University of Idaho Alumni Office - Moscow
1106 Blake Ave.
875 Perimeter Drive MS 3232
Moscow, ID 83844-3232
(208) 885-6975 (fax)
Living the story, living the dream
Idaho alumni play part in Academy Award-winning film, "Argo"
The lives of two University of Idaho alumni were thrust into the limelight Feb. 24. The 2012 movie Argo, directed by Ben Affleck, was nominated for seven Academy Awards. It won Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing.
The film is set during a rescue mission to save six U.S. diplomats during the 1980 Iranian Hostage Crisis. The event is one that agricultural economics alumnus Lee Schatz recalls well – he was one of the diplomats. In addition, theatre graduate Andrew Varenhorst was cast as a featured extra in the film.
Lee Schatz '71
Schatz grew up on the Rathdrum Prairie on a small family farm near Post Falls, Idaho. He earned a business degree with an emphasis on economics from U-Idaho in 1971. He followed up with a master’s in agricultural economics in 1974.
He went to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture traveling through Asia to help other nations buy American agricultural products.
That’s how he ended up in Iran in 1979. From his office, he watched Iranian militants storm the gates of the U.S. Embassy. That it would evolve into the 444-day hostage crisis that gripped the nation and helped topple Jimmy Carter’s presidency was not immediately apparent.
Their ruse: a fake sci-fi movie, “Argo.” The cover story, Mendez and his crew – the six – were in Iran to scout filming locations for the film. Schatz’ role was to act like a cinematographer.
Affleck’s new movie, in which he stars and directs, provides a high-tension account of the plan to help the Americans escape. In real life, Schatz played a leading role in the moment of truth.
“The movie caught that very well,” Schatz said. “I walked up and got my ticket so I was actually the one who went forward and was asked about this being my picture. My moustache had been trimmed shorter that morning, and the guy walked into a side room with my passport. And I thought, ‘Can they check these?’ Then the guy walked back out stirring a cup of tea and waved us on through.”
Read more about his story.
Andrew Varenhorst '04
Varenhorst, who graduated in 2004 with a Bachelor of Arts, played the “Blue Monster,” a featured extra in Mendez’s fake movie.
He said the role called for a tall, lanky actor with creature suit experience. Varenhorst played “Chewbacca” at Walt Disney World in 2001 as part of the Disney College Program, a summer program where students are cast as various characters and interact with parkgoers.
Shooting lasted two days at the Beverly Hilton, a luxury hotel in Los Angeles. The scene involved the staging of a fake press event to cement the Argo’s legitimacy as a real movie. Varenhorst said his debut is a short one, but the facetime is a definite benefit.
Oftentimes Varenhorst said roles are acquired via people he met on other films. Varenhorst said actors can be remembered by their work or even just their look.
“Everyone out here is shooting something else,” he said. “So, a grip on a comedy might be directing a horror short film next month. You never know.”
Read more about his career.