Former child star Barry Livingston can be seen in Ben Affleck's new film, 'Argo,' as a CIA suit skeptical of Affleck's extraction plan.(Photo: Courtesy of Barry Livingston)
One of the lessons Ben Affleck says he learned on his way to becoming
a director is, "Cast every part like it was the lead in the movie.''
Given that Argo
- his third time at bat - has more than 120 speaking parts in three
locales (Washington, Los Angeles and Tehran) as it tells the true story
of how six American diplomats escaped from Iran during the 1979 hostage
crisis, that is a tall order.
But one of the pleasures of this
cross between a political thriller and a Hollywood satire, which held
up well in its second week in theaters on its way to a total of $43
million so far, are the many familiar faces who stand out even in
Affleck headlines as the CIA operative behind the
covert operation, along with John Goodman as a makeup artist and Alan
Arkin as an old-school gruff producer, both of whom help create the
illusion that the six diplomats are a crew for a fake sci-fi flick
titled Argo. Below that is an ace backup team of popular actors from TV: Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) as a CIA officer; Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights)as Hamilton Jordan, then-president Jimmy Carter's chief of staff; Clea DuVall (Carnivale) as one of the diplomats; and Victor Garber (Alias) as Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor, who harbored the refugees in his home.
"Ben loves actors," says Lora Kennedy, head of feature casting for
Warner Bros., who also put together the ensemble for Affleck's previous
movie, 2010's The Town. "I don't like people who don't love actors."
Kennedy says Argo was the biggest casting challenge she has faced in a career that includes this Friday's Cloud Atlas and the upcoming Superman reboot Man of Steel. "I was working until the last day of filming."
No wonder. There is an even deeper layer of TV-related performers that sharp-eyed Baby Boomers might recognize on the screen:
- Adrienne Barbeau, 67, plays Arkin's ex-wife, who does an Argo table reading as Serksi the Galactic Witch. The statuesque brunette from the taboo-breaking '70s sitcom Maude also is known for her work in such cult horror films at The Fog, Creepshow and Swamp Thing, as well as such B classics as Escape From New York and The Cannonball Run.
Affleck: "Lora said, 'Adrienne Barbeau - she is great, you've got to
get her,' and I said, 'Really?' But I liked the idea of her being part
of this slightly kitsch, '70s sci-fi movie vibe. She just seamlessly
blended in. Having her in the movie was kind of a trip. It was cool."
An icon from the '60s - Dawn Wells, who was Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island
- came close to getting the part. When she auditioned, Kennedy says,
"she left a wake of men going, 'Oh, my God, I had such a huge crush on
- Michael Parks, 72, is comic-book artist Jack Kirby, who draws Argo's storyboards. The actor was the motorcycle-riding star of the late '60s series Then Came Bronson and a fave of Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and 2) and Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk to Dawn). "He was like James Dean," Affleck says. "He's sexy and amazing and a really good actor. I saw him in Kevin Smith's Red State as this crazy preacher."
adds: "Kirby was eccentric-looking, and Michael could be believable.
You don't have time to establish a character, so you have to have the
actor do it with his face."
Affleck regrettably had to trim
Parks' role but struggled to keep as much of his scene as possible. "I
couldn't bear to lose it."
- Barry Livingston, 58, plays
one of the CIA suits who is skeptical of the fake film proposed by
Affleck's agent. The former kid actor is best known as the bespectacled
and nerdy Ernie on the family sitcom My Three Sons in the '60s and early '70s. He has written a memoir about his experiences, The Importance of Being Ernie.
As an adult, he has appeared on TV's Mad Men and Big Love, as well as such features as David Fincher's Zodiac and The Social Network.
needed 80 white dudes between the ages of 40 and 60," says Kennedy. "I
was looking for great faces. And Barry has a really great face. He could
play this period."
Livingston was thrilled to be in Argo,
especially since his original role, a congressman, was eliminated. His
part still suffered from shrinkage, but he does get some lines.
"Something about how the CIA tries to avoid crazy, wild, overtly
outlandish plans," Livingston says. "I knew that since Ben was in that
scene, it wouldn't be cut." As a bonus: "There is a close-up of me
with these long Neil Young sideburns."
Often when he works on a film - his next one is Fun Size, opening Friday, as a bewildered Halloween daddy - people initially don't know about his connection to My Three Sons.
That is, until after lunch on his first day on the set. "They come up
and say, 'I heard you were on this show. Can I get a picture with you?'
It's like they want a photo with Geronimo or Sitting Bull."