September 20, 2013

Former Canadian Diplomat Ken Taylor: "Argo was entertaining. . .but it had nothing to do with reality"


Kenneth Douglas "Ken" Taylor, OC (born October 5, 1934) is a Canadian diplomat, educator and businessman, best known for his role in the 1979 covert operation called the "Canadian Caper" when he was the Canadian ambassador to Iran. With the cooperation of the American Central Intelligence Agency, Taylor helped six Americans escape from Iran during the Iranian hostage crisis by procuring Canadian passports for the Americans to get past the Iranian Revolutionary guard, posing as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a film. Before the escape, the six Americans spent several weeks hiding in sanctuary in the homes of Taylor and another Canadian diplomat, John Sheardown.
Below are excerpts from, "'Our Man in Tehran': Ken Taylor of 'Argo' Fame Sets Record Straight With New Documentary" by Rick Mele, Moviefone, September 19, 2013.
Moviefone Canada: What made you want to do this documentary? How'd you get involved with it?
Ken Taylor: A team in Toronto, Film House, Drew Taylor and Elena Semikina, who are the principals, approached me and said, "We'd like to make a documentary." I said, really? And they said they were going to try to get it financed. I said, "Yeah, OK." I didn't initiate it. But the idea of the documentary, even at that stage, I wasn't sure whether it would take off, even in those early stages. I welcomed that as a means of conveying to Canada what really happened in Tehran, and what Canadians can do abroad.

So did you appreciate getting the opportunity to tell your story here?
Yes, I did. Because I never envisaged it, really. I didn't see it happening. I'm not a producer, a director, and have been living in New York. And I think certainly as far as a movie, it was thought that "Argo," Best Picture, big budget, who wants to do anything after that? Pat [Taylor, Ken's wife] and I saw it for the first time yesterday, and it seems the response has been good.

What's it been like for you reliving these events, first through watching "Argo" and then now with this documentary?
[Laughs] You're watching "Argo" and you wonder, "Where is the end?" "Argo" was entertaining, I enjoyed it, but it had nothing to do with reality. This one, I think moviegoers will find it entertaining. Maybe not with the same degree of dramatic tension as "Argo," because if you stay with the truth, sometimes the truth is better than fiction, and sometimes imagination is better than truth. With this one, it follows the story and I certainly was happy to see it unfold how it did. There's a curiosity, and in some cases, even some degree of dissatisfaction among Canadians with "Argo." So I think this addresses those.

What's it like watching someone play you in situations or scenarios that didn't necessarily happen that way in real-life? Is that a surreal experience?
Yeah, there's not much you can do about it. [Laughs] There it is, it's a movie made. And how you're portrayed and what you do, particularly when it was so distinct from reality, you sort of raise your eyebrows and then decide, well, I'll go along and enjoy it.

One of the nice things about this documentary is that it really shows the context and background leading up to these events.
That's a good point. Because even though there's been 33 years, there's been so much done about the Iranian Revolution, that lead-up in the documentary is, in a brief time, really quite a sound story of the Iranian Revolution before it gets into whenever we were involved. It sets a context within which everything else takes place. Because of the nature of the Iranian relation to government, the unfolding revolution, it's all in a circle. It all has a bearing on the predicament we found ourselves in.

Do you think that there's any danger in reducing the collaborative effort that went on here and turning into it a more traditional Hollywood narrative with one main hero?
Yeah, I think that "Argo" didn't really deal with the degree of collaboration between Canada and the U.S. So much of what was basic to seeing the six diplomats out was documentation and work done in Ottawa. I'd still be there if it wasn't for people in Ottawa. And of course in "Argo," Ottawa didn't exist. It just never appeared. And then of course, it was John and Zena Sheardown who had four of [the diplomats], and they didn't appear. Now they said that's a practical matter, you can only put so much in a movie. OK. But in that case, to what degree is it based on a true story?

 Continued. . .