Ben Affleck and Chris Terrio on 'Argo,' the Middle East and the root of all drama
John Goodman, meanwhile, actually bears a physical resemblance to Chambers, which made that decision even easier. "When you look at the picture and you look at John, and you think of their sensibilities there and the movies they have done, I don’t know how much credit I should get for casting because it’s so obvious," Affleck says. "It was just a question of getting them; it wasn’t a question of who it should be."
In hammering out a visual look, Affleck concedes he stands on the shoulders of giants. Craftspeople like Seymour, who was tasked with steeping the film in period without calling overt attention to that, or DP Rodrigo Prieto, who would discuss at a post-screening Q&A a few days later the various film tests he went through to produce the distressed look that Affleck liked -- they are a huge reason for the success of "Argo" on a visual level.
Affleck looked to films like "The Verdict" and "Three Days of the Condor" for cues, "The Parallax View" as well. And like another CIA film that's hitting theaters this season, "Zero Dark Thirty," "Argo" owes plenty to "All the President's Men."
"It was mentioned in the script and when I saw it mentioned in the script I really took it and kind of ran with it," Affleck says of Alan J. Pakula's 1976 film. "I looked at how it was shot and I learned a lot. There was a use of wide shots that was different. They used diopters to give the room more depth, which we did in a couple other scenes. They kind of kept the camera on a dolly for that stuff and I don’t know if that was intentional or not but I thought that would be a good counterweight to the handheld stuff for Iran. And I really liked the color palette and the way that it seemed to be very sort of expansive, even though it was interiors. And the acting was just magnificent."
But for all the talk of formalism, it was important to Affleck that the film's visuals always connect on a human level. While he and Terrio weren't afraid of structure, they also wanted to leave the film room to breathe.
"Ben keeps bringing it back to this humanist thing where you just keep landing on the faces of people, whether they’re the actors or whether they’re the extras," Terrio says. "And I think that when you've carefully thought out a structure, it’s important to keep finding the little messy edges, the places where the edges fray a bit. And I think Ben does that. Constantly, right up to the end, you never feel like you’re going through some sort of direct linear structure, because it keeps trying to elbow its way out in any number of scenes. Things like the bazaar, where it suddenly feels like this strange belly of the beast that you’re going into structurally, and yet when you’re watching the scene it just feels like this dynamic, alive organism."
It was all part and parcel of creating a vast mixture that might seem on the surface to be simplistic or just straight-forward as a thriller, but underneath, has plenty on its mind.
"I feel that if you could encapsulate your movie in a sentence you probably shouldn’t make it," Affleck says, "because why not just tell people? But for me, it’s dealing with themes and those themes, if done well, will provoke things in the audience and they take it from there. But, that being said, I do think it's really interesting, politically speaking, to look at the fact that Iran is our greatest foreign policy concern right now and this is the root of that. I had never seen a movie that's represented it so cleanly or wanted to deal with it so acutely. It also, I think, reminds people of what sort of connection we all have, and I think that’s important. Because it’s not a movie about making people good guys and bad guys. I think ultimately, like Chris said, there is sort of an element of humanism in it that I think is really important. It deals with storytelling, and the power of storytelling."
"Argo" may still be playing in a theater near you. It lands on DVD/Blu-ray on February 19.