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Joseph Gordon-Levitt Discusses Snowden and Politics in AMA Session


Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, best known for his roles in 500 Days Of Summer and The Dark Knight Rises, recently announced the release date of his upcoming film Snowden. The film, directed by Oliver Stone, is a biopic of the former CIA employee  Edward Snowden who rose to controversial fame after he revealed to the world the US government’s numerous global surveillance programs.

Joseph conducted an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session on social networking site Reddit, discussing the film and Snowden.

Since AMAs are commonly used by celebrities to interact directly and candidly with fans, showcasing their easygoing, fun side, Joseph answered a variety of questions from fans ranging from what his former co-stars were like, to questions about the current US Presidential elections. Keeping it short and simple, the nearly 80-minute session was riveting, especially concerning his upcoming film. The AMA, like any, included fun questions, too.


On Snowden – the film:

snowden_film_posterThe actor had met Snowden’s parents at an event recently, where like most actors, he was apprehensive about what they would think about his portrayal of their incarcerated son. Their response, however, was one of Joseph’s meaningful moments in life as an actor. This is how he described the meeting:

“They came to the movie’s premiere in NYC night before last. It was the first time I had met them. It was a hugely fulfilling moment for me. As an actor, you can’t help but look for feedback. Firstly, you look to your director. And your larger audience. Then there’s critics, box office, etc. But Ed’s parents gave me a kind of feedback I’d never gotten before in my life. They’re proud of their son for what he did, and they miss him, because he can’t come home. I remember the words his mom said, “you really captured him.” And she pointed out some little details from the movie that reminded her of him. And his dad made a point to look me in the eye and say thank you. It was really one of the more meaningful moments in my life as an actor.”

Bearing in mind that Snowden had generated a massive controversy owing to him spilling secrets about the government’s ‘dirty business’, many were apprehensive about the backlash a film on a misunderstood hero would face. On being asked on how he prepared for the role and kept the NSA (National Security Agency) in mind, Joseph, spoke about the influence his parents has on him, that subsequently helped him question the government better.

I was raised by parents who often asked questions about whether the government was doing the right thing. My dad was a journalist who reported on Watergate and the Pentagon Papers. My mom ran for congress under the Peace & Freedom Party. And my grandfather was blacklisted in the McCarthy era.

I don’t think it’s unpatriotic to ask questions about whether the American government is doing the right thing. In fact, I think it’s patriotic. It’s part of what makes the USA a great country, part of why I’m proud to be from here: we have the right to ask those questions. There’s a lot of people who live under governments that don’t give them that right.

I know it feels like our democracy is becoming less and less democratic. In many ways, I agree with that sentiment. But we still do have the right to have these conversations, and I like to remain optimistic that we still can make improvements.

In 2013, Snowden had revealed classified information about the US government’s surveillance programs, including how they hacked into everybody’s laptops, phones, and read every text message exchanged in order to monitor people’s activities. Joseph, too, became vary of technology. While he did install an app called Signal for enrcypted phone calls and message, Joseph admitted that he has become more thoughtful about how big these technology companies are.

I think I just became more thoughtful about how the internet works. And not just in terms of government. I also pay more attention to what exactly the big tech companies are doing. To their credit, a lot of them have really stepped up in the wake of Snowden’s disclosures to make our hardware and software more secure. But, for example, when they ask me to agree to their terms of service, I now always ask myself “how does this company make money?”

On politics:

When asked to describe the current Presidential elections in five words, the actor wrote, “Reality Television is not healthy.” The actor has never shied away from making political statements. He had recently lent his support towards Hillary Clinton in the ongoing US presidential elections. However, his affiliations to the political figure is solely based on choosing the lesser of two evils. The other evil being Donald J Trump.

My support for her is exactly what it looks like: a vote for the lesser of two evils. But here’s some context. The first year I was old enough to vote was 2000. That was Bush vs. Gore. I didn’t see the two candidates as very different from each other. And I didn’t want to choose between the lesser of two evils. I voted for the Green Party’s Ralph Nader. Bush won. Over the next eight years, he and his administration started a disastrous illegal war and landed the economy in the worst place it’d been since the Great Depression. I’m not saying Al Gore would have been perfect, by any means. But I do think he would have been much, much better than Bush. Same goes for Clinton and Trump. I know I won’t agree with a lot of what she does if she wins. But I also think we’ll be way better off than if Trump wins. I’m all for reforming our political system. I think there should be third and even fourth and fifth parties. But I’m not sure the presidential election is the most effective place to push in that direction.

Director Oliver Stone in a recent interview said that the film was tantamount to a watchdog, keeping the government in check and hoping to ‘the voice reaches to the world and people see it and they have a new perception of what happened‘. The actor, however, insisted that changing a strong opinion isn’t too easy.

Usually, when someone has a strong opinion, they don’t change their mind. For better or worse, that just seems to be human nature. But I remember when Oliver first offered me this job, I really barely knew who Edward Snowden was. I knew I had heard the name, but I didn’t really know any specifics. I guess I hope this movie appeals to people who just haven’t taken the time to look too deeply into it.


On a lighter note, Joseph answered questions about his former co-stars and discussed the contents in his pockets at the time. A user even asked if he would ever ‘blaze’ (smoke up) with his former 3rd Rock From The Sun co-star John Lithgow, to which, he responded with a cryptic “na, hmm….” Another user asked how perfect his 500 Days Of Summer co-star Matthew Gray Gubler was, to which he humbly said, “Nobody’s perfect. Except for Matthew Gray Gubler.”

The live AMA ended with amused fans fawning over the actor’s witty responses. The film, starring Shailene Woodley, Zachary Quinto, Rhys Ifans, and Nicolas Cage, is set to have a worldwide release on 16 September. The release date in India remains delayed.

Feature Image Courtesy: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s official FB page.

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