In the new thriller Argo, John Goodman plays unsung hero John Chambers.
The real life Chambers was a legendary Hollywood makeup artist who created techniques in the 1960s while working on films like Planet of the Apes, which are still used today. Most famously he designed the pointed Spock ears worn by Leonard Nimoy on Star Trek.
He was also a civilian CIA operative. He never won an Academy Award, but the spy organization gave him their highest civilian honour for his help on various missions, including the daring rescue of six American diplomats during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979.
Not much is known of Chambers’s exploits, but Goodman felt he needed to get the essence of the man right.
“I could be funny and say I don’t want to get my eye gouged out by an angry make-up guy,” he says when I ask if he feels responsibility to Chambers. “He was kind of the progenitor of people I work with. There was a boom in the ’60s with prosthetic makeup and he was the wellhead of it. To not take that seriously would be to deny the craftsmen working now and the work that he did do for his government serving his country.”
Goodman shares most of his scenes with another Hollywood legend, Alan Arkin, who plays movie producer Lester Siegel.
“I think the world of him,” he says. “He has always touched something in me as an actor that was real and truthful. How does he do it? The things I’ve heard him say over the years and the way he started, with Second City and as a musician, has always fascinated me.
“We would sit and talk about jazz-bop, Charlie Parker, Slim Gaillard and all those cats. We found a vocabulary and it was immediate to me that I could relax with him because I could trust him.”
And Goodman is quick to acknowledge Canada’s involvement in the rescue.
“Those people were heroes,” he says of Taylor and the Canadians who hid the U.S. refugees.
“I can’t imagine doing that with the riots going on outside, the constant reminder that you are risking your lives; risking a very gruesome death. There would have been torture. But it was pulled off with typical Canadian aplomb.”