Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Kathy Ehrich Dowd
September 06, 2016 03:00 PM

She’s a pole-dancing performance artist and world traveler who has been devoted to one of the most controversial figures in America – but just who is Lindsay Mills?

Edward Snowden abruptly went from obscurity to fame in 2013 when he worked with journalists to expose the secret techniques his former employer, the National Security Agency, used to covertly glean information on millions of Americans.

Now, with the release of Oliver Stone’s Snowden, which is set to make its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival Friday before hitting U.S. theaters on Sept. 16, the spotlight expands to include Mills, his loyal girlfriend portrayed by Shailene Woodley in the film.

Mills, 31, traveled to Russia to be with her boyfriend of eight years after Snowden’s identity was revealed and he sought asylum overseas while facing charges under the 1917 Espionage Act.

Edward Snowden
The Guardian/Getty

In many ways, Mills and Snowden seem like a case study in opposites attract: While he comes across as a privacy-seeking introvert in Citizenfour, the 2014 Oscar-winning documentary about his decision to leak thousands of classified documents, Mills is much more open, posting scantily-clad photos of herself online, and even a pole-dancing video of herself on YouTube.

Woodley had the chance to meet Mills three months into filming, and points out that the Maryland native is in the awkward position of being thrown into the limelight because of her connection to her longtime love:

“She didn’t sign up for the life she had, which is people asking questions, people finding a photo of her and creating a story around it,” Woodley said. “But she’s handled it and navigated it very gracefully, and I think it’s nice that there’s sort of a barrier with this movie between going, ‘This is Lindsay Mills, this is mostly true about her personality and about her life, but there are still a few things that are kept preserved and sacred for her own sanity.’ ”

Here are five things to know about Mills:

1. She didn’t know about Snowden’s whistleblowing plans in advance
Although the pair were living together in Hawaii prior to him coming forward to the press, Snowden did not share his plans with Mills in advance.

In Citizenfour, Snowden told the filmmakers he felt he could protect her and his family if he did not involve them in his plans. Instead, he told Mills he had to go away for work for a while: “That is not an uncommon occurrence for someone who has spent the last decade working in the intelligence world,” he told The Guardian.

Just hours after Snowden confirmed he was the source of the leaks that gained worldwide attention, Mills hinted at being blindsided when she wrote this now-deleted entry on her blog, subtitled “Adventures of a world-traveling, pole-dancing superhero.”

“Sometimes life doesn’t afford proper goodbyes,” she wrote, per The Guardian, which first published the leaks.

“As I type this on my tear-streaked keyboard I’m reflecting on all the faces that have graced my path,” Mills also wrote, according to the Baltimore Sun. “The ones I laughed with. The ones I’ve held. The one I’ve grown to love the most. And the ones I never got to bid adieu. But sometimes life doesn’t afford proper goodbyes.”

2. Her blog and Instagram offer a glimpse of her life now

Although Mills deleted her earlier blog entries after Snowden became a public figure, she began posting again in March of last year, and shared many of those posts to Instagram. The blog contains numerous photos of Mills – sometimes wearing little clothing – and features a glimpse of her life in Russia, where Snowden has asylum until next year. In June, she shared photos from her travels to Poland and Iceland, and just last month shared a rare shot of her and Snowden together in a post titled “.vacay.”

“with the end of summer drawing near. the sun setting minutes earlier each day. and cooler currents whipping in. a vacay was in order. successfully hijacked this guy (sorry twitterverse for causing such a scare grabbed essential holiday tools: bundles of yarn, bikini, an adventurous attitude. and relaxed for the last days of the season before the real world takes over.”

3. Mills has Maryland roots – and Snowden does, too
Mills graduated from Laurel High School in Maryland in 2003 and the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2007, according to The Washington Post. Snowden also moved to Maryland with his family in the ’90s.

Just after Snowden’s identity was revealed – and Mills’ along with it – her father, Jonathan Mills, told reporters outside his home that his daughter is doing “as well as can be expected,” reported The Guardian.

He also expressed his admiration for Snowden, calling him “very nice. Shy, and reserved.”

Asked if he had a message for the man who turned his daughter’s life upside down, he replied, “Just wish him good luck and he’s got my love.”

4. She pole-danced and worked as an acrobat
While living in Hawaii with Snowden, Mills explored her saucy side. In November 2012, she posted a YouTube video of herself pole dancing while performing in the History of Pole at the Honolulu Fringe Festival.

She was also a member of the Waikiki Acrobatic Troupe while living in Oahu, reports the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. An unnamed troupe member told the paper she performed with them for about a year, primarily as part of a smaller group of acrobats who got together once a month to perform at a bar.

5. She attended the Oscars and appeared onstage
Astute observers of the 2015 Oscars noted that there was a surprising figure onstage when the makers of Citizenfour accepted their Oscar for Best Documentary: Mills herself. She addressed the experience in a blog post, and talked about deciding whether to join the filmmakers onstage if they won, as they encouraged her to do.

“Just the thought of 36 million people tuning-in was enough to make me hesitate. A decision I didn’t make until the lights dimmed for the slide show reel of nominated documentaries. Would I regret sitting in that orchestra seat instead of walking on stage? Yes. I had come this far, why stop just shy of digesting the entire winning event.

“We walked up there and 60 seconds later were ushered back stage with 3 statues in hand,” she continued. “One was handed to me and, with its 7lb weight, the moment sunk in. We won a motherf—ing Oscar!”

With reporting by SCOTT HUVER

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