The Observer met the Son of Oliver at a rear table at Think Coffee by Union Square one March morning.
Tall, strapping and square-jawed, Sean Christopher Ali Stone appeared more Winklevii than Wahabi. He did not have his father’s self-described “Mongol eyes” or the gap between his teeth.
What he did have, however, was the family curiosity, and that knack for taking controversial positions.
“I think it’s important to have that spirit of inquiry, that spirit of investigation,” Mr. Stone said as he periodically sipped from a cup of chai tea. “If you keep slandering people, calling them ‘conspiracy theorists,’ you’re killing the desire to investigate, the desire to actually know.”
Mr. Stone, who is single and divides his time between Los Angeles and New York’s Alphabet City, wanted to make it clear that his highly publicized spiritual transformation was not intended as a publicity gambit.
It all began on Valentine’s Day 2010, when he and his filmmaking partner, Alexander Wraith, were at Letchworth Village, an abandoned institution for the mentally and physically disabled in Rockland County. They were there to film Graystone, Mr. Stone’s feature debut, about two men (named Sean and Alexander) who visit supposedly haunted sites to explore their belief in the supernatural.
He and Mr. Wraith had brought along candles from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which they lit and placed on the ground as they prayed aloud. They heard screams and howls and a child’s laughter, which scared them both shitless.
“That’s why there’s an expression ‘There are no atheists in foxholes,’” he said. “Either you find your faith and you believe that there is a higher power guiding you and protecting you, or else you basically surrender it and say there is no God.”
Two years later to the day, Mr. Stone found himself in Isfahan, Iran, sitting inside a mosque across from a Shiite cleric, explaining his reasons for wanting to be a Muslim. He was accompanied by a man named Bahram Heidari, an Iranian living in Canada who was helping him develop a feature film about the Sufi poet Rumi (Mr. Stone is also prepping a documentary on djinn, or genies). With an Iranian TV news crew on hand to document the occasion, Mr. Stone said the shahada, the Muslim declaration of belief.
“I didn’t ‘convert,’” he pointed out, “because I don’t believe you can convert from the same God. It’s an acceptance of Islam as an extension of what I call the Judeo-Christian tradition going back to Abraham.”
He said he was surprised the event generated so much attention. “We had not arranged for any press,” he said. “We don’t know how they found out about it.”
But when everyone from CNN to Agence France-Presse jumped on the story, he went with it. He later defended Iran on cable news. “It seems that every time we sanction this country and turn the bolts tighter around it … it’s just going to make them potentially more radical and dangerous,” he said. “You can’t just bomb your way to an accord.” While defending Mr. Ahmadinejad, he also was emphatic that “there is no room for Holocaust denial.” (Not long ago, his father also was quoted minimizing the Holocaust.)
It’s not hard to understand how Mr. Stone developed a certain sympathy for men of strong convictions who are unafraid to offend.
“He says things that rile people, I’m not going to deny that,” Mr. Stone said of Mr. Ahmadinejad. He says the same about his dad.
“I think he likes controversy,” Mr. Stone said. “I think as much as anything, he likes that people get riled.”