Oscar-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone was so nervous while shooting his upcoming Edward Snowden biopic that he moved the entire production to Germany to avoid interference from the National Security Agency.
“We felt like we were at risk here [in the U.S.],” Stone said during a Q&A session at the Sun Valley Film Festival in Idaho this week, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “We didn’t know what the NSA might do, so we ended up in Munich, which was a beautiful experience.”
Stone’s film, Snowden, is slated for release in September. It is a “Hollywood-style” re-telling ·(unlike filmmaker Laura Poitras’ Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour) of Snowden’s early life and his position as an NSA contractor, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the role of the titular hero/traitor.
During the course of the panel, the three-time Oscar-winner detailed the elaborate preparation that was necessary to get the full story from Snowden, who fled to Russia to avoid U.S. espionage charges after exposing a trove of NSA secrets in the summer of 2013.
Stone said that a Russian lawyer for Snowden contacted him while he was preparing the film and urged him to come to Russia to meet the fugitive. The director said he quickly became “hooked,” and met with Snowden several times at an undisclosed location in Moscow.
Stone described Snowden as “articulate, smart, [and] very much the same,” and said he’d seen him just a few weeks ago to show him the final cut of the film.
Stone reportedly told the panel:
“He is consistent: he believes so thoroughly in reform of the Internet that he has devoted himself to this cause… Because of the Russian hours, he stays up all night. He’s a night owl, and he’s always in touch [with the outside world], and he’s working on some kind of constitution for the Internet with other people. So he’s very busy. And he stays in that 70-percent-computer world. He’s on another planet that way. His sense of humor has gotten bigger, his tolerance. He’s not really in Russia in his mind — he’s in some planetary position up there. And Lindsay Mills, the woman he’s loved for 10 years — really, it’s a serious affair — has moved there to be with him.”
Stone’s film will take a sympathetic view of Snowden’s story. The film is based on two books: Luke Harding’s The Snowden Files and Anatoly Kucherena’s Time of the Octopus, which explores a fictional story similar to Snowden’s.
“It’s an amazing story,” Stone said, according to THR. “Here’s a young man, 30 years old at that time, and he does something that’s so powerful. Who at 30 years old would do that, sacrificing his life in that way?”
“I think he’s a historical figure of great consequence,” he added.
“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,” the actor said. “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.”
In addition to Gordon-Levitt, Snowden boasts a star-studded cast including Nicolas Cage, Timothy Olyphant, Shailene Woodley, Tom Wilkinson, Scott Eastwood, Melissa Leo, and Zachary Quinto.
The film was scheduled to be released around Christmas last year (in time for an Oscar-qualifying theatrical run), but was pushed to September due to production delays.
In other Stone-related news, a new documentary set to air Thursday will reportedly reveal that the director was responsible for setting up the now-infamous meeting between actor Sean Penn and drug lord El Chap Guzman in Mexico earlier this year. According to the Daily Mail, Stone was interested in buying the film rights to Guzman’s life story.