Oliver Stone’s feature film “Snowden” took the three-time Oscar winner on numerous trips to Russia, where Snowden has lived in exile since 2013.
Stone’s trips eventually led to a series of interviews with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Deadline interviewed Oliver Stone, and has the some interesting details on the Oscar award winning directors’ film featuring an in depth profile of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Stone has used this documentary interview format in the past with films about Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez.
I can’t think of too many of your peers who would do something like travel to Russia to conduct interviews with Putin. How much of this came from the time you spent there with Edward Snowden?
I met Mr. P. over there, during one of those trips. I was introduced to him, and one of the earliest conversations we had was about Edward Snowden—because obviously, I’m fascinated by what happened, from his point of view. And sure enough, he was very forthright and honest, the way he speaks. As we talked, he told me the Snowden story from his point of view, which is in the film.
In the western media view we get of Putin, he comes off like a Bond villain. Why was all this important to you?
I think in the film, we did him the justice of putting his comments into a narrative that can explain his point of view, in the hopes that it would prevent continued misunderstanding between the countries, and trust, lack of trust, and—I fear—a near state of war, on the brink of war. That’s what I’m worried about, and that’s why I returned. We did four different visits after Snowden to get this on film. On every situation he talks about in the film, you’ll see there’s a different point of view than what we’ve been told.
Is this a documentary like the ones you made with Castro or Chávez?
It’s not a documentary in the sense that there, we examine the whole situation from two different points of view. No. It’s told from his point of view, which allows us to hear him in, I think, a pretty interesting way. For example, now you never see him on American television. Well, he did an interview with Charlie Rose for his show. It wasn’t bad, but it was short, and they dubbed him with an American interpreter who was a tough guy, almost like a baseball announcer. So everything [Putin] was saying in Russian, the dubber was making the words harsh, as opposed to the way he actually speaks. Putin speaks very clearly, very evenly. Doesn’t raise his voice. There’s a big difference already in the interpretation of what you’re getting. If you’re a guy who’s dubbed, and he’s talking like a Russian is supposed to talk, it’s quite a difference. That’s one example.
One thing you have to remember is that he’s popular in many countries, and not just Russia. He’s very popular in Germany, France, among many people—and he’s one of the most admired men—and for that matter, in a lot of Africa, a lot of Turkey, Syria, the Middle East. So you’re talking about a world figure here who we are constantly demeaning, treating him like he’s a con man and a murderer. As a character out of The Godfather, because maybe we like The Godfather.
We like that concept of villains, but it’s a very dangerous caricature when you’re dealing with world peace and the nuclear power that we have.
It’s reminiscent of when the Bush administration lumped every world leader that ran afoul of U.S. policy into that axis of evil, which meant no dialogue was necessary. Are you trying to demystify Putin as you tried to do with Castro and Chávez, with simple dialogue?
Very well said. Absolutely. And it’s important to do so. We are really creating a fear and a situation in the American mind that is very dangerous. All of a sudden, it’s conveniently shifting to, “Oh, forget about the war on terror. He’s the bad guy.”
Sean Penn went a long way through the jungles to interview El Chapo, trying to humanize a villainized cartel leader, and Penn himself was criticized for being in over his head. How do you come at these figures, knowing that if you allow them to come off too sympathetic, you’ll be the one who’s vilified for it?
Well, I don’t think like that. I don’t. If they come off too sympathetic, that’s really a manipulation. My intention is to get to the bottom. First of all, I prepare as well as I can, try to research as much as I can. I know what I’m talking about. They’ll pick up on it if you don’t know what you’re talking about. That’s the problem with some television interviews. The anchor is so busy running from one show to the other, he doesn’t really prepare. I got some good information, and I think he respected the fact that I knew my subject. And that I was talking to him with a genuine sense of curiosity.
Did Putin know your work as a director? Does he have a favorite Oliver Stone film?See Also
Well, he knew I was doing the Snowden movie, and he knew I was very interested in it. He had seen some sections of my work. I never asked him what he liked, what he didn’t like, and so forth. Certainly in Russia, they admire the war movies, because they’ve been through a lot of war. I’m sure he saw Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July. But I don’t know what he’s seen. I know that Untold History of the United States, which took five years, was very popular in Russia. It had a very strong view of World War II and the Cold War. And I think it did a very good job of demystifying that. I think he was aware of that.
Donald Trump recently said that he would meet Kim Jong-un in the right circumstances. Would one of these lengthy interview sit-downs with the North Korean leader appeal to you?
Frankly, I don’t do this for a living. You know, I rarely do this. The last time I did it was 2009, with Mr. Chávez. It’s not a living, it’s a curiosity. Also I think with the Korean leader, you have a danger there. Does he communicate at all? I don’t even know him, so I can’t say. Mr. Putin worried me. He’s stoic, and known as a reasonable man and a rational man, the way he talks. So sometimes you wonder, “Is there going to be any emotion in this thing?” You have the opposite of the Castro problem. So I’m dealing more with behavior. When you talk to a man or woman over a certain period of time, you do get behavior. And we got some very interesting body language. We walk, we talk, we’re in the woods, we’re in offices, we’re riding together in cars. There’s all kinds of scenes, which you’ll see.
What fuels you now?
I feel like I have my own life on the side. And I feel very strongly about war and the path to war. I think that there’s an internal war in the United States right now. There’s a very small peace party, and a very large war party. I’m very worried about it. I do not want to have our lives ended or shattered in any way by this constant belligerence we bring to the world, whether it’s Korea, whether it’s China, whether it’s Russia. We keep making statements like we’re in charge and we’re the bully.
We have to realize that other countries want their sovereignty. We can’t be like this. We really are no longer a uni-polar power—we cannot act like it. [We were] the top boss, that was brief, and that was in the 1990s, and we blew it by attacking Iraq twice. We think we run the world. As a young man, I was very conservative; I grew up that way. But Vietnam and the other wars have taught me that we can’t run the world this way.
What would be the alternative?
The alternative is a multi-polar world, taking into the account the interest of other countries and the sovereignty of other countries. That includes Iran, China and Syria. These countries are legitimate countries, with sovereignty of their own. And Iraq, too. We undermined Iraq’s sovereignty. It’s a wreck now. And Libya too, don’t forget Libya. We’re responsible for that. We brought chaos to this world, in the Middle East especially, and it’s engulfed us. All these refugees, that’s our fault. I’m sorry, don’t get me going here.