Snowden star Joseph Gordon-Levitt said he was “flattered” after being selected to play the notorious former NSA contractor in Oliver Stone’s upcoming biopic, which premiered Tuesday night in New York City.
“I would consider it an honor to tell his story,” the 35-year-old actor told Variety at the film’s premiere at AMC Lincoln Center.
“First off, I was just flattered. But I really had a lot of learning to do,” he added. “My personal opinion is what he did was a really positive thing for the country.”
Stone’s film — based on the 2014 book The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man by Guardian correspondent Luke Harding — is to be the first “Hollywood-style” film about the NSA contractor’s life, following Laura Poitras’ Oscar-winning 2014 documentary Citizenfour.
Gordon-Levitt reportedly traveled to Russia to meet with the real-life Edward Snowden to prepare for the film, as did Stone.
In an interview with the Guardian last year, Gordon-Levitt said that as an actor, he doesn’t want to be seen as an authority on whether Snowden did the “right” thing by leaking details of the NSA’s surveillance programs to the American public, but he does personally believe that what Snowden did was right.
“I left knowing without a doubt that what [Snowden] did, he did because he believed it was the right thing to do, that he believed it would help the country he loves,” Gordon-Levitt told the paper. “Now, as he would say, it’s not for him to say whether it was right or wrong. That’s really for people to decide on their own, and I would encourage anybody to decide that on their own. I don’t want to be the actor guy who’s like, ‘You should listen to me! What he did was right!’ I don’t think that’s my place. Even though that is what I believe – that what he did was right.”
The debate over the merit of Snowden’s actions has transferred over to the film about his life. In August, watchdog Judicial Watch accused Stone’s film of violating the federal Anti-Terrorism Act by allowing the filmmakers to profit off of Snowden’s alleged “treason.”
“Snowden is no whistleblower. In fact he violated his secrecy agreement, which means he and his conspirators can’t materially profit from his fugitive status, violation of law, aiding and abetting of a crime and providing material support to terrorism,” the nonprofit said last month.
For his part, Stone — who is set to appear along with the real-life Snowden (via video feed) in U.S. theaters ahead of the film’s special “live” premiere Wednesday night — told Variety Tuesday that his film allows viewers to “walk in [Snowden’s] shoes.”
“That gives us a true understanding of who he is and his humanity because people have characterized him,” the director said.
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum