Photo: Jason Kempin: Getty Images
"Do what I tell you to do and everything will be fine," Ben Affleck answered when I asked how Affleck the director and Affleck the actor get along during the making of his Oscar-bound "Argo." Affleck warmed to the topic and continued, "I am in great sync with myself. But the actor in me wants the next part, and first we have to promote this film."
And promote Affleck did, at a star-crammed Peggy Siegal-produced double dinner and screening at Manhattan's Porter House Steakhouse. I saw the film over the weekend at the Hamptons International Film Festival and was wowed. Affleck's third picture as a director is a humor-laced, fact-based drama about the daring rescue of six American foreign-service workers stranded in the house of the Canadian ambassador during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979-80. Affleck plays a CIA extraction expert who pretends to be scouting locations for a cheesy Hollywood sci-fi film called "Argo" as a cover to remove the Americans posing as a film crew.
I told George Clooney, whom I first met at the premiere of "Good Night, and Good Luck" in 2005, and who produced this film with partner Grant Heslov (standing nearby), that "Argo" is a genuine crowd pleaser. I said it reminded me of the smart political thrillers of the '70s, like "Three Days of the Condor." Clooney replied, "It's like 'The Parallax View,' the films of Alan Pakula. Affleck goes to a new level as a director in this one."
John Goodman, sipping soda at the bar beside veteran actor and Academy member Peter Riegert ("The Good Wife"), had this to say about Affleck's direction: "He knows his onions," which is an old-school American way of saying that Affleck knows his subject, knows what he's doing. Goodman knows what he's doing, too. In "Argo" he plays John Chambers, a Hollywood make-up artist best known for crafting the masks for "Planet of the Apes."
Also there was friend of Ben (and joint Oscar winner for "Good Will Hunting") Matt Damon, with a freshly shaven head. He's going back into two days of reshoots for the futuristic sci-fi film "Elysium" -- and that required a few more bald-hair days. Clooney couldn't resist the temptation to get the feel of the new-mown scalp, rubbing his hand up and down Damon's head and commenting that it was smooth one way and stubbly the other. Show and tell over, Damon mentioned that he was looking forward to the release of the small-town drama "Promised Land," which he co-wrote with John Krasinski from a Dave Eggers story. The pair co-star with Frances McDormand, and Gus Van Sant directs for a December 28 limited release.
The overall atmosphere was that of a Halloween party where guests were asked to dress as their favorite star. Besides Affleck, Clooney, Damon, and Goodman, "Argo" co-star Bryan Cranston was in the house. Other bold-faced names included Trudie Styler with Sting, Tony Shalhoub, Harry Belafonte, Patrick Wilson with Dagmara Dominczyk, Brian Williams, Barbara Walters, Glenn Close, Liz Smith, and Deborah Norville, to name a few.
As if that weren't enough, right next door, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was holding an even more exclusive cocktail party, hosted by newly elected president Hawk Koch. I slipped in and caught actress Rachel Weisz talking to director Steven Soderbergh (the subject was his kidney stones) while her husband, Daniel Craig, looked on. Craig and I had had dinner together when he was at Sundance promoting "Layer Cake" with director Matthew Vaughn in 2004. I told him that I remembered returning to my office, then Us Weekly, and saying that Craig was going to be big. I got no traction. Then along came Bond. Oh well. By then they knew he was big. We mentioned Craig's little upcoming film, "Skyfall," but concentrated on Weisz's possible Oscar run for her starring role in Terrence Davies' "The Deep Blue Sea."
Chatting nearby were Vondie Curtis-Hall and "Law & Order" star S. Epatha Merkerson, who has a role in the Oscar-buzzed "Lincoln," by Steven Spielberg, which has begun to screen this week. Michael Douglas and Melissa Leo were also making the scene. Honorary Oscar-winner (2013) D.A. Pennebaker ("Don't Look Back," "The War Room") and his wife, Chris Hegedus ("Startup.com," "The War Room"), were leaning on the bar beside Michael Moore ("Bowling for Columbine") in a documentary-film cluster.
The 2013 Academy Awards ceremony, to be hosted by Seth MacFarlane on February 24 in Hollywood, is over four months away, but the season is clearly in full swing here in New York City.
See the trailer for 'Argo':