films like "Pearl Harbor" (and occasional small gems like "Hollywoodland"), has spent the past five years or so redefining himself as the director of the taut dramatic thrillers "Gone, Baby, Gone" and "The Town," on which he did double-duty as lead actor.
His latest project as a director and star is "Argo," a crisp, funny and nail-bitingly tense drama based on the real story of a daring rescue that was conducted during the Iran hostage crisis that began in 1979. Given the critical response it's been getting, Affleck could find himself back at the Oscars next year competing for a directing statuette to match the screenwriting one he shared with Matt Damon 15 years ago for "Hunting."
But for now, he'd rather talk about the hair than the awards buzz. "I'm really excited whenever anybody says they like the movie," Affleck says, deflecting talk of the shiny gold O-word. "I don't ask any questions after that."
The 40-year-old husband (he's married to actress Jennifer Garner) and father of three sounds as if he has absorbed some of the reticence of the character he plays in "Argo," CIA agent Tony Mendez, whose heroic work was kept top secret until President Bill Clinton lifted the mission's classified status in 1997.
And what an assignment it was. The film begins with the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran that would lead to 52 Americans spending 444 days in captivity. But during the chaos, six men and women are able to flee before becoming hostages.
Enter Mendez, who comes up with a totally unexpected idea for safely getting the six, who are hiding at the Canadian ambassador's residence, out of Iran. In a brilliantly unlikely twist, he suggests a covert operation that would have them pose as a six-person Canadian film crew that's scouting locations in the Middle East for a "Star Wars"-style adventure named "Argo."
Mendez enlists the help of two veteran Hollywood figures and, with much support from the Canadian government, attempts to do what seems impossible. As Mendez's CIA boss, played by Bryan Cranston, tells his superiors, "This is the best bad idea we have, sir. By far."
The "Argo" project came to Affleck by way of George Clooney and Grant Heslov, the filmmaking partners who spent part of 2011 in southeast Michigan shooting "The Ides of March." (One of the local "Ides" actors, University of Michigan alum Yuriy Sardarov, has a small part in "Argo.")
"I got it as a 'Hey, do you want to do this?' kind of thing," recalls Affleck, who also is a producer of the film. "I was just elated when I read
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