Alan Arkin is the first name in negotiations to join Ben Affleck’s next directorial project, Argo, set in the midst of the Iran hostage crisis that ran from November 1979 to January 1981, Variety report.

Arkin is a bit of an acting veteran, known for Catch-22 back in 1970 to Edward Scissorhands in 1990 and Little Miss Sunshine in 2007, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Affleck received substantial praise for his directorial debut in 2007 with Gone Baby Gone, which was further cemented last year with The Town, in which he also starred, which made a lot of people’s Top 10 Films of the Year lists, including mine. The expectation is going to be high for his next time in the director’s chair, and Argo sounds like the perfect project for him. Frequent writing and producing collaborators George Clooney and Grant Heslov (The Men Who Stare At Goats, The American, The Ides of March) will produce Argo under their Smoke House banner, alongside David Klawans (Nacho Libre).

The film is to be written by Chris Terrio, adapted from an article in Wired magazine printed back in April 2007 entitled, How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran. If you have a few minutes spare, you can read it here; it’s a very interesting read.

When a group of militants took over the American embassy in Tehran, the capital of Iran, at the tail-end of 1979, sixty-six Americans were taken hostage. Thirteen were released three weeks later, a further hostage was released several months later, and the last fifty-two were released on the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as the American President in January 1981. A much lesser-known part of these events is the story that Argo will tell.

What the militants did not know was that six Americans who were at the embassy at the time it was taken over were able to escape to the streets, and managed to remain in hiding, moving from building to building, for the following months. In order to secure their safety, someone from the CIA would have to sneak into the country and provide these six people with the necessary fake documents with which to travel through airport security. Enter Tony Mendez (to be played by Affleck).

Mendez was in charge of the operation that provided operatives in the CIA with their false identities, an expert in disguise and exfiltration, and it would be he and two Hollywood make-up and special effects artists that would devise their rescue and see it through to conclusion. Mendez would masquerade as an Irish film producer working on a big-budget sci-fi film, and the six Americans would all take on Canadian identities, each playing a different role in the film, from director to producer, and each needing to know inside-out their roles as well as the fabricated former credits that Mendez had created for them. Mendez made it safely into Iran on 25th January, 1980, and three days later, he and all six of the escaped Americans were on a plane bound for safety in Switzerland.

Vulture have announced that Affleck plans for the six actors playing the escaped Americans to take on some method acting and live in a safe-house for two weeks in their preparation for the roles. This won’t include Arkin, who Variety report will play,

“Hollywood producer Lester Siegel, an O.S.S. veteran described as equal parts bookie and rabbi.”

The O.S.S., Office of Strategic Services, was the CIA’s predecessor, and so Arkin’s role looks to be one of Mendez’s two partners back in the States. Casting of the six rescued Americans has not yet been made, but hopefully with Arkin in negotiations, and Affleck himself set to take on the lead in Mendez, we can look forward to more casting news in the coming months. I’ve loved both of Affleck’s directed features to date, and I cannot wait to see how Argo fares.