The host of the “Daily Show” stepped out of his nightly satire factory and into Middle Eastern prisons in the scorching summer heat to direct his first film, “Rosewater.” The film was inspired by a guest on his edgy infotainment program, Maziar Bahari, who was imprisoned for his reporting on the 2009 Iranian elections and for appearing on Jon Stewart’s U.S. program. Bahari was tormented for 118 days in an Iranian prison, and Stewart was moved by his story, not least because Bahari was his guest and his appearance on the “Daily Show” was used as trumped up proof that he was a spy.
Stewart tried to find a producer in Hollywood interested in the story, but was turned down. Refusing to be discouraged, even though he lacks experience as a director and producer, Stewart decided to write the screenplay and direct the film himself. “You always have to be cognizant of your weaknesses, and seeing as I had a pretty long list of them, I made sure going into this project I was going to be open with all of the departments. I relied on them for raising red flags”.
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Mexico’s Gael Garcia Bernal plays Bahari, and responding to criticism that he did not use an Iranian-born actor, with the disclaimer that he is not attuned to the nuances of Persian culture, Stewart said, “There was a particular thing I was looking for in an actor, and that was the ability to have a perspective on what was happening to him, a perspective that allowed him to survive by being able to recognize how absurd it was. That’s a very difficult thing for someone to pull off, and Gael was able to capture that in a way no one else could.”