Listen to the story.
Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and you’re tuned to The World. We’re a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH here in Boston. Earlier on The World, we were talking about the senate report on the CIA’s interrogation methods and we heard from Mark Bowden, the author of “Black Hawk Down,” who told me this:
Mark Bowden: I think, to some extent, if you’re not extracting information from people through interrogation, you really only have electronic surveillance to fall back on.
Werman: Yeah, that. Perfect setup for the next installment of our SAFEMODE series, #SAFEMODE. You know safe mode, that option for your computer operating system, where you can root out rogue security software, or fix bugs. It’s a double-edged sword in computer security and all this week we’re introducing you to young people on the digital frontlines to hear how they feel about security. Today, I want to start by telling you about “Where the Motherland Begins.” That’s the title of a spy mini series, fiction supposedly, that aired on Russian state TV this fall. The story opens with a hurried flight from Hong Kong to Moscow. There’s a skinny American guy, turns out he’s a former NSA contractor, and he’s wanted by his government for exposing mass US surveillance around the globe. Oh, and he’s wearing glasses. Those glasses. Ladies and gentlemen, meet James Snow. If he reminds you of a certain someone, that’s exactly the reaction the actor had who tried out for the part.
Arnas FedaraviÄius: When I went to the audition, I was going for a completely different guy. I was to play a much smaller role. Then I came there and he was like “No, you’re going to go for this.” I was like “Okay”¦” I got the script and afterwards I was like “Hey, wait, it’s Snowden.” My name is Arnas FedaraviÄius, I’m 23 and I’m from Vilnius, Lithuania. I’m an actor, and prior to becoming an actor, just before I started acting, I was studying philosophy, and I’ve been living here in Russia for over a year now. The way I see it, as an actor, you don’t definitely have to look like the character to play it. I put on the glasses, I put on the shirt, started looking in the mirror and I was like “Hey, you sort of look something-ish like him.” “A somewhat hotter version of Snowden,” I believe they said. Well, you know, it’s nice but it’s just one side of it. Mainly, I just watched a lot of his interviews, and throughout all these interviews, you get the feeling that he’s very confident about everything he says and he’s very humble. But the way that I looked at it was that I wanted to find something that’s not on camera. When you see the interview, of course the guy is prepared for it and seems a lot more confident about what he’s saying. I felt that he has to be a little more fragile than he was in all of the interviews. There was some hand trembling and I really wanted to hypothetically feel it inside. So, that’s what I was going for. I didn’t have any sympathy nor antipathy for him when I first heard about him. I’m not a judgemental person, so I didn’t judge his decision. It happened the same with Wikileaks and all kinds of other whistleblowing stories. The way I see it is that the government surveillance thing is, to me and my friends, maybe we’re not right but we watched a lot of conspiracy movies all of the time. It’s pretty obvious that the information has to be somewhere in a physical place so that somebody has a way to see it. Whatever you write on the internet, wherever you send the message, it doesn’t just pop into a cloud and disappear, so it’s somewhere in a physical place and somebody has the possibility to see it. So, I wasn’t really surprised about what he said because it’s something that I was, more or less, aware of, but not on a government level. It’s not about just America tracking somebody. I believe that every major country has a way to do it. It was just the only place we know about now is America. I don’t have anything to hide so that I would change my online appearance, so no, it hasn’t changed much. Feel free to look at it if you need to, if you have to. But you’re not going to find anything terrible there. The director didn’t give me the glasses. I asked him “Could I maybe take these after the shoot, walk around for awhile, just to see if I get spotted by American agencies?” No, no.
Werman: That was actor Arnas FedaraviÄius. He spoke to reporter Charles Maynes in Moscow. So, what is it like to play a character so vilified and celebrated as Edward Snowden? Or someone, you know, just like him? Ask Arnas yourself. He’s joining us on our Facebook page starting tomorrow at 10AM Eastern. Just go to Facebook.com/PRITheWorld.