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Ben Affleck: Real-life 'Argo' agent Tony Mendez an 'American hero'

Fans of the Oscar-nominated "Argo" undoubtedly know that it's based on a true story, and director/star Ben Affleck plays a character based on real-life former CIA agent Tony Mendez.

But few people have heard much from Mendez's side of things -- until now. He spoke with TODAY's Jenna Bush Hager from his home about his new book with Matt Baglio, "Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History," and how the film has brought his previously-hidden career as a spy into the spotlight.

Mendez noted that he had gotten the job with the CIA after following up on an ad looking for an artist to work overseas with the U.S. Navy. "Being an artist I answered the ad, and ended up in a motel room on the outskirts of Denver in an interview with this kind of shady guy who put a bottle of Jim Beam up on the table, who said, 'Son, this is not the Navy.' That was the beginning."

Affleck, in a separate interview, noted that he was awestruck over what Mendez had concocted to get several stranded American workers out of Iran after the embassy was taken over in 1979. 

"This American hero did this mission to save six lives, and did it with this most outrageous cover story," said Affleck. "And his ingenuity and inventiveness really struck me."

Mendez spent many years at the CIA, working as a master of disguise, and hopes that "Argo" will change the way CIA agents are portrayed in the movies. "What we’re hoping is we’re going to start a new trend, and make the CIA guys lovable. I’m the first lovable spy," he said dryly.


Today, Mendez lives in Maryland and has returned to his first love, painting. And while Affleck may have wanted to just "hold him up and say: 'This is an American hero'" with the film, Mendez has bigger ambitions: He'd like to see the film win a best picture Oscar later in February.

"We'll blow up (voters') car(s) if it doesn't happen," he joked.

At least, we hope he was joking.

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