Jon Stewart on Directorial Debut 'Rosewater,' His 'Daily Show' Future and Those Israel-Gaza Comments
By Marisa Guthrie
This story first appeared in the Sept. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Jon Stewart arrives for breakfast in early August at a coffee shop near The Daily Show's 11th Avenue studios wearing his customary uniform: loose-fitting khakis, a lived-in T-shirt (gray but might have been black 10,000 washes ago) and a Mets cap (he's a long-suffering fan). This is less a neighborhood than a postindustrial wasteland of warehouses and fortresslike offices, the rumble of UPS trucks broken up by the clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages making their way to Central Park South. The stables are nearby, and as you get closer to the Daily Show studios, you occasionally can catch the unmistakable whiff of manure.
This January, Stewart, 51, will have been at Daily Show — the televised public square for legions of disaffected liberals — for 16 years. And so after nearly two hours, during which we discuss his upcoming film, Rosewater, growing up “divorce-poor” in suburban New Jersey and a couple of high-profile departures from Stewart’s fold (John Oliver, Stephen Colbert), I ask him how long he plans to keep doing it.
"Why? What did you hear?" he asks in a tone of mock seriousness. "Are you letting me go? Is that what this interview has all been leading up to? Do you have a note from my boss, I’m out?"
And then he shrugs: “Yeah, I don’t know.”
With the release Nov. 7 of Stewart’s feature directorial debut, Rosewater — which will premiere at the Telluride Film Festival and also will screen at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 8 — and the shifting landscape of late-night comedy, it’s natural to wonder whether America’s foremost political satirist might be ready to forge a new path.
Is he still happy doing The Daily Show? Another shrug: “Uh, yeah. I mean, like anything else, you do it long enough, you will take it for granted, or there will be aspects of it that are grinding. I can’t say that following the news cycle as closely as we do and trying to convert that into something either joyful or important to us doesn’t have its fraught moments. But there will come a point where I’m sure &hellip”
He trails off.
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The truth is, he was not planning to direct Rosewater or even write the screenplay, which is based on Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari’s memoir, Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival, about Bahari’s 118-day incarceration inside Iran’s notorious Evin prison. But their shared fate probably was cemented when Bahari — who ran afoul of the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guard while covering the Green Movement and the 2009 elections for Newsweek — was arrested days after appearing in one of Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones’ field pieces from Tehran. Bahari’s interrogator used the clip — titled “Persians of Interest” and which featured Jones playing a belligerent “spy” interviewing Bahari and two prominent Iranian activists — as proof that Bahari was colluding with foreign meddlers and engaging in “media espionage.” (Freedom Movement leader Ebrahim Yazdi and pro-democracy activist Mohammad-Ali Abtahi were the others interviewed; they also were arrested, though both were released a short time later.)
"I don’t think that Jon felt responsible for my arrest," says Bahari, who now lives in London with his wife and daughter, born eight days after he was freed from Evin on Oct. 17, 2009. "But I think he felt personally invested in the story because his name came up in a dark interrogation room in a prison in Iran."