image Snowden – Joseph Gordon-Levitt interview – Zurich Film Festival



snowden itw joseph gordon levitt

For her first Zurich Film Festival our Berlin colleague had a chance to meet the great Joseph Gordon-Levitt for a round table about Snowden, released on the 9th of December in UK.

Q1: About your physical transformation of you becoming Edward Snowden.

Thanks so much that’s really nice to say that, sort of the highest compliment I think you can pay to an actor. As you know a lot of my favourite actors are the ones who disappear into their characters. With their chameleons, you don’t see that on the screen, you see the person of the story and that’s certainly what was aspiring to course when you’re playing someone who is real. It gives you a lot to go on, a little inspiration there and there and I actually had a really great piece of feedback the other night because I met Edward Snowden’s mother and father. You know when you’re an actor you’re always interested to see what kind of feedback you get, first from your director and then from your audience and then from critics and etc but getting feedback from the mother and father of the man you played is really a unique piece of feedback.

I’ve never had that experience before.

His mom said to me “you remind me of my son” and then his dad took me aside and said thank you for what you’re doing, I know you’re going to attract criticism but I really appreciate you standing up for my son. That really meant a lot to me. It is as fulfilling as any feedback I’ve ever had as an actor and I don’t even mean that as an exaggeration.

Q2: How did your worked on your voice to really sound like him ?

Oh thank you! You know that’s just really a matter of repetition, just putting his voice in my headphones, finding recordings of his voice and just put it on repeat, listening over and over and over.

Q3: Did you go into any kind of military boot camp for the beginning of the film ? Did you train there ? This part is very important showing Snowden’s vulnerability, his passion to serve, his patriotism.

Yeah that was something that Oliver and I talked a lot about as Oliver is a veteran.He fought in the Vietnam War where he was awarded with a Purple Heart medal for saving lives. I didn’t know before getting involved with this movie that Snowden enlisted in the US Army in 2004 which is you know right when the war in Iraq was the most dangerous. Also I had no idea that his father was in the Coast Guard, his grandfather in the FBI and that his mother works for the government.

Snowden is really someone who has been raised to fight for his country, who had has that kind of “almost soldiers” mentality. What he did is of course very different from what a soldier normally does because you know he subverted authority. Soldiers wouldn’t because it’s dangerous and could in a war put your own life in danger, or your buddies’ life.

By the way I don’t know this from experience, I’ve never been a soldier but I have some friends who have so I can understand why some people with a military background would get very upset and would feel that what he did was dangerous. On the other side this country is not a war zone and we don’t live under martial law but in a democracy … The government can’t just start programs outside of the democratic process, that violate our Bill of Rights, our Constitution and then lie about it !  That’s really not okay and you know, we would’t have any proof of what they were doing, so  I’m grateful that Edward did what he did !

Press conference Snowden - via Teen daily - Joseph Gordon-levitt, Oliver Stone and Shailene Woodley
Press conference Snowden – via Teen Daily – Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Oliver Stone and Shailene Woodley

Q4: How is it to work with Oliver Stone and it which way is it significant for you as young director ? 

Can you also tell us more about the project between HitRecord and Edward Snowden ? 

Thanks for mentioning of me as a director that’s very funny.

You know I think he’s been a unique voice in American cinema over the last many decades. I don’t think anyone has been so pointed and so courageous in their willingness to stand up and say “hey I love my country, this thing, this particular thing the government is doing goes against what our country is all about” and I don’t think anyone has done that as much as Oliver Stone has and I really admire him. It’s very brave, he doesn’t care that people will disagree with him, that people will dislike him, he doesn’t care and I admire that courage.

And then as far as you brought the partnership between the ACLU and Hitrecord, thanks for bringing that up. I was really inspired by this story, it really resonated with me and I wanted to sort of continue to stimulate the conversation so I donated my acting fee to the ACLU and part of that money went to fund this collaboration to kind of make a series of short films about the themes of technology and democracy. The majority of the money just went to support the legal work at the ACLU in these areas of free speech and privacy & technology.  

The idea was to open the question up to everybody and say “do you think that technology is good or bad for democracy”. Lots of different people contributed with all kinds of different answers and we made a bunch of different short films about those different answers. In fact Snowden himself joined the site and contributed with an answer which is a really fascinating one. It was great to see he was actually rather optimistic ! You might think that Edward Snowden would answer that question with “technology is bad for democracy “. He did acknowledge that there are potential pitfalls such as the sort of a Orwellian security state but he also said “Overall I think the good will outweigh the bad”. With renewable energy, education, medicine and science and he said that overall, “new technology will provide us with a more democratic society, with more liberty “. I found that really encouraging that even he is still optimistic.

Q5: Would you be interested to direct another movie maybe based on true events like Snowden or dedicate more time to Hitrecord ? 

Mmm yeah well it’s been great since finishing the TV show, we’ve been able to dedicate a lot of time on Hitrecord to sort of growing it and we updated the site. It got a completely new revamp this year which is the first time that happened in years. We got our mobile app out this year which is really exciting even though the mobile app will still continue to iterate and grow. But yeah I would love to direct another feature one day and you know we’ll see,  we’ll talk about this.

Q6: What kind of poster did you have on your wall as a teenager ?

The Simpsons, Usual Suspects, Swingers, Sling Blade,…

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Thank you Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the Zurich Film Festival and the roundatble interviewers. Interview made by Kinoowoo in Zurich during the Zurich Film Festival.

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