For those of you who’ve seen or heard anything about Ben Affleck’s buzzworthy award contender “Argo,” you’re aware of the fact that the most compelling aspect about the film is that it’s largely based on the true story of a government-sanctioned rescue of six Americans during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979. It is an almost unbelievable success story that relied heavily upon the generosity of our friends to the North in Canada, as well as an unlikely partnership between Hollywood and the government.
Now, because we’re talking about a movie made in Hollywood, not everything that goes down onscreen is to-the-letter what happened in real life, but a large portion of it is. Here’s a breakdown of the most interesting facts vs. the fiction in “Argo.”
The Truth about the Science Fiction
The fake movie that provides the cover for the six “houseguests” was originally called “Lord of Light,” based on Roger Zelazny’s award-winning science-fiction novel of the same name and later renamed by CIA hero Tony Mendez (the character played by Ben Affleck). According to Mendez’s published account of the story, the development of the film hit a wall when a member of the production team was arrested for embezzlement, but not before the producers had hired Jack Kirby, the famous comic-book artist, to do concept drawings.
The fake production company, “Studio Six Productions,” was created in four days and took over office space previously been occupied by Michael Douglas, who had just finished producing “The China Syndrome.”
Blame Canada (For Being Great)
Yes, the Canadian government does deserve the credit they received:
“That is absolutely unchanged,” Affleck said of the role the Canadian government played in the story during a recent press conference. “The fact that Tony was involved does justice and honor to the truth of Tony and the U.S.’s involvement, but none of that would’ve happened without our friends to the North, so thank you very much.”
The real-life events of how the “houseguests” ended up with the ambassador were compressed for the movie.
“At the beginning, the houseguests went from place A to place B to place C, and it would’ve been a lot of shoe leather,” Affleck said of their need to trim some of the facts in order to keep the story moving. “So we kind of compressed it to where they went straight to the Canadian ambassador’s.”
Also, not everyone stayed in Ambassador Taylor’s house, according to Mendez’s official report. Two of the six stayed, while the other four were housed in the residence of Canadian Deputy Chief of Mission John Sheardown.
The final act of the film, while still based on facts, is the portion where the filmmakers made use of the term “dramatic license.” There were brief delays in waiting for presidential approval, but there was never an order to abort the mission at any point. Mendez wrote that the approval delays occurred just before the Mendez entered Iran, not the day before their planned escape.
“I received another message from Washington directing me to delay my departure because the president wanted to give final approval and was being briefed at that moment,” he wrote. “After 30 minutes, I received the presidential OK in a terse message which said, ’President has just approved the finding. You may proceed on your mission to Tehran. Good luck.’ In terms of approvals, this case was the ultimate cliffhanger.”
And while Affleck’s movie-adapted account of what happened at the Tehran airport is tension-filled, the truth is that Mendez and Co. had “smooth sailing” through customs.
“They actually did go to the airport. The flight was delayed,” Affleck said. “There was a lot of anxiety, but it was all internal anxiety.”
Finally, according to Mendez they started to relax when they were boarding the plane and saw a “sign” that everything was going to plan.
“The name of our airplane was Argau, a region in Switzerland,” Mendez wrote in his official account. “We took it a sign that everything would be all right.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “Argo.”