Joseph Gordon-Levitt Recalls Edward Snowden's 'Old-Fashioned Manners' In First Meeting

The actor plays the titular role in "Snowden," out Sept. 16.

More than a year after “Citizenfour” won an Oscar for recounting the impact of Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks, the former government contractor’s story is once again hitting the big screen. 

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays the whistleblower in the upcoming Oliver-Stone-directed film “Snowden” stopped by The Huffington Post this week to discuss the movie and revealed what it was like to come face-to-face with the polarizing figure himself.

Snowden was keenly involved in the production, Gordon-Levitt explained. Stone and Snowden went over various drafts of the script and incorporated the whistleblower’s feedback into the final product. In preparation, Gordon-Levitt said he flew to meet with the real-life inspiration for his character in Moscow, where the exiled Snowden is currently taking refuge. Surprisingly, getting a security clearance to speak with him wasn’t much of an issue.

“I don’t know about security clearances, really I just flew into Moscow and then I went and met him at an office. And we sat together for four hours,” Gordon-Levitt said.

During the meeting, Gordon-Levitt said he focused on the minute details of Snowden’s personality that would help him portray the man on screen. 

“I wanted to understand who he was as a human being ... You can tell a lot about a person [and] it can really inform a performance. Just how someone shakes your hand, or how someone eats,” Gordon-Levitt said. 

One of the first things the actor noticed were Snowden’s “good, old-fashioned, gentlemanly manners.”

“He’s from North Carolina and I think that, in that part of the country, there’s a lot more emphasis put on good manners than where I’m from in California,” he laughed.  

During the conversation with HuffPost’s Matt Jacobs, Gordon-Levitt ― whose new five-part video series tackles the ways technology affects democracy ― also discussed how presidential elections have changed over the years. For example, when Abraham Lincoln debated with Sen. Stephen Douglas back in 1858, each nominee was given at least an hour to respond to a question.

“[They would] do proper research, compose a thorough, thought-through response, and deliver it. And make a long speech about the question that had been asked,” he said.

But nowadays, “debates are all about sound bites,” he said.  

“They’re sort of like reality TV competition shows. And that’s a problem, because the truth is, the issues that we need to be talking about in presidential debates aren’t simple, they’re complicated ... Whoever can create the best sound bite should not necessarily become the president,” he said. 

Preach, Joe. Preach. 

“Snowden” will hit theaters on Sept. 16.

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