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Alan Arkin on the Studio Exec Who Inspired his 'Argo' Character

Alan Arkin Argo - H 2012
Warner Bros. Pictures

The Oscar-winning "Little Miss Sunshine" star plays a Hollywood producer who helps create a fake movie in Ben Affleck’s political thriller.

In Argo, Ben Affleck’s buzzy political thriller about the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-81, Alan Arkin plays a seasoned Hollywood producer who helps Affleck’s character create a fake movie.
 
The fake movie is necessary in order to convince the Iranian government that Affleck’s Tony Mendez is a Canadian traveling to Iran to scout for a movie, when really he’s a CIA agent there to rescue six Americans.

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But while this story is based on the true events, Arkin's movie producer character, Lester Siegel, is actually a composite.
 
“Believe me, it’s not easy playing a composite,” Arkin tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I had to play four people at the same time. You ever try doing that? It’s not easy.”

Since Argo is a Warner Bros. film, it only makes sense that Arkin -- who won a best supporting actor Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine in 2007 and was nominated for best actor twice during the 1960s -- says he based his character on the founder and driving force behind Warner Bros. studio: Jack Warner.
 
“It was out of my imagination, but I used Jack Warner as a basis,” he says. “He’s someone who is very comfortable in his own skin, someone who knew the ins and outs of the business, backwards and forwards.”

Warner’s career spanned several decades, from founding the motion picture studio in 1910 to retiring in 1969, while still producing other films after that.

“He loved it and was still aware of how crazy it is,” Arkin says of Warner.

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Arkin, who was quick to praise Affleck’s skills as a director, says he had just one conversation with Affleck about his character before the shoot.

“He made it very clear that he felt that it should be treated seriously even though there were funny aspects to it,” he says.

Arkin adds that Affleck -- who directed 2007’s Gone Baby Gone and 2009’s The Town -- is so talented at his craft that it seems “as if he’s directed 15 to 20 films.”

“I felt his first work looked like the work of a seasoned old-timer,” he says. "He just knows every aspect of the business."

Argo opens in theaters Oct. 12.

Email: Rebecca.Ford@thr.com; Twitter: @Beccamford