In an interview with Piers Morgan, former President Jimmy Carter said that he believes the film was a "great drama", and it deserved to win an Oscar for best film. However, Carter noted that although "ninety percent of the contributions to the ideas, and the consummation of the plan was Canadian", the film "gives almost full credit to the American C.I.A. With that exception, the movie's very good," Carter said, but "the main hero, in my opinion, was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador, who orchestrated the entire process."
In order to make the movie feel like the 1970s, Ben Affleck shot it on regular film, cut the frames in half, and blew those images up two hundred percent, to increase their graininess. He also copied camera movements and bustling office scenes from All the President's Men (1976) for sequences depicting C.I.A. Headquarters; for Los Angeles exteriors, he borrowed from The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976).
Ben Affleck has stated that the production was granted unprecedented access to C.I.A. Headquarters, both for interiors and exteriors, and that the gratitude for that privilege belongs to Tony Mendez, the retired C.I.A. officer portrayed by Affleck in the film.
In the movie, it was stated that both the British and New Zealand embassies in Tehran turned away the six American diplomats, leaving the Canadians as their only refuge. In fact, the British embassy did shelter the six for a few days, but it was agreed by everyone that the Canadian embassy would be more secure and suitable, so they moved. A New Zealand official transported them, and the British also helped other Americans trapped in the country at the time. Ben Affleck acknowledged that he intentionally deviated from the real events, in order to quicken the pace, and build up the tension.
As shown in this movie, by the late 1970s, the Hollywood sign (which had first been erected in 1923 as "HOLLYWOODLAND" to advertise an upcoming real estate development) had fallen into severe disrepair. In 1978, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce had a fund-raising campaign in which they solicited nine prominent people to give about twenty-eight thousand dollars each (one donor for each letter) for the restoration. Some of these benefactors included: Playboy Magazine founder Hugh M. Hefner, who gave the Y; singers Gene Autry and Andy Williams (the second L and the W, respectively), and heavy metal/shock rock star Alice Cooper, who replaced the third O (by far the most damaged of the letters) in memory of Groucho Marx. Warner Brothers Records, a division of the company that later released this film, donated the second O. However, this restoration was completed before the events depicted in this movie started.
Ben Affleck was criticized by some viewers for casting himself (a European-American) as Tony Mendez, and not a Latino/Hispanic actor. Mendez (who is half-Mexican, half-European) however, said he had "no problem" with being portrayed by Affleck, and approved of his performance.
Ben Affleck, a longtime Led Zeppelin fan, admits he was desperate to use the track "When the Levee Breaks" (from "Led Zeppelin IV") and vigorously pursued the rockers to win permission, but they asked him to make a very specific change. The scene was originally shot with Tate Donovan placing the record needle on the beginning of the album, which was wrong: "When the Levee Breaks" is actually the last song on the second side of the album. Affleck agreed to make the change, and he headed back to the editing suite in order to make the band happy. He later told the Los Angeles Times he appreciated the band's attention to detail, despite having to pay for another shoot.
In keeping with the period in which the film is set (around 1979), Warner Brothers used their "Big W" logo, which was utilized on their releases around that time, and painted the Burbank Studios logo onto their water tower. It was the name of the building from 1972 until 1990, when Warner Brothers and Columbia Pictures were sharing the same facilities.
During one of the many promotions for this film, Alan Arkin didn't realize that Bryan Cranston was in Little Miss Sunshine (2006), surprisingly quoting "Get out of here. I had no idea!" This was due to the fact that both actors didn't share scenes together (just like in Argo (2012)).
Comic book artist Jim Lee owns some of the storyboards from the fake film. He stated on Twitter when this film was released, that he had no idea they had been used in the mission, he only bought them, being a fan of Jack Kirby.
The script originally began by jumping directly into the protests outside the U.S. Embassy. However, Director Ben Affleck and Screenwriter Chris Terrio did not want the film to simply be a portrayal of irrationally crazy Middle Easterners. The opening credits and prologue, which details how the U.S. helped install the Shah in power, and the Shah's subsequent corruption and brutality, was created, so as to make the anger after the Iranian Revolution understandable, while not supporting the grossly illegal and immoral hostage taking at the embassy.
The script used for the fake film project was based on the 1967 science fiction novel "Lord of Light" by Roger Zelazny. In real-life, Make-up Artist John Chambers (played by John Goodman) came up with the title "Argo", because he loved knock-knock jokes. In the film, the title becomes an off-color joke.
The stock footage of the Iranian-American getting attacked by angry American protesters was filmed in front of the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles. The read-through of the fake "Argo" film occurred in the same hotel.
While John Chambers, Tony Mendez, and Lester Siegel are trying to figure out how to make their fake movie project look plausible, Siegel recalls that he made a movie once with Rock Hudson, and from that, draws the conclusion that if you want people to believe a lie, you should have the media disseminate it for you. This seeming "non sequitur" is a reference to the fact that Hudson, one of the biggest Hollywood stars and sex symbols of the 1950s, was secretly gay, and his agent, Henry Willson, actively fed misinformation about Hudson's "girlfriends" (really studio-arranged dates for publicity only) to the mainstream media. When the gossip tabloid "Confidential" threatened to expose Hudson's homosexuality, Wilson instead fed them scandalous information about two of the less-famous stars on his roster (Rory Calhoun and Tab Hunter) and arranged a sham marriage between his secretary and Hudson. Hudson's homosexuality was not widely known outside of Hollywood until his death in 1985.
John Goodman appeared in two consecutive Oscar-winning Best Pictures: The Artist (2011) and this film. In both films, he portrayed a Hollywood character, a Producer in The Artist and a Make-up Artist in this movie.
First movie in seven years to win the Oscar for Best Picture, without winning the Oscar for Best Director (the previous movie was Crash (2004)). It is also the first movie in twenty-three years to win the Oscar for Best Picture, without being nominated for Best Director (the previous one was Driving Miss Daisy (1989)).
The character of Jack Kirby (played by Michael Parks), shown briefly as the artist of the storyboards for the fake movie, was a pioneer of the American comic book industry, and a co-creator of such seminal comic book characters as Captain America, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, the Silver Surfer, and the teams known as The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, and The X-Men. Kirby created storyboards for the adaptation of Roger Zelazny's novel Lord of Light, which were used as "proof" of the movie production during the real-life "Canadian Caper".
The main person who pushed the story to be published was former C.I.A. Director George Tenet (tenure 1997-2004). While the story was never published, because of bureaucracy, and the yet-to-be-concluded Iran hostage crisis, it was only when Tenet assumed the Directorship of the C.I.A., and in conjunction with the Agency's fiftieth anniversary, that he persuaded Tony Mendez to write his account and memoir of the mission.
Lester Siegel (played by Alan Arkin) is said to be a composite character. However, in real-life, Make-up Artist Robert Sidell, a friend of John Chambers, posed as the fake film's Producer. Sidell's wife, Andi, was the fake production company's receptionist. Ben Affleck assumed that Sidell, like Chambers, had passed away, but he was informed just before the film's release, that he was still alive and well. Affleck had Robert Sidell flown to the film's premiere in Los Angeles, and in his opening remarks, he gave recognition to Sidell for his part in the mission.
The film has enjoyed great success in bootleg format in Iran, where the full facts of the "Canadian Caper" have never been made public (this is not to say that the film is a fully balanced account of the event, as it has attracted criticism for its rather one-sided portrayal of the Iranian people).
After the film was released, Iran hired a radical lawyer in France to pursue a lawsuit against the film, claiming that the film was designed to pave the way for U.S. Military operations against Iran by garnering anger against Tehran for the embassy hostage crisis. The attorney filed a claim, saying Ben Affleck was guilty of war crimes for this possibility. The case was heard in a French court by a judge who heard this presentation, and then immediately dismissed the suit as groundless.
Alan Arkin has admitted that, although his Lester Siegel is a composite character, he based his character essentially on the late movie mogul Jack L. Warner, who died shortly before the actual hostage crisis.
Ben Affleck met former C.I.A. operative Tony Mendez for the first time in March 2011 to discuss his role. The meeting took place at the Washington, D.C. Chadwicks Bar on K Street, where the infamous spy Aldrich Ames had passed classified American documents to the K.G.B. In the movie, however, the initial meeting place where the pivotal scheme was hatched, was staged at the Smoke House restaurant in Burbank, California, a real-life haunt for many movie celebrities. George Clooney and Grant Heslov's company, SmokeHouse Productions, is named for this restaurant.
The fake film poster created for the real Argo mission was rather plain, and black-and-white. In the movie, it is briefly visible in the background before the script reading event is held for the press. In the same scene, the colorful fake poster used in the movie is briefly visible, too.
The rifles carried by the Iranian revolutionary guards in the movie, are accurately selected fixed-stock G3-A4, a variant of German H-K G3 rifles manufactured locally in Iran by the country's Defense Industries Organization. The movie producers resisted the temptation to use the easy-to-find AK-47s, which were indeed used by the Iran's revolutionary guards, but only a couple of years after the hostage crisis, during the war with Iraq.
The shot, used for the postscript text, features Tony's son's shelf of science fiction toys and collectibles. Among them are Star Wars figurines posed standing on a display with appropriate name places. According to their labels, the "Jawa" and "Sand People" figures have been switched. C-3P0 is missing.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The dramatic flight from the airport, with a last-minute chase by the Republican Guard, is entirely fictional. In reality, the diplomats showed up for their flight with booked tickets, and had no trouble boarding their plane. As the flight was at 5:30 a.m., there were no Republican Guards on duty, even they were not that zealous for the cause.
When the film was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. It drew criticism, in that it unfairly minimized the Canadian government's role in the rescues. Ben Affleck agreed, and he re-wrote the postscript text that states that the C.I.A.'s operations complemented the Government of Canada's efforts, and the mission has become an admirable example of international cooperation.