“Nobody is good-looking enough to play me,” Mr. Mendez said with a laugh. “But really, he did a fine job. A lot of the things I told him he took to heart. Especially those moments where you have concern, those 15 seconds of reviewing your plan internally.
“Your gut tells you if it’s going to be OK or not — and if you ignore that, you probably will get into trouble. I saw Ben do that on the screen. The audience just sees him not talking, but I knew exactly what he was doing.”
Like many movies based on actual events, “Argo” takes a number of dramatic liberties. In the film, the rescue mission is called off the night before the six Americans leave Iran; the group makes a nerve-wracking, in-disguise visit to a crowded and noisy Tehran bazaar; Iranian police cars and a truck full of rifle-wielding militants chase the getaway plane on the tarmac.
In an early draft of the script, the son of Mr. Mendez’s character was named “Michael.”
“When I got the script, I called Toby and Amanda in and said, ‘Well, they wrote you out of your own life — how do you feel about that?’ ” Mr. Mendez said. “They said that was OK. But who in the hell is Michael?
“So we went back and asked if Michael’s name could be changed to Ian, since Ian had passed away a couple of years ago. Ben Affleck agreed to do that.”
In the film’s final scene, Mr. Affleck’s character hugs his son in the boy’s bedroom.
“Those pictures in the bedroom on the nightstand were of the real Ian,” Mr. Mendez said. “And at the end of the movie, it says, ‘In memoriam Ian Mendez.’ That was amazing.”
Mr. Mendez always thought that the real-life caper would make a much better movie than the epic drama. Still, he figured that the CIA’s involvement in the rescue forever would remain classified: After all, he received the agency’s highest honor, the Intelligence Star, for his work, but couldn’t keep the award because the mission was secret.
That changed in 1997. As part of the CIA’s 50th anniversary celebration, Director George J. Tenet honored 50 “Trailblazers,” people whose extraordinary intelligence work stood out.
Mr. Mendez’s name was on the list. To his surprise, the agency didn’t want to just honor him at a ceremony at CIA headquarters — it wanted him to go public and tell the world about the rescue in Iran.
Mr. Mendez first recounted some of the story in a television interview with Dan Rather and an autobiographical book titled “The Master of Disguise.” He reveals more details in the book “Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History,” with Matt Baglio as the co-writer.
Mr. Mendez’s award is displayed at the International Spy Museum in Washington. Meanwhile, “Argo’s” release has served as a kind of belated victory lap: After a recent preview screening in Los Angeles, Mr. Affleck addressed the audience and dedicated the film to Mr. Mendez.