Casting choices can make or break a film. That’s why directors go to great lengths to get it right. When Jon Stewart decided, for his first time as a movie director, to adapt journalist Maziar Bahari‘s memoir for the big screen he absolutely wanted to get it right. He knew Bahari personally and wanted to portray his harrowing story of being imprisoned and tortured in Iran in a respectful and true-to-life way. When it was announced that Gael García Bernal would play the role, there were grumblings about Stewart’s choice.
It’s understandable, roles for minorities are far and few between. Hollywood has a long history of white-washing characters that were meant for people of color. This situation is a bit different. It’s not a case of white-washing per se, but it is a lost opportunity for a Persian actor to play something other than the terrorist roles they are so often offered. So, why did Jon Stewart cast a Mexican actor to play an Iranian journalist?
Back in August, Stewart explained to The Hollywood Reporter, “I saw some great Iranian actors but because I know Maziar, I felt like I was casting a person. The one thing that I was really having trouble finding was someone who was able to have that distance, who, within the horror of what was happening to them, maintained a certain light. And when Gael came in to read, it was kind of immediate.”
Now that Rosewater is scheduled to hit theaters on November 14, he has to answer a new round of questioning. On a segment for HuffPost Live, Stewart reveals that he was urged by the real life Maziar Bahari to think outside the box when casting an actor to play him. Watch the entire interview below.
For you New Yorkers, the Apple Store in SoHo is hosting a discussion between Maziar Bahari and Gael García Bernal at 4:30pm on November 12. Reserve your seat by visiting apple.com/soho.