The Real “Argo:” An Anacortes Couple Are Portrayed in Ben Affleck’s New Blockbuster Film

Nov 13, 2012, 5:24 PM | Updated: Nov 14, 2012, 9:20 am
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Mark Lijek (2nd from left) and Cora Amburn-Lijek (center) with Ben Affleck (right).
(2nd from left)

If a Hollywood producer was going to make a movie about your life, who would you want to play you? I’d be happy with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, but I’d probably end up with that actress that plays Susie on Curb Your Enthusiasm. My co-workers have their own ideas, like Luke Burbank for example.

“Ideally, it would be George Clooney but, realistically, maybe George Wendt? The guy from Cheers, at the end of the bar, the heavy guy. I have to say, every time I see a picture of myself lately, I’m like, ‘Who’s that fat guy…who ate me?'”

Then there’s our very own Ron Upshaw.

“The person I would like is Clive Owen. I’m hoping they wouldn’t choose Philip Seymour Hoffman. He seems a little doughy.”

A couple from Anacortes recently got to see themselves portrayed on the silver screen. Mark Lijek and Cora Amburn-Lijek were two of the six U.S. Embassy workers rescued by the CIA in Iran in 1980, the story told in Ben Affleck’s new movie Argo. The six Embassy Workers pretended to be Hollywood filmmakers, making a movie called Argo, in order to escape the revolution.

Cora was played by Clea DuVall and Mark was played by Christopher Denham. Now 61 and 58 years old, back in 1980 Mark was 28 years old and working in the foreign service and Cora was 25 and worked in the US Embassy’s visa section. Iranians took more than 50 hostages from the Embassy, but Mark and Cora were amongst the lucky six who were a part of a plan concocted by CIA agent, Tony Mendez.

“We were a location scouting team looking at sites in Iran that would be suitable for a science fiction movie called Argo: A Cosmic Conflagration.” Mark explains. “They had actually bought a script, Cora was a script writer so she carried that, we had business cards. We were told that there was a real person on the other end of the phone number, that was on the card, who would answer it and vouch for us.”

No detail was overlooked. Tony Mendez told CBC TV that they had to keep up the movie making ruse in Hollywood, in case the Iranians did their research.

“This is the poster for the Argo movie. We took out full page ads in Variety and Hollywood Reporter.

The ads were so authentic, the fake production company received 26 scripts from interested writers, including Steven Spielberg. The six were supposed to be from Canada, so they had to play that part.

“We had business cards of people we had theoretically had met along the way,” Mark says. “We had Canadian drivers licenses and health cards and credit cards.”

The story of Argo was kept a secret for many years, but when the CIA celebrated it’s 50th anniversary, it wanted to get some press, so Tony’s boss forced him to reveal the secret.

“I said, ‘Why are we going to give away our best secret?’ But anyway, they twisted my arm,” Tony told CBC TV.

I asked Mark and Cora if the story in the movie reflects their real life experience.

“They added quite a few exciting moments that did not occur in our part of the story,” Cora says. “There was no chase at the end.”

Cora says the casting director did a good job picking the actors who played them.

“Except Ben Affleck, he does not look like Tony!” Cora laughs. “You know, the CIA don’t like people who stand out because they’ve got to get in and out of places. If they’re attractive, I mean, like, really attractive, like Ben Affleck, they’re going to be noticed and that’s the last thing that they want.”

Overall, Cora and Mark are happy with the film, and they were taken from their Anacortes home to the airport in a limo, they flew first class to Hollywood and stayed at the Four Seasons before attending the film’s Hollywood premier.

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The Real “Argo:” An Anacortes Couple Are Portrayed in Ben Affleck’s New Blockbuster Film