(CNN) – Comedian Jon Stewart’s job, for decades, has been to make people laugh.
For 15 years Stewart has been mocking politicians and the media as host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” So the first film Stewart has written and directed might be something of a surprise for his fans. “Rosewater” is a deadly serious drama about Canadian-Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was thrown in prison for reporting on 2009’s so-called Green Movement.
When Stewart told people he wanted to do it, his team thought it was a little crazy.
Bahari, portrayed in the film by actor Gael Garcia Bernal, appeared on “The Daily Show” just days before his arrest. He spent 118 days in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, where he was repeatedly interrogated and tortured.
Even though interrogators used “The Daily Show” skit as evidence of Bahari’s work as a spy, it likely didn’t play a major role in Bahari being jailed, says Stewart.
“You have to view it in the context of what was happening in the country at that time,” he said. “Maziar stood in as a perfect hub because he’s someone who has connections to many of the reformists within the country.”
And that’s the story the film tells.
“We approached different writers, different directors, they were not interested or they were doing ‘Fast and Furious 76,'” said Bahari. “After a year and a half of talking to different people, Jon said, ‘Let’s just do it ourselves.'”
“It was the kind of thing that felt like we wanted it to be told in our lifetimes,” Stewart said.
Stewart took three months off last summer to film “Rosewater,” a screenplay Stewart adapted from Bahari’s memoir, shooting part of the film in Jordan during Ramadan.
“It was six days a week for five weeks. And we had to remain agile because conditions changed very rapidly,” said Stewart.
Part of the film was also shot in Tehran.
“A lot of my friends work for, still work for the government. They have filming permits and they use it, and they send us the footage from Iran,” said Bahari.
Despite the lack of press freedom, Stewart said that if he were allowed, he would do a show from Iran.
“I think that would be fun, (but) would they allow me to leave?” he said.
Stewart refrained from portraying too much of Bahari’s torture in the film, focusing instead on the journalist’s isolation.
“It can’t be excused as the transgressions of a single eccentric regime,” said Bahari. “There are journalists, citizen activists, bloggers, all over the world that are held under these kinds of conditions for nothing more than recording an event and posting it.”
A Washington Post reporter is currently being held in Iran, he is approaching his 118th day in prison.
“I’m sure that he’s faced many absurd accusations that I faced,” said Bahari, who Iran accused of working with various spy organizations.
After achieving such success as a comedian, Stewart says he is not worried about what possible criticisms might come his way as a screenwriter and director.
“Criticism is criticism, some of it is constructive. I think you always have to remain open as best you can to criticism, without allowing it to steer your decisions,” he said.
Stewart’s contract on “The Daily Show” runs out next year, and it’s unclear if he wants to do more films. Bahari remains committed to journalism, and fights for the rights of his peers who are subjected to the same plight he was.
“Unfortunately the Iranian government is providing us with a lot of material to work on,” said Bahari.
“As are many other governments around the world including our own,” said Stewart.