Jon Stewart Discusses Humor and Disbelief in 'Rosewater'

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Jon Stewart took a three-month hiatus from filming The Daily Show to film Rosewater in Jordan.

Rosewater is a biopic about Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian reporter imprisoned and tortured while covering the Iran presidential election and the protesting that followed the results, which kept President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in control. The film marks Stewart's directorial debut. Stewart also adapted the screenplay based on Bahari's memoirs, Then They Came for Me.

Bahari became incarcerated after shooting news videos of the protesters. Besides beating and torturing him, Bahari's captors accused him of being a spy. They used a Daily Show video he starred in as proof. When asked by NPR about how Stewart felt about his satire being used as evidence to torture someone, he responded by saying, "It's so surreal and it's so absurd that it's hard to imagine it as not farce."

Stewart was then specifically asked about the piece that Bahari filmed for the Daily Show. "I always assumed that somewhere one of our bits would be used like that — I just didn't think it would be this one. I think it just affirms that sense that you always have that you cannot outsmart crazy. You can't ever imagine how someone might weaponize idiocy."

Rosewater gets its name from Bahari's anonymous Iranian interrogator, who was nicknamed "Mr.Rosewater" for his cologne. Despite the horrible 118-day ordeal, Stewart and Bahari do find some humor in the situation.

Bahari shared with the Washington Post an anecdote from the incident, which makes it in the movie. Rosewater makes Bahari call his wife, Paola, because he wants her to stop talking publicly about her negative feelings towards Iran. In the film, Stewart added that Rosewater told Bahari to dial 9. He said that "when the joke lands, I always feel really wonderful." In actuality, Bahari shared that Rosewater made calls using a scratch-card "to get the cheaper minutes."

Fans of the Daily Show may expect a political satire from Stewart, but that isn't the case with Rosewater. A Time review described it as this:

The virtue of this movie is its commitment to political ambiguity and emotional truth. If you expect a Jon Stewart film to sputter with cogent rage, as Stewart often does on TV, you will be disappointed. This film could be the work of Stewart’s more serious alter ego, Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz (his real name). Though not really a comedy, Rosewater is a demonstration of the creed behind The Daily Show: belief in the crucial need for impious wit against entrenched power. The freedom of the press is also the freedom to depress, and to inspire.

Rosewater stars Gael Garcia Bernal as Bahari. It's now playing nationwide.