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Mendez 'numb' by success of 'Argo' at 85th Academy Awards

Washington County resident's story told in film awarded Oscar for best picture

February 25, 2013|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE | crystal.schelle@herald-mail.com
  • Antonio "Tony" Mendez
File photo

It was roughly 8:30 Monday morning in California following the 85th Academy Awards ceremony Sunday night and Antonio “Tony” Mendez had barely been to bed.

“I feel numb,” the southern Washington County resident said during a telephone interview from the Four Seasons Hotel in Hollywood, Calif.

Mendez, whose life as a CIA agent was portrayed on the big screen by actor-director Ben Affleck in “Argo,” was still feeling the after-effects of the film’s Best Picture win.

“Argo,” which depicts Mendez’s actions in 1979 when he helped six Americans escape from Iran, also won Best Adapted Screenplay for Chris Terrio.

For the ceremony, Mendez sat beside his wife, Jonna, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. He said they were beyond excited when the Best Picture award was announced.

“We jumped up and down like young people,” he said with his trademark dry humor. “We cried.”

Terrio’s win and speech brought the first tears.

The Oscar-winning script was based on Mendez’s autobiography, “Master of Disguise,” and a Wired magazine article, “The Great Escape,” by Joshuah Bearman.

Jonna Mendez, who also is retired from the CIA, said they had breakfast with Terrio on Sunday morning.

“Chris was kind of a nervous wreck,” she said. “And he gave that great acceptance speech. He called out Tony and it made us cry.”

During his speech, Terrio said, “.... 33 years ago, Tony, using nothing but his creativity and his intelligence, Tony got six people out of a bad situation.”

Later, Mendez would be thanked again by Affleck, who although not nominated for Best Director, received an Oscar for Best Picture as one of the show’s producers.

During his speech, Affleck said, “Tony Mendez, who let us do his story, thank you.”

George Clooney and Grant Heslov were also producers for the film.

“It was amazing,” Mendez said of being mentioned by Affleck. “These guys don’t have to give credit to subjects in their stories. That was above and beyond, I think. Ben was really beside himself.”

Mendez said he was disappointed that Affleck was not nominated for director, but felt there were bigger things at work.

“Somehow it was blessed,” he said.

After the Oscars, Mendez and his wife followed Hollywood tradition and accepted invitations to the after parties, including the Governor’s Ball, a soiree hosted annually by the academy.

“We were following George Clooney’s trail and we finally caught up with him,” Mendez said.

He was impressed by Clooney, calling him “a star ... He has class and style.”

However, Mendez said he wasn’t starstruck by the room full of celebrities.

“Those people don’t bother me,” he deadpanned.

To prove a point, Jonna said her husband didn’t know who Channing Tatum (“Magic Mike”) was when the strapping actor gave him a hug of congratulations.

“Lot of hugs (last night),” he said.

One hug he enjoyed was by Affleck’s wife and fellow actress, Jennifer Garner.

“I’m always happy to be hugged by Jennifer Garner,” he said. “And Jonna got lots of hugs from Ben.”

“He’s a very good hugger,” Jonna said.

Mendez said it’s been a long five years to get from the beginning of the process, to the making of the movie to a win at the Academy Awards.

“There were thrills and some valleys, and from the shadows came light. And the light went to Hollywood. And now we’re back and it’s a wonderful thing,” he said.

Mendez said Affleck and Terrio were meant to tell his story and doubts if anyone else could have told it so well.

He called Terrio an “absolute genius. We couldn’t have done it without him. We were blessed at many points and it all added up to the Oscar.”

He said he was touched by Affleck dedicating the movie to Mendez’s deceased son, Ian.

So which did Mendez enjoy dealing with more — Hollywood then or now?

“Then they were our only hope in desperate times. You can’t minimize the value of that. They were excellent co-conspirators. I have known them many times before in difficult circumstances and they were always able to come through,” he said. “In this case, I enjoyed revisiting them and seeing how they worked, and joining in with them. I think we made music.”

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