WASHINGTON – Hollywood’s Ben Affleck lauded Canadian hero Ken Taylor and the Canada-U.S. relationship on Wednesday in the U.S. capital as he promoted his new film, “Argo,” about the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis.
Any apparent hard feelings between the actor and Taylor were a thing of the past as Affleck spoke of the courage of Canada’s onetime ambassador to Iran after Iranian militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took dozens of Americans hostage.
“I consider Ken Taylor a very clear hero; he sheltered people who otherwise would have died,” Affleck said on the red carpet for the movie’s D.C. premiere.
Taylor became an international hero following his success in sheltering the Americans for three months. The longtime diplomat moved the Americans around to various safe houses, finally managing to secure fake Canadian passports for them from Ottawa.
“Argo” highlights little-known details about the escape of the six Americans. That story, declassified in 1997, reveals a risky plan by CIA “exfiltration” expert Tony Mendez to get them out of Iran.
Affleck stars as Mendez, who teams up with a Hollywood producer to concoct an elaborate scheme: the six U.S. citizens are disguised as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a fake science-fiction film called “Argo.”
The original postscript to the film suggested the kudos Taylor received for his role in the real-life drama were undeserved in light of the CIA operation.
After outraged friends took in the film at the Toronto International Film Festival last month and alerted Taylor, Affleck was soon in touch. The postscript was subsequently changed to note that the CIA “complemented efforts of the Canadian Embassy.”
“We had to pick a perspective … this is the side we haven’t seen,” Affleck said Wednesday.
“It was incredibly important to me, even using that perspective, that people get how appreciative we were of Canada and that people understand the message of international co-operation.”
At an earlier reception at the gleaming Canadian embassy on Capitol Hill, Affleck celebrated the movie’s message.
“What this movie is about is about co-operation,” he said Wednesday evening.
“This is a movie about some people from one country who were in need, and folks from another country who stepped in and harboured them. This is about the great things that are possible from diplomacy … it’s about how diplomats put themselves in danger, sacrifice themselves.”
Accompanied by his wife, Jennifer Garner, and co-stars Bryan Cranston and John Goodman, Affleck brought a jolt of star power to the embassy.
Among those in attendance were CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus and Huma Abedin and her husband, former U.S. congressman Anthony Weiner. Affleck described Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as a close friend who gave him guidance on State Department protocol for his latest film.
Taylor, meantime, said he was grateful Affleck was emphasizing the importance of Canada during the crisis as the actor promotes the film.
“It’s very timely in terms of diplomacy,” Taylor said of “Argo” as he mingled among the crowd at the embassy. Among those approaching him was the daughter of one of the six surviving U.S. diplomats rescued by Taylor, who thanked him profusely for saving her father.
Eighty-seven-year-old Bob Anders, meantime, called it a “great night.” A consular officer at the U.S. embassy 33 years ago, he added he may have had a few Molson Canadians while being sheltered for three months by Taylor, a tennis partner before the hostage crisis.
“We were hiding in a couple of different places for almost a week and then we finally made contact with the Canadians,” Anders said.
But he added with a laugh that the film was more thrilling than the actual events more than three decades earlier.
“It’s more exciting than the real thing. The whole plan went off so smoothly, the real plan … seeing the movie, that was the first time I was really scared,” said Anders, who took in “Argo” at its recent L.A. premiere.
Taylor was originally critical of “Argo,” saying it minimized Canada’s role in the crisis, particularly in the film’s original postscript.
Affleck said Wednesday he was happy to add an amended postscript to the film, adding he considered Taylor a friend and ally in promoting “Argo.”
“He wanted the movie to emphasize collaboration and I said: ‘Absolutely,’” he said.
“I do think this movie communicates very clearly what Ken cares about the most, which is the importance of diplomacy, the importance of countries working together to solve problems peacefully.”
Co-star Cranston, meantime, said the movie’s message is an uplifting one.
“It’s fantastic, it’s hopeful, it’s galvanizing as opposed to being divisive, and I think the world needs some of that.”
“Argo” opens in theatres on Friday.