It’s never a walk in the park making a movie for Oliver Stone. For Zachary Quinto, it was more rough than usual. The filmmaker’s latest film is “Snowden,” which tells the story of CIA and NSA employee-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who learns that the government can and has been snooping in on anyone with a computer of gadget. Quinto plays Glenn Greenwald, the journalist, then working for The Guardian, who met Snowden in Tokyo as he was about to leak the intel that proved malfeasance. The “Heroes” and “Star Trek” actor, now 39, talks to us about how the film made him much more aware of how technology makes us vulnerable.
You’re not only making a movie about the infringement on privacy, but one by Oliver Stone. Did that make you even more worried about what Snowden revealed?
Like most people, I was pretty cavalier about my relationship to online security. I didn’t think about it that much. When this story initially broke, my reaction was, ‘Wow, that’s intense — and it probably has nothing to do with me.’ The more I learned about the documents that were released and how far-reaching and wide-spread this dragnet operation went — and how many tens of millions were exposed and vulnerable as a result — it made me recognize we’re all in this and against it together.
“It has nothing to do with me” is a pretty common line. Most of us probably think that.
It’s a complacent attitude to adopt, because you never know when the definitions are going to shift or change. You never know when someone might find themselves in opposition to either the government or on the wrong side of the lines. It makes them more of a target. By that time the attitude of “I have nothing to hide” has allowed groups to collect all kinds of information and all kinds of data, and use it against you when it serves them to do so.
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It’s hard to imagine there being a revolution in which people give up their smartphones.
That’s what it would require, whether it was voluntary or brought about by catastrophic undercurrents. If you look at the power that technology has in the cyber world, everything is filtered through online networks. All of our infrastructure is controlled by this technology. If there’s some kind of cyber-attack on any of these systems, the ramifications are very real and very dire.
Were there things that you learned researching this that were particularly horrifying?
Reading Glenn [Greenwald]’s book “No Place to Hide” was really tough. It delves into a lot of information on these programs — how they evolved, how they found themselves re-appropriated to serve the interests in the NSA and the CIA, and how they infiltrated different aspects of our lives. It was hard to wrap my head around how when you log onto wireless Internet networks, they can be rerouted and observed. Certain hardware can be intercepted by the CIA and tampered with to put in catch-alls, so that any information that goes through it is rerouted to collection stations and archived. It’s this endless labyrinth.
Have you changed your tech habits since?
Only to the extent that I have tape over the camera on my laptop [as Snowden did], I changed all my passwords, I did a two-step verification on all my devices. I did the things we can do. But the reality is at the level we’re talking about, we’re still vulnerable. We can strengthen ourselves against lower-level interference. But it’s when you get to the top of the pyramid, you think, ‘How safe can we ever be at this point?’ That’s the question this film asks audiences to consider and discuss.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge