Is Edward Snowden a traitor or patriot?
Depending on who you ask, those are the labels ascribed to the a former NSA contractor who in 2013 leaked files exposing the government’s secret surveillance programs around the globe.
He fled to Hong Kong and then Russia and has been charged with violating the Espionage Act, a 1917 law concerning World War I spies.
And on Friday, director Oliver Stone brings the controversial protagonist’s story to the silver screen with Snowden, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Zachary Quinto and Scott Eastwood.
“I think in this movie you see sort of a dramatic evolution of a guy who begins as one kind of patriot, because one thing I didn’t know about Edward Snowden before doing this movie was in 2004 he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He wanted to go fight in Iraq,” Gordon-Levitt said. “That’s one kind of patriotism.”
“That didn’t work out so well for him,” Peltz pointed out.
“No, he broke both of his legs in basic training, so he was not able to go fight in Iraq and eventually he ended up working in intelligence,” Gordon-Levitt said. “But in 2004 he’s the kind of patriot that just believes that what his country is doing is right no matter what and isn’t one to really ask questions about that.
“Over the course of nine years of his life working for the CIA, working for the NSA, seeing what he sees, seeing these laws be broken by these secret programs, he becomes what I consider to be another kind of patriot, which is someone who loves the country, loves what it stands for and is willing to stand up and say hey, I’m not sure that this thing the government’s doing is really what my country is about.”
“And that kind of patriot is only really possible in a country like ours, the United States, a free country where we have the right and the privilege to ask those questions and to disagree with our government. This is a big part of why I’m so grateful to be from here, is that we have that privilege.
“A lot of people all over the world don’t have those rights. They live in places where you’re not allowed to have conversations questioning the government, and the government just does things in secret without ever discussing them with the public. And what Edward Snowden saw was our government behaving like one of those other governments, and he decided to stand up and do something about it.”
Ironically, Snowden is now in Russia, a nation that isn’t exactly a symbol of freedom. But he fears being prosecuted in a military court if he returns and has asked President Barack Obama for a pardon.
Quinto, who plays journalist Glenn Greenwald in Snowden, suggested the White House’s treatment of Snowden runs contrary to our commander-in-chief’s progressive principles.
“Especially I think under the administration of President Obama, which comes with the ideology of more freedom and more hope and all of the cornerstones of both of his campaigns, but in reality has been one of the most extreme administrations in terms of prosecuting and pursuing whistle-blowers, and that seems incongruous with our sense of where the country is under this leadership,” he said.
“And while there must be some kind of a conversation about stepping outside of the bounds of confidentiality within the governmental agencies, the idea of the Espionage Act or treason, that to me is such an extreme position to adopt for someone who clearly was just pointing out the fact that the government was unilaterally and indiscriminately denying us our constitutional right to privacy as an American society.
“So I do feel like it’s something you would expect under a more right-wing or conservative government, and as we usher into the end of President Obama’s otherwise successful tenure, I feel like it’s a very strange thing, so the fact that he’s seeking presidential pardon now is an interesting thing, I guess to see how it all plays out.”
Watch the clips below to hear about Gordon-Levitt’s meeting with the real Snowden and what the actors think of Donald Trump’s 2013 tweet calling for his execution.
You can hear Perri Peltz’s full interview at various times over the weekend:
Saturday at 6 p.m. ET and Sunday at 6 a.m. ET on SiriusXM Stars
Saturday at 11 p.m. ET and Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on SiriusXM Insight
Saturday at 12 p.m. ET and Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on SiriusXM Entertainment Weekly Radio.