Based on the strange but true story of an audacious CIA rescue mission during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis that involved six State Department employees in Tehran posing as a Hollywood film crew to escape the country, the film "Argo" hopscotches across the globe and among different genres. It goes from Hollywood satire to Beltway thriller to geopolitical drama, and back.
In this installment of the Envelope Screening Series with The Times' John Horn, "Argo" screenwriter Chris Terrio and director-star Ben Affleck discuss how they managed to weave those narrative strands together.
"The question was, 'How do we find a tone in which all of those things can coexist, as they did in real life?' " Terrio says.
One of the crucial sequences, he adds, was a three-way montage: "If you could create a sequence in which you could unabashedly cut between these three worlds — which is to say, the D.C. world, the Hollywood world and the world of Tehran — and still feel like you're in the same movie, then we could get away with this."
Affleck says he was tempted to downplay the film's comedic elements. "There was a slight tonal shift away from comedy because I just was concerned that too much laughter, too much sort of having a good time would erode the audience's investment."
That said, Affleck credits costars John Goodman and Alan Arkin, playing two jaded Hollywood veterans, with injecting humor into the film without diverting its focus.
"Even though they were saying this stuff that, some of it sounded slightly absurd, you thought, 'Yeah, this guy would probably say that,'" Affleck says. "That's just a credit to those two actors, who really I think are the reason why the tones sort of were able to work together."
The Envelope Screening Series: Complete videos
Ben Affleck reveals what part of 'Argo' they had to invent [Video]
For 'Argo's' Ben Affleck, complex stories and characters work best