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Is Mr. & Mrs. Smith Based On A True Story?

The 2005 action-romance "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" may have been most famous at the time for starring the international phenomenon known as "Brangelina," but the movie has stood the test of time as a lively, sexy, entertaining summer action romp. Written by Simon Kinberg and directed by Doug Liman fresh on the heels of "The Bourne Identity," "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" was a box office success, bringing in a worldwide haul of over $487 million off a budget of $110 million (via Box Office Mojo). The story of married agents Jane and John Smith starred soon-to-be international uber-couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as the title characters flirting and fighting their way through a series of glamorous (as well as domestic) locations.

John and Jane Smith live a seemingly mundane suburban existence: John works in construction, Jane works in tech support, and they're both suffocating in a marriage that has gone very much off the boil. Unbeknownst to their boring neighbors, and to each other, Jane and John both happen to be highly skilled assassins working for rival agencies. The Smiths discover each other's true identities when they're both hired to hit the same target. After a brief and violent attempt at killing each other, Jane and John decide to join forces and save their marriage in every sense of the term. 

Given that real-life espionage operations often involve agents teaming up in the field, many fans of the movie have asked whether "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" is based on a true story. The answer is yes, but not in the way you might expect.

The Baers were married CIA agents who met in the field

In their book "The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story," retired CIA agents Bob and Dayna Baer describe how they met and fell in love as covert CIA field operatives. Bob and Dayna first met undercover in war-torn Sarajevo, and they explain how the need for secrecy, unquestioning trust and reliance on one another, and their lives being in constant peril led to the development of a very intimate bond. In a 2011 interview with ABC News, Dayna elaborated, "You have to rely on each other, so there is a bond that forms probably a little bit stronger than you have with people outside the CIA."

The couple subsequently married and, having left the CIA to live a more regular life, adopted their daughter Khyber, who had been abandoned outside a church in Islamabad, Pakistan. While ABC News dubbed the Baers as "a real-life Mr. & Mrs. Smith," there's no indication that the couple influenced Kinberg's script for the movie, particularly since their memoir was published several years after Kinberg wrote the film's screenplay.

The 'tandem couple' that spied throughout the Cold War

Jason and Suzanne Matthews served as a "tandem couple" of undercover CIA agents for more than 30 years (via the Mirror). For much of the Cold War, the couple operated out of the Soviet Union, East Germany, and other Eastern Bloc countries. Jason and Suzanne both had cover jobs as diplomats working in embassies, while after hours they socialized in order to recruit local intelligence sources for the CIA's Operations Directorate. 

The Matthews met in the field and married five years into their 30-year spying career. They told the Mirror that tandem CIA couples are not as rare as some might think. "You'd be surprised. When you join you're young and there are other young people, and you might meet your spouse during training," Suzanne Matthews explained. "Maybe 25% of people in the agency are like that. And it's a challenge as they have to work out where to send you."

Jason Matthews, who died in 2021, parlayed his experience into several spy novels, including "Red Sparrow," which was adapted into the 2018 movie of the same name starring Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, and Charlotte Rampling. But as is the case with the Baers, there's no reason to believe "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" was based on the Matthews' story. In fact, according to its screenwriter, the idea for the film originated from marriage therapy.

Real-life marriage therapy was the inspiration for Mr. & Mrs. Smith

Simon Kinberg began working on the screenplay for "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" while studying at Columbia University's film school, and it became his final thesis project (via The Guardian). According to The Omaha World-Herald, Kinberg didn't get his idea for the script from any inside sources in the CIA, or any real-life stories of married espionage agents. His inspiration came from hearing two friends discussing their marriage counseling experience. "The way they were talking about it sounded kind of aggressive and mercenary," he said. "And I just thought it would make an interesting template for a relationship inside of an action film." It seems Kinberg spun this initial inspiration into the concept of a combative, aggressive, and mercenary marriage manifesting into real action, subsequently resolving its issues outside of the therapist's office. 

So, while it doesn't seem to have been based on a true-life couple of secret agents, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" does have its roots in real-world marital affairs.