As shown in this movie, by the late 1970s, the Hollywood sign (which had first been erected in 1923 as "HOLLYWOODLAND" to advertise an upcoming real estate development) had fallen into severe disrepair. In 1978, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce had a fund-raising campaign in which they solicited nine prominent people to give about $28,000.00 each (one donor for each letter) for the restoration. Some of these benefactors included: Playboy Magazine founder Hugh Hefner, who gave the Y; singers Gene Autry and Andy Williams (the second L and the W, respectively), and heavy metal/shock rock star Alice Cooper, who replaced the third O (by far the most damaged of the letters) in memory of Groucho Marx. Warner Bros. Records, a division of the company that later released Argo, donated the second O. However, this restoration was completed before the events depicted in this movie started.
In addition to playing Sahar, the Canadian ambassador's housekeeper, Sheila Vand also narrates the prologue.
In order to make the movie feel like the 1970s, Ben Affleck shot it on regular film, cut the frames in half, and blew those images up 200% to increase their graininess. He also copied camera movements and bustling office scenes from All the President's Men (1976) for sequences depicting CIA headquarters; for L.A. exteriors, he borrowed from The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976).
While John Chambers, Tony Mendez, and Lester Siegel are trying to figure out how to make their fake movie project look plausible, Siegel recalls that he made a movie once with Rock Hudson, and from that draws the conclusion that if you want people to believe a lie, you should have the media disseminate it for you. This seeming "non sequitur" is a reference to the fact that Hudson, one of the biggest Hollywood stars and sex symbols of the 1950s, was secretly gay, and his agent, Henry Wilson, actively fed misinformation about Hudson's "girlfriends" (really studio-arranged dates for publicity only) to the mainstream media. When the gossip tabloid "Confidential" threatened to expose Hudson's homosexuality, Wilson instead fed them scandalous information about two of the less-famous stars on his roster (Rory Calhoun and Tab Hunter) and arranged a sham marriage between his secretary and Hudson. Hudson's homosexuality was not widely known outside of Hollywood until his death in 1985.
Several family members of the real Tony Mendez appear as bus passenger extras after the group is allowed to board the plane.
Ben Affleck has stated that the production was granted unprecedented access to the CIA's actual headquarters, both for interiors and exteriors, and that the gratitude for that privilege belongs to Tony Mendez, the retired C.I.A. officer portrayed by Affleck in the film.
The script used for the fake film project was based on the 1967 science fiction novel "Lord of Light" by Roger Zelazny. In real life, makeup artist John Chambers (played by John Goodman) came up with the title "Argo" because he loved knock-knock jokes. In the film, the title becomes an off-color joke.
When the film was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, Ontario, the film drew criticism that it unfairly minimized the Canadian government's role in the rescues. The director Ben Affleck agreed, and he rewrote the postscript text that states that the CIA's operations complemented the Government of Canada's efforts, and the mission has become an admirable example of international cooperation.
First movie in 7 years to win the Oscar for Best Motion Picture without winning the Oscar for Best Director (the previous movie was Crash (2004)). It is also the first movie in 23 years to win the Oscar for Best Motion Picture without being nominated for Best Director (the previous one was Driving Miss Daisy (1989)).
In an interview with Piers Morgan, former American President Jimmy Carter said that he believes the film was a "great drama" and it deserved to win an Oscar for best film. However, Carter noted that although "90 per cent of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian," the film "gives almost full credit to the American CIA. With that exception, the movie's very good," Carter said, but "the main hero, in my opinion, was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated the entire process."
Victor Garber is the second cast member from Toronto's legendary 1972 stage production of "Godspell" to portray Ken Taylor on screen. Martin Short played Taylor in a 1982 skit on SCTV (1976).
The fake film poster created for the real Argo mission was rather plain and black-and-white. In the movie, it is briefly visible in the background before the script reading event is held for the press. In the same scene, the colorful fake poster used in the movie is briefly visible, too.
In a curious coincidence, the Swissair airliner that flew the six "houseguests" from Tehran to Zurich was code-named "Aargau" (after the canton/district in Switzerland).
While Chris Terrio was writing the script he imagined Tony Mendez being played by George Clooney.
In the movie, it was stated that both the British and New Zealand embassies in Tehran turned away the six American diplomats, leaving the Canadians as their only refuge. In fact the British embassy did shelter the six for a few days but it was agreed by everyone that the Canadian embassy would be more secure and suitable, so they moved. A New Zealand official transported them and the British also helped other Americans trapped in the country at the time. The director Ben Affleck acknowledged that he intentionally deviated from the real events in order to quicken the pace and build up the tension.
The main person who pushed the story to be published was the former CIA director George Tenet (tenure 1997-2004). While the story was never published because of bureaucracy and the yet-to-be-concluded Iran hostage crisis, it was only when Tenet assumed the directorship of the CIA, and in conjunction with the agency's 50th anniversary, that he persuaded Tony Mendez to write his account and memoir of the mission.
Ben Affleck was criticized by some viewers for casting himself (a European-American) as Tony Mendez and not a Latino/Hispanic actor. Mendez (who is half-Mexican, half-European) however said he had "no problem" with being portrayed by Affleck, and approved of his performance.
According to Tony Mendez, the fake production office known as Studio Six was so convincing in the real-life Argo plan that even several weeks after it folded and the Iranian rescue was complete, "we had received twenty-six scripts. One was from Steven Spielberg."
Both Hamilton Jordan and Kyle Chandler, who plays him in the film, graduated from the University of Georgia.
The character of Jack Kirby (played by Michael Parks), shown briefly as the artist of the storyboards for the fake movie, was a pioneer of the American comic book industry and a co-creator of such seminal comic book characters as Captain America, Iron Man, The Hulk, the Silver Surfer, and the teams known as The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, and The X-Men. Kirby did indeed create storyboards for the adaptation of Roger Zelazny's novel Lord of Light, which were used as "proof" of the movie production during the real-life "Canadian Caper."
The rifles carried by the Iranian revolutionary guards in the movie are accurately selected fixed-stock G3-A4, a variant of German H-K G3 rifles manufactured locally in Iran by the country's Defense Industries Organization. The movie producers obviously resisted the temptation to use the easy-to-find AK-47 rifles, which were indeed used by the Iran's revolutionary guards, but only a couple of years after the hostage crisis, during the war with Iraq.
Ben Affleck requested that the actors playing the embassy refugees live together for a week in a house dressed with 1979 decor in order to get acquainted and to better understand the period.
The "movie" being filmed in the movie, "Argo" is named for the Greek mythological ship that Jason and the Argonauts sailed in to retrieve the Golden Fleece.
The stock footage of the Iranian-American getting attacked by angry American protesters was filmed in front of the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles. The read-through of the fake "Argo" film occurred in the very same hotel.