Why George Clooney Gave up the Lead Role in an Oscar-Winning Movie To Ben Affleck

There’s no doubt George Clooney is an accomplished actor. Clooney played a doctor on ER before commanding millions for roles on the big screen. But even as a Hollywood star, the 59-year-old has missed out on parts. One of the biggest? The chance to play the lead in Argo

‘Argo’ is based on a true story

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Hitting theaters in 2012, Argo tells the story of Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), a CIA agent masquerading as a Hollywood producer in 1979 Tehran. His mission? To rescue six Americans being held there during the Iran hostage crisis.

The movie follows Mendez as he attempts to save the Americans under the guise of scouting filming locations in Tehran for a sci-fi movie. Not only does Affleck star in Argo, but he’s also the movie’s director. It came after Affleck’s success directing The Town in 2010.

The star-studded cast includes Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, Oscar-winner Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Tate Donovan (The O.C.), and Titanic’s Victor Garber. 

Scheduling led to George Clooney stepping down as the star of ‘Argo’

Argo is a triumph for Affleck but he was never supposed to star in the movie. Initially, Clooney was supposed to play the lead role of Mendez. The father of two said as much during an interview with Page Six in 2012. 

“I was doing Ides of March and gave [Argo] to Ben because we were ready to shoot,” Clooney told the publication. “We felt really lucky he wanted to do it, and he did better than anyone could imagine,” he added.

George Clooney and Ben Affleck at the 2013 EE British Academy
George Clooney and Ben Affleck at the 2013 EE British Academy | Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage

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The reason for the casting change came about simply because of scheduling. At the time, Clooney had been preparing for the 2011 political thriller, The Ides of March, a movie he directed. Because of scheduling conflicts, he couldn’t star in Argo and had to give up the role. 

Although he no longer starred in the movie, Clooney didn’t completely cut ties with Argo. His production company, Smoke House Pictures, produced the film.

‘Argo’ became a hit with critics and audiences

When Argo hit theaters on October 12, 2012, it quickly became popular among both critics and moviegoers. According to Box Office Mojo, the film earned upwards of $232 million in worldwide ticket sales.

Critics on Rotten Tomatoes think highly of the film, giving it a score of 96%, a certified fresh rating. Meanwhile, more than 200,000 viewers rated the movie to give it an average score of 90% on the site. 

‘Argo’ won Oscars and Golden Globes

Argo didn’t disappoint with industry accolades. During the 2013 awards show season, Argo landed numerous nominations. According to IMDb, the movie garnered 153 nominations in all. 

Ben Affleck and George Clooney at the 2013 Oscars posing with their Oscar statues
Ben Affleck and George Clooney at the 2013 Oscars | Steve Granitz/WireImage

Ultimately, the film won three Academy Awards; Best Picture, Writing (Adapted Screenplay), and Film Editing.

Not only did the film win Oscars, but it was also a standout at the Golden Globe Awards too. Affleck took home the award for Best Director and the film won the Best Motion Picture category.

Clooney won an Oscar for Syriana in 2006 before leaving the awards a winner for Argo.

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