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.”
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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.
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