Jon Stewart to write and direct fact-based drama ‘Rosewater’

Mark Deming
Movie Talk

Jon Stewart is America's most trusted fake newsman and a best-selling author, but now he's expanding his career in a brand new direction - Stewart has announced he'll be writing and directing a feature film. All the more surprising, it's not a comedy.

On Tuesday, Stewart told reporters he'll be taking a twelve-week hiatus from his hit TV series "The Daily Show" this summer to work on "Rosewater," a fact based drama adapted from the book "Then They Came For Me: A Family's Story of Love, Captivity and Survival" by Maziar Bahari and Aimee Molloy. Shooting is scheduled to start in June.

Stewart was drawn to the story because he has a personal connection to the material. "Then They Came For Me" tells the true story of how Bahari, a Canadian-Iranian writer and filmmaker, found himself accused of attempting to overthrow the Iranian government, with Bahari's appearance in a satiric 2009 "Daily Show" sketch used as evidence against him.

"You can imagine how upset we were," Stewart said, "and I struck up a friendship with him afterwards."

After reading Bahari's book, Stewart felt it had possibilities as a film, and began writing a screenplay, later turning to producer Scott Rudin for advice. Rudin, whose credits include "The Social Network," "No Country For Old Men," and "There Will Be Blood," was impressed with Stewart's ideas for the film, and after coaching him through the writing process, agreed to produce the project in tandem with Gigi Pritzker of Odd Lot Entertainment.

Acknowledging the project will take him into unfamiliar waters, Stewart said, "I am a television person who is accustomed to having a thought at 10 a.m. and having it out there at 6:30 p.m. and moving on, so this is a little scary, yes. But one of the reasons we are in this business is to challenge ourselves, and I really connected to Maziar's story. It's a personal story but one with universal appeal about what it means to be free."

While Stewart said the film is not a comedy, he also stressed that it will not be as dark as a quick summary would suggest. "One of the things that appealed to me about the story is that it does have lighter moments." Stewart said. "One of the things that kept Maziar alive was his ability to keep his sense of humor - to remember about joy and laughter - and see the absurdity of his situation."

While "Rosewater" will be Stewart's first project as a director and screenwriter, movie buffs know he's no stranger to working in film. Stewart has acted in a number of films, including "The Faculty," "Playing By Heart," "Big Daddy" and "Wishful Thinking." Stewart also wrote for the TV series "The Sweet Life" before "The Daily Show" took off.