I saw Norman Jewison's "The Russians are Coming The Russians Are Coming" when I was a kid and I have never forgotten Arkin's performance as a wayward Russian submarine commander caught in the middle of the Cold War. That movie made North Americans laugh at a time when the Soviet threat was not funny. As revealed in our conversation below, Arkin takes serious comedy seriously, and that's the secret at the heart of Ben Affleck's "Argo."
"Argo" finds humor in the midst of a true life-and-death CIA extrication in 1980 Tehran. And much of the laughs are delivered by Arkin. Although the movie builds nail-biting edge-of-your seat tension as we wonder just how CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) will rescue six State Department employees who fled the U.S. Embassy during the hostage crisis, back in Los Angeles Arkin's past-his-prime producer and his makeup artist compadre (John Goodman) are eager to play their patriotic part in providing a believable movie within the movie as a cover for the escapees. Arkin doesn't buy the idea that he and Goodman are participating in a Hollywood parody or spoof or satire. Or even comic relief for that matter.
He says that's the opposite of what they're doing. They're playing it straight. But all you had to do was witness the palpable affection for these two actors at the "Argo" Academy premiere to know that at least one--probably Arkin, who was also nominated for "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" and won for "Little Miss Sunshine"--will get an Oscar nomination. The Hollywood insiders in the room applauded and cheered this movie more than once. Which does not happen every day. They welcomed the chance to be patriotic, cheer the Americans, Canadians and their own industry, and the real Tony Mendez, accepting a standing ovation. For once.
Check out Arkin--did you know he's written ten novels and a Broadway play that ran for a year?-- and clips from "Argo" and "The Russians Are Coming" below.