Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Jon Stewart's Directorial Debut Focuses on True Story of Jailed Iranian-Canadian

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Jon Stewart's Directorial Debut Focuses on True Story of Jailed Iranian-Canadian

Article excerpt

Stewart directs tale of jailed Canadian

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TORONTO - Jon Stewart has a simple explanation for selecting Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal to portray Maziar Bahari -- an Iranian-Canadian journalist he hardly resembles -- in the "Daily Show" host's directorial debut, "Rosewater."

"We had a handsome-off," Stewart joked during the Toronto International Film Festival. "He won on points. He blew it away on a technical level."

Even if Bernal doesn't resemble Bahari at skin level -- "I'm a bit better looking," laughed Bahari -- the actor tried to get under that skin anyway, hoping to understand the traumatic ordeal that Bahari documented in the film's inspiration, his bestselling memoir "Then They Came For Me."

Bahari, now 47, was born in Tehran, moved to Canada in the late 1980s and studied at Concordia University in Montreal. He was in Iran to cover the 2009 presidential election, staying with his mother, when he was arrested under what he presumed must have been mistaken circumstances.

Instead, he was accused of being a spy and subsequently spent 118 days in a notably brutal prison, enduring regular torture from an interrogator he nicknamed "Rosewater" for his unique body odour. Between threats and beatings, Bahari endured prolonged bouts of solitary confinement. All the while, he wondered how his pregnant fiancee was doing back home in London, and whether his captors would next pursue his mother.

As his reverent tone made clear, Bernal still carries immense respect for Bahari and struggles to fathom what he went through.

"There were a couple of weeks that he didn't see his torturer," Bernal pointed out, interviewed separately from Stewart and Bahari. "He was on his own only. Two weeks. Imagine it. You'd go crazy. You'd go absolutely nuts.

"Maziar is a big triumph of the human spirit," he added. "It's such an honour to able to be close to him and to a person who went through that."

Bernal has shown a flair for taking on films about resistance and revolution. He portrayed Che Guevara in both 2004's "The Motorcycle Diaries" and 2002's "Fidel," headed up the Oscar-nominated "No" -- about the 1988 Chilean referendum -- and led 2010's "Even the Rain," set during the 2000 so-called Water War in Bolivia. …

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