Joseph Gordon-Levitt flew to Russia to meet with Edward Snowden and learned something surprising

Joseph Gordon-Levitt portrays Edward Snowden in the new Oliver Stone film Snowden. Snowden is known for leaking classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013 without authorization. He exposed the U.S. government for conducting major privacy-violating surveillance on the entire country, as well others around the world.

To ensure Gordon-Levitt and the filmmakers were capturing  Snowden’s accurate motivations, they flew to Moscow multiple times to meet with him.

“A few months before shooting the movie, I did have a chance to sit with him in person,” Gordon-Levitt told reporters at a press day for the film according to People.


Snowden currently lives in an asylum in Moscow after the U.S.  government charged him with violating the Espionage Act and stealing government property. The visits were arranged by Snowden’s attorneys, and you’d think visiting a U.S. traitor in an asylum in Moscow would be kind of an ordeal.

“It was honestly not as crazy as you would imagine,” Gordon-Levitt said. “I flew to Moscow and went and met him at an office.”

They spent four hours together. Snowden was accompanied by his longtime girlfriend Lindsay Mills (played by Shailene Woodley in the film).


Gordon-Levitt said he was excited to meet Snowden and get a deeper insight into what he’s like as a person — and what he learned surprised him.

“One of the first things I noticed actually was, he’s got really good manners,” Gordon-Levitt said. “He’s sort of old-fashioned, in a way. You don’t necessarily expect that in today’s world, or when you think of someone who’s really good at computers. You don’t necessarily equate that with someone who’s got a lot of social grace.” 


“But what can I say? He’s from North Carolina,” he added. “I think they put a lot more emphasis on good manners there than they do where I’m from in Southern California. I really noticed that. I wanted to incorporate it into my performance of him.”

The time spent with Snowden was crucial to Gordon-Levitt’s performance — he mastered his voice, way of speaking and body language. But more importantly, he fully understood Snowden’s message.

“I know that he doesn’t want to live in Russia for the rest of his life,” Gordon-Levitt said. “I think, to be honest though, what he cares about more than his personal life is the issues that he’s bringing up. He cares about the basic principles of what our country is about. He cares that the people of the United States are able to have this conversation, able to have this debate, able to know what the government is doing with this technology, and are able to form their own opinion.”

Snowden hits theaters September 16.

In the meantime, check out the trailer: