Mendez, now retired and on the circuit promoting the film, based in part on his autobiography, joined the interview, praising Affleck for his attention to detail and veracity. He had even offered Affleck some of his own 1970s clothing to wear, sport coats and polyester prints.
“There was a green turtleneck, which I drew the line at,” Affleck said.
“That was my main shirt,” Mendez said. “For an Irish filmmaker you got to have a green turtleneck.”
Affleck: “Don’t admit that to people.”
Mendez: “It’s what we call a distracter — kind of like you are.”
Costumer Jacqueline West and production designer Sharon Seymour labored to create the right period feel. “I wanted to spread the wardrobe and the cars out, so it wasn’t just everybody was there from 1979,” Affleck said. The look for John Goodman’s character, John Chambers, a real Hollywood makeup artist, was deliberately 1960s. (“You know, people get stuck in their eras,” Affleck said. “I’m stuck in ‘93. That’s how I do it. Cargo pants are back.”)
Affleck was also keen to home in on the workaday quality of spy life, especially the way it both connected and frayed its employees and their families. “The sacrifices that were being made were being done in silence,” he said. “We live in a culture now where you go on a talk show and say, ‘This is what I’ve done,’ or ‘This is the kind of victim I am.’ We’re very public with that sort of thing.”
By contrast he wanted to pay tribute to CIA officers who risk their lives yet take no credit.
“As Tony often says, it’s not a place of deranged assassins,” he said. “It’s a place of people who’ve come in to work, work really hard, care about life, care about their country.”
Marrying that vision with the satirical Hollywood storyline was the challenge that most worried Affleck. Clooney, Matt Damon (Affleck’s childhood friend and Good Will Hunting co-writer), his brother Casey Affleck, pals like Bradley Cooper and select non-entertainment industry confidants served as sounding boards, helping convince Affleck that he had nailed the tone.
“It’s a little bit of what I did with The Town,” he said. “I kind of wrapped what I thought was thoughtful, thematically interesting drama in the hard candy of shootouts and gun chases.”
Though he called Argo “the best thing I’ve been involved with in my career,” there is one thing he fears will haunt him. With screenwriter Chris Terrio (also an Oscar nominee), Affleck coined the profane punch line that pivots through the movie, a catchphrase that puns on its title and is not quite fit for print.
“I almost wish we didn’t do it,” Affleck said, “even though I think it works, because I have doomed myself for at least a few years of strangers coming up to me on the street” and repeating the line.