Joseph Gordon-Levitt shared something heartbreaking about meeting Edward Snowden’s parents

When it comes to getting into the mind of his characters, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a pro. Turns out Edward Snowden’s parents noticed.

First, Gordon-Levitt spent hours watching videos of Edward Snowden to perfect his voice and mannerisms before starring in the biopic, Snowden, earlier this fall. Then, he flew to Russia to meet the Snowden himself on several occasions.

Now we learned Gordon-Levitt had the opportunity to meet Snowden’s parents after the film, in a meeting in Moscow that was surprisingly touching.

Gordon-Levitt shared details of meeting Snowden’s parents on England’s The Graham Norton Show. The actor explained that the feedback he received from the Snowden family was the most validating of his career, transcending box office records and awards.

“His mom took me aside and said 'you reminded me of my son,' Gordon-Levitt said. “And his dad took me aside and made sure to look me in the eye. He said 'I want to thank you for what you did because I know this was risky for you. And some people aren’t going to like you for it, but I really appreciate you doing this for my son.'

Snowden is a particularly controversial figure for exposing confidential National Security Agency files without clearance, showing evidence of surveillance programs being used on the American people.

While some like Gordon-Levitt view him as American hero, others deem him a traitor.

He remains in exile in Russia seeking asylum from the U.S. government.

“It’s sort of funny and controversial to talk about Edward Snowden as a patriot, Gordon-Levitt told Vanity Fair. “It’s actually the most patriotic thing you can do as an American citizen, is to hold your government accountable, to take advantage of those rights that we’re lucky to have.

Gordon-Levitt and Norton went on to discuss the possibility of President Obama pardoning Snowden, as one on of his last acts in office. Several human rights groups, including Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union, continue to lobby for his release.

“There’s other places in the world where you can’t stand up and say ‘I think the government is doing something wrong,’ Gordon-Levitt said. “We’re really lucky to get to live in countries where we can have these conversations, especially here on TV. I’m really grateful. I’m happy that he did what he did so we can be having these conversations now.

You can watch the full interview (which includes Tom Hanks!) below.

We can’t help but get a little teary about Snowden’s mom. Missing your kid is pretty universal!