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Joseph Gordon-Levitt Thinks That Edward Snowden Is A Complicated Patriot

The actor opens up about how the real Snowden’s risks were the inspiration behind his portrayal

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is up north for the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of Snowden, the Oliver Stone–directed film that chronicles how the now-exiled whistleblower took on the NSA, and he has plenty to say about the character he plays and how much he loves the country that called him a traitor.

In a lengthy interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Gordon-Levitt touched on several of the complicated facets of the film — the fictional aspect of it versus the documentaries that already exist on Snowden’s plight; the difficulty in portraying someone who has a super recognizable voice and imitating it accordingly — as well as the complicated definition of patriotism and why he considers Snowden a patriot.

“Probably the most important thing for me is how much he really loves the United States of America,” JGL tells THR. “I think that people describe him as harmful to the country or as betraying the country, but he doesn’t see it that way. And I personally don’t either. I think there’s two different kinds of patriotism ... One kind of patriot just believes that everything their country does is right, no matter what, without asking any questions. But there is another kind of patriot which can only exist in a free country like the United States of America who holds the government accountable and who will ask questions. And this is what Edward Snowden has done in the most extreme of ways.”

He goes on to call Snowden the “most extreme of patriots” based on the intense obstacles he faced in pursuit of the truth. “I think [Snowden] put his life at risk in order to hold the government accountable and to say this thing the government is doing is important,” he continues. “So I consider him the most extreme of patriots, and that was something that I wanted to incorporate into the character that I played.”

Whether or not JGL approves of what he did or agrees with his actions didn’t really factor into his performance or appreciation for the character, and Snowden isn’t an exception to the rule here. “I don’t always agree with the people that I play,” he says. “I made a movie called Don Jon where I was playing a guy who was very, very different from me and held very opinions than I do. I did movie called Kill Shot where I played a sociopathic murderer. It certainly helps to personally identify with the character, but that is the job as an actor is to try to find empathy for anybody.”

So, there you have it: Gordon-Levitt not only thinks that Snowden is a patriot, but a super complicated one at that who’s definitely worth feeling for.