The Snowden Effect
From the courage of director Oliver Stone, to the divisive effect of taking the lead role, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s starring role in 2016’s Snowden was also sure to cause a stir. In this interview, Gordon-Levitt explains why it was important for him to dismiss the doubters and give Snowden’s incredible story of standing up to the surveillance might of the world’s largest superpower the Hollywood treatment.
“I had some people telling me that playing a very polarising figure might not be the best career move I could make. But I believed that this was an important film, and I was going to do it no matter what.”
As the man behind the single largest leak of intelligence information in American history, it was almost inevitable that Edward Snowden’s story would sooner or later find its way to the silver screen. With famously fearless director Oliver Stone at the helm, Snowden promised to be another credible chapter to Stone’s back catalogue of critical movie making.
But more important than the man behind the camera was the actor who chose to portray Snowden – a supremely polarising figure, and someone who is still viewed with much suspicion in his home nation. For Joseph Gordon-Levitt, however, the risks of taking the role were far outweighed by the effect Snowden’s actions had on the landscape of modern encryption technology and geo-politics as a whole.
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There is still an ongoing debate about whether Edward Snowden should be regarded as a hero or as a traitor. How do you think this film will affect that discussion?
This is someone who enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2004 with the intention to go fight in Iraq and put his life on the line for his country.
But those same values and principles led him to believe that what was his country was doing was wrong and how U.S. citizens had a right to be aware of that activity. He’s someone who is very passionate about what he believes in and that’s what led him to risk his life and freedom to defend principles that are so important to him.
You’ve said that some people were advising you not to play in Snowden because he remains a very controversial figure, particularly in the U.S.?
I had some people telling me that playing a very polarizing figure might not be the best career move I could make. But I believed that this was an important film and I was going to do it no matter what.
Oliver Stone is in his own way just as controversial a figure as Edward Snowden. What is your view of Stone’s work as a filmmaker?
Oliver Stone is one of the most courageous and questioning directors in America. I don’t think any other director is any better positioned or capable of making a film about Edward Snowden than Oliver Stone.
He’s not afraid to be ask hard questions about government policy and decisions that he feels run counter to basic tenets of the U.S. constitution and certain principles on which our country was founded. We need people like that who are willing to make major Hollywood movies that not only entertain large audiences but also provoke people to ask similar kinds of questions.
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