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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the most wanted man Edward Snowden in techno-thriller “Snowden.”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the Hollywood king of making unusual career decisions. A former child star, the now-35-year-old could have parlayed his supporting role on television’s 3rd Rock from the Sun into a lucrative future of sitcom shenanigans. Or he could have gone the teen heartthrob route, cranking out profitable but pointless romcoms until the teen girls got bored. Instead, Gordon-Levitt has pursued the path less chosen, seeking out art-house collaborators (Gregg Araki, Rian Johnson) who would be able to showcase the actor’s versatility, which in turn led him to the brainier blockbuster maestros (Christopher Nolan, Robert Zemeckis). Now, the actor has teamed up with the ever-controversial Oliver Stone to tell the story of America’s most famous living “traitor” – NSA whistle-blower and current Russia resident Edward Snowden.
I’m sorry, as you’ve probably been asked this a million times already, but how did you modulate your voice to match Snowden’s?
A lot of repetition. I watched everything I could find on YouTube, and in particular focused on the documentary about him, Citizenfour. I ripped the audio off that movie and listened to it on headphones on repeat.
Was that the same method you used to play [The Walk’s] Philippe Petit?
Similar, and just like the one I used for Bruce Willis in Looper. To me, it’s always one of the first things I like to try to figure out. I never studied acting in any academic setting, but I did take some acting classes when I was young, eight, nine or 10 years old. My teacher was very much into the notion of not being yourself – you are someone else, you can put yourself in their shoes. … So when I was in [Araki’s] Mysterious Skin, that movie was set in Kansas, and I went to Kansas, met a guy at a baseball game there and liked how he talked. I wanted to talk like him and I had some recordings of him on a video camera. So I’d listen over and over to his voice.
You’ve worked with many singular directors such as Araki, Rian, Chris Nolan …
That to me is the most important thing: who is the director? Filmmaking is the director’s medium, like theatre is an actor’s and novels are a writer’s. That relationship between an actor and director is at the crux for me.
So why were you attracted to working with Stone?
Well, come on: Natural Born Killers, Born on the Fourth of July, Any Given Sunday! But when he offered me this job, to be honest, I didn’t really know anything about Edward Snowden. I had heard the name, but I asked myself, which one is he again, what did he do? You hear so many headlines nowadays without getting much detail, so I had a lot of learning to do. And as I learned more about him, I realized Oliver Stone was the only one who should make this movie. If you’re going to tell the Snowden story, you have to be willing to put into the movie that a U.S. government agency was breaking the law. There aren’t many filmmakers, if any filmmakers in the last few decades, who make big-scale, entertaining movies meant for broad audiences, who are willing to stand up and say, I love my country, but this thing is happening and it’s wrong and we should take a look at it. No one does that as pointedly or courageously as Oliver Stone.
The fact that you didn’t realize who Snowden was at first seems to be the general impression of a good deal of North Americans.
I mean, well, there has been a pretty big impact. Everything happens in baby steps, and it’s only been three years. A lot has changed since: The federal court ruled a program was unconstitutional, the former attorney-general admitted he believes what Snowden did was a service to the country. And there are all kinds of important changes in Silicon Valley.
If most people know his name, they still don’t seem to know what exactly he revealed.
In our culture, anything, whether Snowden or any number of stories we could name, it’s hard to get people to pay attention to anything for very long. We have access to so many different stories and so much information coming at us that the technology is already ahead of the culture. It’s pretty distracting and detrimental that we’re growing insensitive to the Snowden story, or other stories. On the other hand, we are aware of a lot more things we weren’t before.
So you’re cautiously optimistic?
I remain optimistic. But I like to try to be realistic as well. That’s the thing about the Snowden story. Before focusing on this story, I never took the time to consider the potential downsides of this new digital technology. I just thought it was great, it would bring people together from all over the world. I still believe that’s true, but every technology can be used for good or bad.
Has working on the film changed your media-consumption habits?
In being thoughtful, yeah. From time to time we’re all asked to check a box and agree to some terms of service. I never used to think about what I was agreeing to, and certainly we can’t be expected to read and digest all that legal language. I know I spoke positively about Silicon Valley a second ago, but they need to become more transparent. Nowadays, I do try to take a moment and think for a second: What am I agreeing to? What is this company after? How does this company make money? These are questions worth asking and worth being aware of – and I used to never give it a second thought before learning about Snowden.
SNOWDEN released and distributed by CAPTIVE CINEMA.
SHOWING ON WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28. NATIONWIDE!

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