I remember saying to Beatty, who I worship, "This whole thing makes me nervous." And he said, "Look, haven't you ever been on the set and you looked at the director and thought, 'I could do it at least as well as this fuckin' guy'?" [Laughs] So I felt emboldened to shoot a lot of film. And the direction of myself happened in the editing room. I found myself to be the easiest person to cut because I'm so critical of myself. There are some actors you just fall in love with. I don't have that issue.
DETAILS: People who see this movie will feel your love of seventies American moviemaking all over it.
Ben Affleck: That's so true that it's starting to make me self-conscious. I'm sure I can make a movie that doesn't feel like a seventies movie! But the truth is, that's my favorite era in American filmmaking. To me, those were the great years. The Friends of Eddie Coyle was a movie that I copied—well, copied, whatever, was inspired by—for The Town. The Verdict was the poster I had on the wall during Gone, Baby, Gone.
DETAILS: Which films were in your head for Argo?
Ben Affleck: All the President's Men was a big one for the D.C. scenes. The Cassavetes movie The Killing of a Chinese Bookie for the seedy-Hollywood vibe. And Slap Shot. I know it doesn't seem obvious, but it has some of that character-based, slightly profane humor. I have a lot of influences. I like to sit down with the cinematographer a month before, and we'll watch pieces of 20 or 30 movies. You're basically the sum of all the experiences you've ever had, and they're sort of shaken up in you and reproduced in the things you create, and that includes seeing movies. And I think you're made better by watching the masters, that's for sure.
DETAILS: And you even committed to 1970s hair!
Ben Affleck: I wanted to lead by example, and I didn't want to be vain about it. There were times when I panicked and thought, "I'm gonna look like the Bee Gees in the CIA." But when I watched old movies, that's how it was. There are pockets in the culture now where long hair is like a thing. So some of it was reaching deep into hipsterism to find people who have hair long enough to play people from 1979. I wanted the seventies feel to be accurate, but not in-your-face. Everybody doesn't just go Afros-and-bell-bottoms-and-shag-carpets-in-the-back-of-the-El-Camino.
DETAILS: Do you think Argo is a political movie?
Ben Affleck: [Inhales sharply and winces]
DETAILS: I know that's a dangerous label, but the movie makes some strong points about Hollywood stagecraft versus Washington stagecraft.
Ben Affleck: Nobody wants it said about a movie, "This is really a political screed." And I tried to adhere to the research. But it's certainly about political life-and-death situations— among them, the unintended consequences of revolution, which we're seeing played out now.
DETAILS: You start the movie with some quick history about the Shah's fall and Khomeini's rise. That was clearly important to you.
Ben Affleck: I didn't want it to seem like, "Those people are crazy, so we sent in a CIA agent, and he's a hero." If we start with Middle Eastern people screaming at Americans who are trying to get out, and we don't know where we are and why we're there, it taps into this notion that they're just mad barbarians who yell for no reason. A lot of people are unaware of the history that predates the revolution. So to give them some context and complexity, you help them understand where we were as a country at that time. The Vietnam hangover. Watergate hangover. High unemployment. A lot of uncertainty about the role of our troops in foreign countries, particularly in the Middle East. Gas prices going up very high. It was a tough time, and what's nice about the movie, and satisfying, is that it's a genuinely good thing that gets accomplished by our government to rescue our people.
DETAILS: Let's go backward a little. I don't want to push you into a false magazine narrative that doesn't match your life—
Ben Affleck: That'd be a first.
DETAILS: —but by 2003, you were the star of two potential franchises, Daredevil and The Sum of All Fears, that didn't go forward. We probably knew more about your romantic life than you would have preferred. And then Gigli. I don't think a lot of people would have said, "By 2012, this guy will have directed three very good movies."
Ben Affleck: In our culture, we get very much into shorthanding people. And I got shorthanded as That Guy: Jennifer Lopez, movies bombed, therefore he must be a sort of thoughtless dilettante, solipsistic consumer blahblahblah. It's hard to shake those sort of narratives. If you were looking at that one-liner on me in 2003, which was definitely the annus horribilis [laughs] of my life—it's funny how that rhymes with Sacha Baron Cohen's pronunciation of "ah-noose"—