Following a screening of Oliver Stone’s biopic Snowden at Comic-Con tonight, a panel discussion was held with the filmmaker and stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley — who were joined via Google Hangout from Russia by Edward Snowden himself. What followed was a discussion ranging from the political topics raised by the film to Snowden’s experiences being the subject of a biopic in which he briefly appears.
The fugitive NSA whistleblower about the U.S. government’s surveillance program was asked what he thought of Gordon-Levitt’s performance in playing him. “This is one of the things that’s kind of crazy and surreal about this whole experience,” he said. “I don’t think anyone looks forward to having a movie made about themselves, especially someone who’s a privacy activist. But what I can say is some of my family members say, ‘He sounds just like you.'” Snowden then noted how a person’s voice never sound the same to them as is does to other people, but added, “If he can pass the family test, he’s doing all right.”
Snowden never has divulged how he smuggled the classified information out of NSA headquarters in Hawaii, so the movie came up with a fictionalized version involving a Rubik’s cube. He used a question about that scene as an opportunity to discuss the perils of speaking in public enabled by technology in a society filled with surveillance. “The FBI actually gets a copy of this talk because we’re going through Google Hangouts. … The data is there for the taking,” Snowden said. “Oliver has exactly the right answer [with that scene]. These are the things that are actively under investigation, and this is what made it such a challenging story for Oliver to tell.’’
When asked about the decision to let Stone direct the story of his life, Snowden talked about the complexity of being a public figure. “I’m not going to talk about the private conversation,” he said. “[But] the convincing argument in general that gets across in these stories is when it’s in the public record, you don’t get to decide whether or not a movie gets to be made. … You kind of lose control over these kind of things. … [But one thing] Oliver has going for him … is that he thinks for himself, and that’s something I respect very highly. You look at his filmography and you can see that nobody tells him what to do.”
Other highlights from the chat? Snowden is working with a developer on technology to assist journalists in evading government surveillance (still very much in the discussion stages, at least according to his description during the panel); and while he refused to tell people “how to think,” he urged people to get involved in politics.