"Rosewater," the feature film directorial debut by Jon Stewart, was released in theaters Friday. It depicts the experiences of Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist who was arrested in Tehran and imprisoned for 118 days. Bahari had previously appeared on "The Daily Show," which prompted Iranian authorities to detain him as a spy. HuffPost Entertainment spoke to Gael Garcia Bernal about his role as Bahari and what it was like to be a part of Stewart's first movie.
What was it like working with Jon Stewart? Tell me about his directorial style.
He’s a very experienced director. What I mean by that is he’s been working with a large group of people for 15 years. He was capable of growing "The Daily Show." So, there are many things that are no so different from that experience in the groundwork of it. It is not that different. But there are things that make it very complicated and different from making a TV show. He’s a very intelligent person. Very mature. He’s doing the film for the right reasons. Therefore, he was very willing to learn and open up, to understand.
There's a lot of humor here considering this is a film about torture. How did you find that balance?
The humor was found by Maziar Bahari, through his imprisonment and through his recount of the imprisonment he expressed the ridiculousness of the situation. It’s all there. It was all there in Maziar’s book and then Jon’s interpretation and whatever we had to do, we just had to find the balance. There’s sometimes not a balance even. Sometimes it was more tragic than funny and sometimes it was more funny than tragic.
You also worked very closely with Maziar. What was it like being in such close connection to the man you were playing?
I was playing an interpretation of his account. So, there are conflicts that already exist there. Added to that is the fact that we were doing it in English. We weren’t doing it in Farsi. So, that creates an interpretation. Already, it is a different character than the real character. So, Maziar was there and he was kind enough to observe us, to enjoy the work that we were doing, to let us in that world, and it was fun. It was very kind of him.
There was some backlash to the fact that Jon cast you, a Mexican actor, as an Iranian character. How would you respond to that?
Well, it happened in Tehran, but it was shot in Jordan. It’s in English, not in Farsi. The person that plays Rosewater is a Danish actor. The person who plays my father is a Turkish actor. The person who plays the friend of Maziar is an English-Greek actor. There are Egyptians in the film. There are many artists with a background in Iraq or Palestine or Syria. So, we were from all over the world. And it was a director from New Jersey. And I’m from Mexico. And I understand the subject on a human level. Of course I do. But definitely I’m not from Iran, and I’m from the places or nationality of many characters that I’ve interpreted in my life. I’ve never interpreted a character from Guadalajara, from where I’m from. So, it’s part of the nature of all this, to create a bigger fable.
What do you hope audiences take away from "Rosewater"?
Many things, many questions. I think among the many questions the film asks, it highlights the persecution of journalists all over the world. This is a film about those big issues, not about Iran itself. There is a question about the nature of prison and how torture is systematically used all over the world to put people in a guilty position. In even the most sophisticated democracies, it is something that is commonly used. Like many stories, it is about the triumph of the human spirit.
This interview has been edited and condensed.