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Oliver Stone Has Directed Edward Snowden and Donald Trump. Here’s the Main Difference.

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Edward Snowden appeared via video chat during the first-ever screening of Snowden, Oliver Stone’s new film about the NSA leaker, at a San Diego theater down the street from Comic-Con Thursday night.

Snowden, who has a cameo in the film (though we won’t spoil when or how) was projected onto the film screen during a Q&A with the director and stars, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shailene Woodley. Audience members asked him to weigh in on the current election.

“We have become something of a legalistic society where people parse, is it lawful or is it unlawful? When someone’s defense for their activities is this was legal, ‘I didn’t break any laws,’ that’s a very weak defense. The legality of a thing is entirely distinct from the morality of it,” Snowden said. “If we become afraid to point that out and challenge people who are running for leadership roles on here, we’ve lost something uniquely American that’s been a rudder on our ship.”

Snowden, who is currently in exile in Russia, also received questions about a scene in the film (also in the trailer) in which he sneaks information past government security using a Rubik’s Cube. He said that that wasn’t really how he did it, but he did come up with that trick for the movie. He wouldn’t reveal the actual way he accomplished that feat in real life: “This the part where we remember the FBI would get a copy of the
Google Hangout.”

Stone joked that the time spent filming Snowden (who said, “I’m not an actor”) was arduous and compared it to his sessions filming Donald Trump for what became outtakes of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. “The difference between Donald and Ed, and I love the man in a weird way, is that [Donald Trump] jumped up after every take and said, ‘Wasn’t that great?'” Stone said.

The director had said at a panel earlier that day that Snowden had been hesitant to come onboard the film, and it took three covert meetings abroad for Stone to convince Snowden.

At the Q&A, Snowden confirmed he didn’t relish the idea of a fictional version of himself onscreen. “I don’t think anyone looks forward to having a movie made about themselves, particularly someone who is a privacy advocate,” said Snowden. But he said he came around once he saw the value of “avatars” telling his story in a narrative, digestible form for a bigger audience. He even admitted that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s impression was spot-on. “Some of my family members have said ‘he sounds just like you.'”

Finally, an audience member asked what Snowden’s quality of life is like today. “I can confirm that I am not living in a box,” he said. “I actually live a surprisingly free life.” He went on to say that he was happy in the sense that he does work that he is proud of every day now working with freedom of information organizations and the ACLU.


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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com