What happens when you make a film about Edward Snowden and the NSA documents that he leaked? It inspires you to look at the dark side of technology. At least that was the case for Zachary Quinto and Melissa Leo, who portray documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald in Oliver Stone’s upcoming Snowden biopic. “I did take some extra steps that I hadn’t taken before being exposed to this world,” says Quinto who admits that since filming the role, he has a piece of duct tape that covers the camera on his laptop. “I’ve changed all my passwords. I have no two passwords that are the same for any service online. I have two-step verification enabled in all of my devices.”
Leo, wasn’t inspired to go as crazy with her technology management but she did, however, follow in her costar’s footsteps with blocking the eyepiece of her computer. “[I’m not saying] ‘oh I have something to hide, I don’t want you to look,” she told Screen Rant during the Snowden press day. “It’s saying, ‘No thank you. I’d prefer you not look. I haven’t given you permission. And so I’m going to show you that I haven’t given you permission because clearly you’re not grown up enough to understand that not having given you permission, you can’t just come look in my house.’”
Ahead of the film’s September 16 release, we caught up with the duo to discuss getting to play journalists and do the on screen interviewing for a change and what inspired them to follow Stone on hid journey to bring Snowden’s story to life.
SR: How familiar were you guys with Edward Snowden and his journey prior to signing on with this?
Leo: Well, I was really not familiar at all with him. I like to get that right out of the way and really learned most of what I know from Kieran and Oliver’s script.
Quinto: I was aware of it but I think I was aware of it abstractly, theoretically. You know I understood who he was and what he did but I didn’t really see the relevance that it bore in my life and doing this film changed that tune pretty quick. I saw how vulnerable we all are and how exposed we all are and how this is an issue that affects everyone who owns a piece of technology. Which is certainly most people in this country.
SR: Has that caused you to take extra precautions? I know Scott [Eastwood] just told that he has a piece of duct tape over the camera on his laptop.
Quinto: As do I. Yeah. And I changed all my passwords. I have no any two passwords that are the same for any service online. I have two-step verification enabled on all my devices…so yeah, I did take some extra steps that I hadn’t taken before being exposed to this world.
SR: Did you do anything different?
Leo: No, I don’t tend to use technology all that much. Of course, I can’t avoid it – it’s called the telephone nowadays. And I do a certain amount of email, work-related primarily, on it. But I don’t do a lot of looking for things online. I just don’t do that much of it. I do, however, have tape over my eyepiece as well. What I think my peace is saying isn’t, “Oh I have something to hide. I don’t want you to look.”, it’s more saying, “No thank you. I prefer you not look. I’m not giving you permission. So I’m going to show you I haven’t given you permission because clearly you’re not grown up enough to understand that, not having given you permission, you can’t just come look in my house.” And I won’t know if they’re coming and looking or not…so I put a piece of tape over it.
SR: You guys have totally inspired me to take one of those Snowden Band-Aids they gave us and put one over my laptop camera.
Quinto: You totally should.
SR: As actors, you guys get interviewed all the time. Was it fun to be on the other side of the camera and get to portray these journalist?
Quinto: I mean, they’re great characters. They’re fascinating people. They were in an extraordinary situation.
Leo: It’s not exactly an interview that’s going on. I guess we do ask him some questions and we’re recording him answering them and so on like that.
SR: That’s an interview.
Leo: I suppose so. There is a certain amount of interviewing going on.
Quinto: The situation they were in was incredibly heightened. The stakes were high. There was a lot of pressure, a lot of tension, a lot of sense of claustrophobic, clandestine energy that I think was exhilarating for us to explore and recreate. We were fortunate to shoot a fair amount of our stuff at the actual hotel where it all happened in Hong Kong. That added another element of very similitude to the situation, so I feel like it was exciting.
SR: Did you guys get to actually meet the real people that you played and is it more nerve wracking when you’re portraying someone that exists?
Leo: It’s not exactly nerve wracking. It’s a challenge and it’s a responsibility. It’s how I think of it most of all. You have this certain about of responsibility to play a fictitious character and you have a script that’s guiding you and the other information of the custom department’s choices, and the set department, “Where are you”, and all those other pieces of information but you have to cull from your imagination the answer to all the unasked questions. And with a real person, there’s someone to get that information from, perhaps.
Quinto: I didn’t get a chance to meet Glen for this movie. I did meet him a few years ago, coincidentally, before any of this happened. But I’ve been familiar with his work, so I felt I wanted to get it right. I wanted to honor him. I respect him and I think the way he does his job is admirable. Yeah, there was an added incentive. I wouldn’t call it pressure, but incentive perhaps.
SR: Next time we’ll see you guys in the other chair.
Quinto: Yeah, we’ll be sitting there asking you stuff.
Snowden opens in U.S. theaters September 16, 2016.