KNOXVILLE -- After a whirlwind experience at the Academy Awards, Tony Mendez has received more than 7,000 emails about "Argo's" big win.
"It changes your life," Mendez said Tuesday afternoon.
Now back in Maryland, the former CIA agent and wife, Jonna, are responding to those inquiries one at a time. On Tuesday night, the couple took a break for an interview with CNN host Piers Morgan. CNN and other media outlets all seem to want a piece of Mendez and his story.
"I wouldn't have thought getting an Oscar was that big of a deal, but it turns out to be a huge deal," Mendez told The Frederick News-Post.
On Tuesday, Mendez described Oscar night as a surreal experience that left him in tears. He and his wife were seated inside the Dolby Theatre as first lady Michelle Obama announced "Argo" as best picture.
"It was probably one of the most suspenseful things that I've done in my life ... and I've had a few," Mendez said with a chuckle.
Mendez played a key role in and was the mastermind behind the plot to rescue six Americans during the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-81, in which dozens of Americans were held hostage for 444 days.
Six of the Americans escaped from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran as it fell to hostile Iranians. They eventually ended up at the Canadian Embassy. Fearing for their lives, they hid for 86 days. Mendez, who was chief of disguise for the CIA, devised a scheme to get them out of the country by posing as a Hollywood film crew scouting locations. The unlikely cover story worked.
The story is recounted in Mendez's book "The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA," published in 1999. In conjunction with the movie, Mendez has released another book, "Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History," which was released in September.
Now, six months later, Mendez and his wife are socializing with Hollywood celebrities. On Sunday morning, the couple had breakfast with Chris Terrio, who wrote the screenplay.
"I asked him if he had written an acceptance speech, and he said "Oh, no,'" Mendez recalled of their breakfast at the Four Seasons.
On Sunday night, Terrio dedicated his Oscar to Mendez. It was unexpected, as was the dedication made by director and star Ben Affleck.
After the show, Mendez caught up with Affleck, who shouted, "Tonnnyyy!" and gave Mendez a hug after the show. The men spent time together before and after "Argo" reached the silver screen.
"He is big and gentle," Mendez said of Affleck. "He's got two little kids to look after, and he's always worried about them and what they are doing."
Affleck's wife, Jennifer Garner, is also down to earth, according to Mendez, who said, "If you talk to her, she wants to talk about the kids, then she takes off her shoes and sits on the floor."
Spending time with Affleck and his wife, conducting interviews and finding time to answer email has been overwhelming at times, but Mendez is hoping people walk away with an appreciation for the film.
"I think the lesson is that movies are a part of our life," Mendez said. "I want people to experience it and enjoy it." ___