"You can't be serious"
journalnow.com (Winston-Salem Journal)
January 28, 1999
by Marl Burger


Jon Stewart says being in a movie with an all-star cast doesn't scare him -- well, maybe, he says; they thought he was a caterer

NEW YORK -- You can take Jon Stewart out of the stand-up realm, but you can't take stand-up out of Jon Stewart.

Even when promoting his latest films (Playing by Heart -- which doesn't yet have a date set for its opening in Winston-Salem, and The Faculty, which is playing now) and television show (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central), Stewart can be counted on to deliver a few comedic observations, often in the midst of making a serious point.

In Playing by Heart, Stewart plays Trent, a single architect who embarks on a tumultuous romantic relationship with Meredith (Gillian Anderson), a woman whose checkered romantic past has left her gun-shy about new relationships. Stewart stated plainly that he didn't identify with his character, "except, of course, that I am an architect."

The film, originally titled (ironically enough) Dancing About Architecture -- until the producers of Dancing at Lughnasa protested -- centers on a series of romantic entanglements in Los Angeles.

In addition to Stewart and Anderson, the onscreen couples include Sean Connery and Gena Rowlands, Madeleine Stowe and Anthony Edwards, and Angelina Jolie and Ryan Phillippe. "I just thought that the script was a really interesting exploration of relationships [in] different generations," Stewart said. "It wasn't trite. It wasn't 'Listen, we've seen that on Love Boat every weekend.' "

These are busy days for Stewart. In addition to two new movies, he recently began a stint on Comedy Central's The Daily Show, replacing Craig Kilborn, who left to replace Tom Snyder on CBS-TV's The Late Late Show. There was also the recent publication of Stewart's book, Naked Pictures of Famous People, which pokes fun at society's fascination with celebrity.

The Daily Show is Stewart's second foray into talk-show hosting. During the 1995-96 season he presided over The Jon Stewart Show on MTV. He acknowledged that he was disappointed by its cancellation, but never considered not getting back into the game.

Nor did he have any trepidation about making the move into feature films as well. "None of it is mutually exclusive," he said. "The real focus at first is to just become a good stand-up [comedian], and then when you get to a certain level, then they allow you to do other things. You feel if you're overwhelmed by something or if you're not."

Most of Playing by Heart's all-star ensemble had been assembled by the time Stewart signed on. "I was literally the caboose -- last man on," he said with a smile. The prospect of co-starring with the star-studded cast didn't overwhelm him. Not in the least. Not for one millisecond. "No!" he said in mock outrage. "Connery, Anderson -- bring 'em on!

"Of course I was intimidated," he said. "They thought I was the caterer." All joking aside, Stewart said: "I trusted these people. I was hoping that they knew what I could do, and that was okay with them. I don't go from being a talk-show host to being Sean Penn. I just went to being in a movie. Mr. T's been in movies! How much of a transition could it be?"

Nevertheless, he said that it was "really hard to judge" his own performance. "I really felt like I didn't mess up," he said. "I think I was looking at it too defensively, and hopefully one day I can be really proud of it . . . but I am really proud of it because I feel that I didn't mess up. I wasn't the burnt kernel in the popcorn. In that sense, I felt really proud of it that I held my own in this situation.

"When you're accustomed to doing stand-up, so often you're the only person onstage and it's all your thing," he said. "It's very gladiatorial. Obviously, when you're in a scene with somebody, you're supposed to listen and react -- and that's a bit of a transition.

"Hosting a talk show is very similar to that . . . and learning that pacing is helpful to acting." In the recently released The Faculty, Stewart plays Mr. Furlong, an easy-going high-school biology teacher (a member of the faculty, of course) who undergoes a bizarre metamorphosis into a malevolent alien being.

When asked about the film, which hadn't opened at the time of this interview, he was shushed by a Miramax representative not to give away the plot -- or his character's fate. Stewart acquiesed, but gave a hint: "Let's just say this: full-frontal nudity."

In addition to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he also has two movies in the works. One is Big Daddy, a comedy in which he co-stars with fellow comedian and longtime friend Adam Sandler. The other is Committed with Heather Graham, in which he plays a lounge lizard.

Big Daddy went into production before the release of The Waterboy, Sandler's biggest hit to date (and one of the biggest box-office hits of 1998). Stewart said that success hadn't gone to Sandler's head. "We haven't told him yet," he deadpanned. "He still believes the movie hasn't opened yet.

"I think he's taking it very well," he said. "I haven't asked him yet because the guys that carry him on the litter don't slow down. They run right by."

As an actor, Stewart makes no claim to greatness. "If I could be really competent, that goes such a long way toward things, because the majority of things are not [competent]," he said. "If I can be competent, and have moments of originality, that's all I would ask for."


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