“I do hope in general that you laugh more than you would at an Iranian solitary confinement movie,” Stewart says about “Irresistible,” which he wrote and directed. “But . . . they are similarly themed in that they both represent dysfunctional processes of the state, and of the media, and of the uncontrollable systems that rise up around us that lose sight of what their purpose should be, rather than just entrenching and enriching themselves.”
“Irresistible” is, at its heart, a funny bait and switch that moves into more familiar territory for the comedian turned talk-show host. It stars Steve Carell, who first worked with Stewart on “The Daily Show” as a correspondent and for whom the role of Gary Zimmer, a Democratic political strategist, was written; Rose Byrne as the Republicans’ strongwoman; and Chris Cooper as the conservative-in-a-liberal’s-body unwitting mayoral candidate for a fictional Wisconsin town, Deerlaken.
The film is also part and parcel of the topic Stewart has tried to emphasize throughout his career: the absurd amount of money that is poured into the often callous and corrupt political system of the United States. And a big part of his talent has always been the ability to break down incredibly complex subjects into comical sequences that make sense no matter what side you’re on.
“I got into this business to make things, to do stand up, to be creative,” Stewart says over the phone from New Jersey, where he has lived happily out of the media spotlight since 2015 and has turned his home into an animal sanctuary that he runs with his wife. Topics like corruption and campaign finance “are things that I’m interested in, and the hope is that [I’m] able to do it deftly enough that other people find it interesting or engaging.”
With the current global issues knocking on everyone’s door — the coronavirus pandemic, job losses and recessions, police brutality and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement — it’s not the easiest time to be releasing a film.
“It feels like I’m walking into an inferno with a Fresca,” says Stewart, whose proliferation of analogies during this interview might rival Shakespeare. “I’m just the guy in a huge disaster scene going, ‘Anybody want a Fresca? It’s crisp and bubbly; it’s refreshing. Anybody?”
Byrne, who didn’t meet Stewart in person until her arrival in Rockmart, Ga., the small town that doubled for Deerlaken, grows humble with the thought of the movie releasing at all.
“It’s the least of our worries,” she says. “I’m just incredibly grateful for the people that have been going to work, saving lives and protesting amongst all of this horrendous stuff that’s been happening. It’s such a tipping point in history in so many ways. . . . I hope people see this and they want to go out and vote. That would be a great result.”
Byrne is somewhat familiar with playing characters who might spur someone to political action. Though “Irresistible” was filmed first, audiences last saw her on screen as Gloria Steinem in FX’s miniseries “Mrs. America,” which follows the rise and fall of the women’s movement. It’s quite the juxtaposition, then, to see her as Faith Brewster, a Kellyanne Conway-cum-Megyn Kelly-cum-Gretchen Carlson-type.
She said it was interesting to go from Steinem to Brewster and see “this reverse-engineering history of why we are where we are today, which is ‘Irresistible,’ and the rise of that cult personality, of divisive politics and of the 24-hour news cycle.”
Though it’s a micro-take on the topics presented by Stewart in his script, Byrne’s point is salient. For many women, the antagonists of “Mrs. America,” Phyllis Schlafly and her cohorts — with their blonde hair and perfectly paired sweater sets — were the beginning of the alternative-fact era of misinformation.
“You see this direct thread of what [that has] become,” says Byrne, referring to the opening scene of “Irresistible,” in which Brewster and Zimmer tell a room full of reporters that spin happens and lying is a necessary aspect of the political industrial complex. “In a way,” she adds, “it’s almost impossible to satirize the news because it’s already so over the top.”
Though the movie practically gives the blueprints for how to use the system against itself, Stewart doesn’t have any delusions of grandeur about “Irresistible” — he’s really just hoping that people stop and think for a second about the corruption that is accepted as status quo.
“It’s not like any of this is novel for people, but the point is to [shed light on] how f—ed up the amount of money is that’s in this system right now” he says. “For 16 years [on ‘The Daily Show’], I felt like I was doing the weather. I was doing the day-to-day, and I started noticing cyclonic patterns. And those cycles became deeper and wider and more powerful and [left] destruction in their wake. I felt like I just wanted to step back and do a climate movie about that system as opposed to doing the weather.”