Lov­ing ‘Snow­den’

In new film, Shai­lene Wood­ley plays Ed­ward Snow­den’s girl­friend

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LIVING - By Amy Longs­dorf

Even though Shai­lene Wood­ley has been an act­ing pro since she was ten years old, she didn’t get her first iPhone un­til she turned 18.

By then, she was savvy enough to won­der about how the de­vice would im­pact her pri­vacy.

“I’m not a tech­no­log­i­cal per­son and I re­mem­ber the first time I got an iPhone, I was, like, ‘Oh, I bet they’re go­ing to record [me with] this’ and, ‘I bet peo­ple can see through this cam­era.’

“I sort of joked about it. I’m sure [ev­ery­one] has had those mo­ments as well, [jok­ing] about Big Brother watch­ing. You make fun of it.”

As it turns out, Amer­i­cans’ lack of pri­vacy is far from a laugh­ing mat­ter. In 2003, an NSA agent named Ed­ward Snow­den leaked thou­sands of clas­si­fied doc­u­ments to the me­dia which proved that the U.S. Gov­ern­ment was record­ing the cell phone calls of ev­ery­day cit­i­zens.

Wood­ley says the news of Snow­den’s leaks reg­is­tered strongly with her.

“When Ed re­leased the in­for­ma­tion that he dis­closed, it hit me with a cer­tain grav­i­tas of, ‘This is real! This is real life! This is not just a sus­pi­cion or a hy­poth­e­sis any more. This is val­i­dated.’”

Given her in­ter­est in Snow­den, it’s not sur­pris­ing that when she dis­cov­ered Oliver Stone was mak­ing a biopic about the for­mer NSA agent, she wanted to lend her sup­port.

“When I heard that Oliver Stone was mak­ing this movie, I ac­tu­ally wrote him a let­ter,” says the ac­tress. “I did ask to au­di­tion for it but the point of the let­ter wasn’t to be a part of the movie; it was just to say, ‘Thank you for mak­ing a movie like this.’”

Stone was im­pressed with Wood­ley’s moxie and cast her in “Snow­den” op­po­site Joseph Gor­don-Le­vitt, who plays the ti­tle role. Wood­ley plays Lind­say Mills, Snow­den’s girl­friend who,

these days, lives with him in Rus­sia, where he fled be­fore be­ing charged un­der the 1917 Es­pi­onage Act.

The film, which is based on two non-fic­tion books about Snow­den, co-stars Melissa Leo as doc­u­men­tary film­maker Laura Poitras, Zachary Quinto as jour­nal­ist Glenn Green­wald and Tom Wilkin­son as Ewen MacAskill, a re­porter for

The Guardian, the news­pa­per which helped re­port the Snow­den story.

Wood­ley knew from the get-go how con­tro­ver­sial a movie “Snow­den” would be.

“When you go on the street, half the peo­ple have very strong opin­ions that [Snow­den] is a traitor, while the other half think he’s a hero,” notes the ac­tress, 24. “Ev­ery­one has all these very strong opin­ions about a man that we ac­tu­ally know noth­ing about.”

Wood­ley be­lieves that the movie will in­ter­est au­di­ence mem­bers cu­ri­ous about Snow­den’s barely-known back­story.

“The thing that I fell in love with about the script is that for me, as some­one who did a lot of re­search on the in­for­ma­tion that was dis­closed, I didn’t know that Ed Snow­den was a con­ser­va­tive be­fore he was more lib­eral,” says Wood­ley.

“I didn’t know that he wanted to be part of the mil­i­tary be­fore he had any in­ter­est in join­ing the NSA or CIA. [Be­ing an agent] wasn’t on his radar. It was sort of a Plan B.

“We are so quick to judge in our so­ci­ety but so often we are only be­ing fed one nar­ra­tive, and with Ed Snow­den, we’ve only been fed the nar­ra­tive of main­stream me­dia and in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ists.

“We’ve never had the lux­ury of be­ing fed the nar­ra­tive of the his­tor­i­cal events that led him to do what he did. I think that’s what this movie does. Think­ing back to the first time I heard his name and the ef­fect it had on me to now, my judg­ments and be­liefs have shifted a lit­tle bit be­cause I un­der­stand the back­story. So there’s a cer­tain sense of em­pa­thy that I didn’t have be­fore.”

In the months lead­ing up to film­ing, Gor­don Le­vitt and Stone met with Snow­den for more than four hours in Rus­sia. Wood­ley was un­able to meet Lind­say un­til well into the movie’s pro­duc­tion.

For the most part, the ac­tress did her home­work the old-fash­ioned way: by read­ing books and hit­ting the In­ter­net.

“I read a lot,” she says. “I felt like such a stalker at the time. I was like, ‘If any­one hacks my com­puter, they’re go­ing to see that I’ve reached back into Lind­say’s years from 2009 on.

“I read ev­ery sin­gle blog post that she had ever posted, and ev­ery sin­gle so­cial me­dia feed. I Googled the heck out of all of her pho­tog­ra­phy. There’s only so much you can put to­gether of a per­son [from these sources] but I feel like we tried our hard­est to cap­ture the essence of who she was.”

A na­tive of Cal­i­for­nia, Wood­ley en­joyed her act­ing break­through in 2008 when she played the ti­tle char­ac­ter in ABC Fam­ily’s “The Se­cret Life of the Amer­i­can Teenager.” She made her film de­but three years later op­po­site Ge­orge Clooney in the ac­claimed dys­func­tional drama “The Descen­dents.”

Since then, she’s starred in one hit movie af­ter another, in­clud­ing “The Spec­tac­u­lar Now” with Miles Teller and “The Fault of Our Stars” with Ansel El­gort. She’s also the main at­trac­tion in the “Di­ver­gent” films, play­ing hero­ine Tris Prior.

Amaz­ingly, “Snow­den” marks the first time that the 24-year-old Wood­ley has played a tra­di­tional “girl­friend” role in a movie.

“It was nice,” says Wood­ley. “It was dif­fi­cult, ac­tu­ally. [I only had] eight or nine scenes. You have to con­tinue pro­gress­ing the story and move the plot along, while also de­vel­op­ing your char­ac­ter and stay­ing strong in that char­ac­ter even as you’re jump­ing through dif­fer­ent time [pe­ri­ods].

“It was dif­fi­cult for all of us. … Joe and Oliver and I wanted to those scenes to [be] truth­ful and au­then­tic, yet also dis­play all the dif­fer­ent vari­ables that needed to be dis­played. It was an in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ence but it was fun. It was a good chal­lenge.”

In the end, Wood­ley be­lieves that in ad­di­tion to be­ing a crack­er­jack thriller, “Snow­den” also works as a ro­mance be­tween two peo­ple will­ing to sac­ri­fice for their love.

“I’m just an ac­tor pre­tend­ing to play Lind­say Mills and Joe is just an ac­tor pre­tend­ing to play Ed Snow­den but I con­stantly have to re­flect on the fact that Lind­say Mills is a real woman who is now liv­ing in Rus­sia be­cause her boyfriend of over a decade is ex­iled and his pass­port has been re­voked.

“Their love is great enough [that she has] sac­ri­ficed what­ever com­forts she may have ex­pe­ri­enced in Amer­ica to live in Rus­sia with him. That’s some­thing that I thought about through this whole process.

“I also rec­og­nize that this is not an his­tor­i­cal event. This is an event that is hap­pen­ing in real time, that’s very rel­e­vant to the point that as we now speak, [Snow­den and Mills] are in Rus­sia right now, won­der­ing what the fate of their lives will be when his asy­lum is up in Rus­sia.”


Joseph Gor­don Le­vitt, left, and Shai­lene Wood­ley star in Oliver Stone’s con­tro­ver­sial new thriller “SNOW­DEN.”

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