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In 'Argo,' Ben Affleck will play local retired CIA spy

December 19, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • In this August 2007 file photo, Washington County resident and former CIA agent Tony Mendez, shown in his home studio, recalls a 1980 hostage rescue in Iran for which he was responsible.
File photo

A movie about a bold 1980 rescue of six Americans trapped in Iran is scheduled to be released Sept. 14, 2012, with Ben Affleck portraying retired CIA spy Tony Mendez, who lives in Washington County.

The Herald-Mail reported in 2007 that Smoke House, George Clooney’s production company, had signed on to make a movie about the rescue, which Mendez helped engineer.

It wasn’t clear at the time when the film would be completed and whether Clooney would act in it or direct.

But now the movie, called “Argo,” has been made and publicity about it has begun.

Mendez and his wife, Jonna, are retired from the CIA and make paintings and photographs at Pleasant Valley Studios, their home in southern Washington County.

Tony Mendez ran the CIA’s graphics and identity-transformation division.

When the U.S. embassy was overrun in 1979, Mendez was working on how to free American hostages.

Then, he was directed to instead help rescue six Americans who had escaped the embassy and were hiding with Canadian officials.

Mendez came up with a cover story that the six Americans were scouting a film location. He helped devise a fake movie studio and story about a planned science-fiction movie called “Argo.” He spread the word in Hollywood through trade ads and tricked the film press into writing about it, adding legitimacy.

Mendez adopted the persona “Kevin Costa Harkins,” went to Tehran, found the six Americans and coached them on their new identities as a Canadian film crew.

The plan worked and the group flew home from Iran.

Details were kept private until 1997, when the CIA asked Mendez to talk openly about it as part of a campaign promoting the agency’s 50th anniversary.

Contacted at his home Monday, Mendez said Warner Bros. Pictures is supposed to handle requests for media interviews about the film.

A Warner Bros. Pictures employee asked a reporter to send an email request for an interview with Mendez, but didn’t respond to the email.

Warner Bros. Pictures said in a notice published on its website in August, when filming had begun, that the cast includes Affleck, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston of TV’s “Breaking Bad” and John Goodman.

Clooney, Affleck and Grant Heslov are the producers.

Warner Bros. Pictures said Affleck directed, from a screenplay by Chris Terrio, based on a selection from Mendez’s book “The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA.”

During an interview in 2007, Mendez said the story about him and the rescue had been the subject of movie options before, but never advanced so far in the process.

At the time, Hollywood trade media reported that Warner Bros. Pictures acquired the rights to a story Wired magazine published about the rescue.

Mendez said then that he agreed to be interviewed for the Wired story in exchange for sharing the movie rights with the writer.

Mark Burnett, who created the “Survivor” reality show, once had an option to make a movie about Mendez, but it fizzled. Mendez said Dean Cain, who played Superman in a TV series, was supposed to portray him.

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On the Web:

• "Argo" at the Internet Movie Database

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