Who Is Tony Mendez, Real CIA Agent Behind Ben Affleck's 'Argo'?
Ben Affleck and Matt Damon may be close buddies in real life, but Affleck's latest role sees him in a decidedly anti-Bourne lead role in his self-directed Argo about a CIA "exfiltration" specialist, real life Tony Mendez, who comes up with a wacky idea to help six American hostages in 1979 Iran escape unharmed. Affleck's understated direction parallels his own understated, but surprisingly remarkable performance as the humble brainiac Antonio "Tony" Mendez, a latino CIA agent who risks it all to bring home the U.S. citizens that were trapped in the American Embassy of Tehran, and then found refuge in the Canadian ambassador's home, when the Islamic Revolution took over the region. “This was based on Tony’s book. We didn’t know about Tony before so I wanted to tell his story and part of this story is about the sacrifice that people make in the foreign service, the sacrifice people make in the clandestine service,” Affleck said in a press junket. “My job as a director was to make a movie work, to take a long series of events with a million players and try to turn that into a three-act-story that you could understand. And I did that by rooting it with Tony’s character as he moves through.”
And what exactly was Tony risking, apart from his life and that of those whom he was trying to rescue? For starters, an entire family back home, including a wife and three children (not just one, as in the film), one of which is famed sculptor Toby Mendez. “We just knew he was going, we didn’t know where,” Toby, who at the time was merely a teenager, told The Baltimore Sun. “He handed our mom his wedding ring. That was the last thing he could give her,” explained Toby, referring to when Mendez left for the mission. But neither Toby nor his family knew, even for many years after, what Mendez's role had been in the intervention. “It’s not something that we gloat about, but we are very proud.”
The entire family, including Mendez (pictured above at the premiere), saw Argo last week at its Hollywood premiere and, despite noting historical inaccuracies, they praised it without reservation. “Seeing that huge crowd up on the screen, during the demonstrations, and knowing that my father walked through that crowd while he was there,” said Toby, adding that it helped him understand his father's courage. “At one point, there was this man hanging from a crane, and I remember thinking, ‘This could have been my father’s fate,’ had his mission failed.”
Argo, which also stars Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Tate Donovan and Alan Arkin, comes out in theaters on October 12. Watch the trailer here: