'Snowden' actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt: 'It's worth being optimistic about [technology], but it's also probably worth paying attention and considering ... the downsides'

'Snowden' stars Gordon-Levitt as NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden. It is now in theaters.

Jürgen Olczyk/Open Road Films/AP
'Snowden' stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (r.).

When veteran filmmaker Oliver Stone was casting an actor to play former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden in a film, he said he went to only one person – Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

"I don't know why, he just looked like, and felt like, and acted like he was one of that generation, very much the same age and computer knowledgeable," Stone told Reuters last month in Los Angeles.

"Snowden," which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and is now in theaters, sees Gordon-Levitt, 35, play the 33-year-old Snowden through a decade of his life.

Gordon-Levitt, who achieved fame as a child actor in television series "3rd Rock from the Sun," said that by playing Snowden, he hoped to understand his motivations.

"I was kind of trying to figure out why he did what he did, what was going on in his head," he said. "And one of the questions everyone asks is, 'Why didn't he just, you know, voice his concerns through proper channels?'"

The film leads up to the events of 2013, when Snowden fled the United States after exposing the government's mass surveillance programs to journalist Glenn Greenwald and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras.

The U.S. government filed espionage charges against Snowden and he was granted asylum in Russia, where he has lived since, with his girlfriend Lindsay Mills. Actress Shailene Woodley plays Mills in the film.

Gordon-Levitt said he related to Snowden's disillusionment with the U.S. government after watching U.S. National Intelligence director James Clapper deny, before a congressional committee, that the NSA was collecting records on millions of Americans.

"If the director of National Intelligence is being asked by a senator under oath, 'Hey, is this happening?' and he's telling a lie, well, then, what is some guy that works at the NSA going to accomplish by complaining through proper channels?" the actor said.

Tech-savvy Gordon-Levitt, who said he donated his fee for the film to the American Civil Liberties Union, is the founder of HitRecord, an online collaborative creative hub to brings together artists from around the world.

He said he tended to be optimistic about new technology, but the movie made him more aware of its negative aspects.

"It's worth being optimistic about all those things, but it's also probably worth paying attention and considering what might the downsides be of this new technology that we're inheriting," he said. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.