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Paul Bettany, Sam Worthington and EPs Andrew Sodroski and Greg Yaitanes Talk Discovery’s Manhunt: Unabomber

Photo Credit: Jason Elias/Discovery Channel

Did you watch last week’s series premiere? Whatever preconceived notions you have about Ted Kaczynski or domestic terrorism or even the FBI, put them aside and watch this 8-episode series. Not only will the angle they take probably surprise you, but you’ll quickly be drawn in. The moment I heard Paul Bettany was attached, I knew I’d be watching. But that’s definitely not giving all the other actors and the producers enough credit for putting together a truly compelling and disturbing look into the mind of the Unabomber and also FBI Special Agent Jim Fitzgerald, who invented the new (at the time) field of forensic linguistics to help bring the Kaczynski down.

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TV Goodness attended the TCA panel put on by Discovery where EPs Andrew Sodroski and Greg Yaitanes and leads Paul Bettany and Sam Worthington talk domestic terrorism, getting inside their character’s heads and more.

Do you think that the Unabomber was the first domestic terrorist?

Andrew Sodroski: “No. I mean, he wasn’t the first domestic terrorist. But I think he’s the first one that captured the attention of the entire country and that had this unique threat that he could come into anybody’s home at any time.

I remember when I was a kid, I was scared of the Unabomber because he could send anybody a package at any time and destroy you like that. He had this universal reach that I don’t think anyone before him ever had, and I think that’s part of what makes him so scary and so special and so fascinating.”

Do you think the show will attempt to connect any dots to anti-government militias?

Sodroski: “I don’t know. I haven’t thought about that.

What this show tries to investigate is some of our feelings of powerlessness and the way that we as individuals fit into the larger systems that control so many aspects of our lives. And you see that both in Fitz’s relationship to the FBI and also to individuals’ relationships to society as a whole.

So I think those are feelings that are shared by us. All of us on stage, I think, feel that. All of us in this room feel that. And I think it’s the same feelings of a lack of freedom, a lack of autonomy in the modern world that many of us are struggling with, whether militia men or screenwriters.”

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Discovery is not really known for its scripted programming, at least for more casual TV viewers. I’m curious how this series even got to Discovery in the first place.

Sodroski: “Discovery was interested in getting into scripted content and they discovered this true story of Jim Fitzgerald. When they heard how Jim had created this new field of forensic linguistics and used that to catch the Unabomber, they knew they had something that would really resonate with the Discovery audience and something that would be a great core for a scripted show.

That’s how I came on board. I gave the show its spine and figured out the way of telling that story through the lens of Jim Fitzgerald.

But, really, it’s this nugget where you have this man who is just an ordinary blue-collar cop who discovers and invents a whole new field of forensics. It’s about discovery of a new field quite literally. And so just piggybacking on that energy, it felt like a very natural home for the series. It has been a great home for us.”

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Greg Yaitanes: “Every idea is a new idea that Jim discovered. Being able to bring the audience into it through physical demonstrations and whiteboards and ways that an audience can really see and be along for the ride, that also made Discovery a perfect place for this.

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Sam, you are playing a real person, but not somebody that the public knows. Was it important for you to meet him and really capture who he is or not? And, also, I wanted to know if you had read any of Jim Fitzgerald’s books.

Sam Worthington: “People have their different perception of who they are, especially 20 years ago. So I held off as long as I could from meeting him. The other thing is he’s a profiler. So he would have been trying to profile me at the same time as I’m trying to profile the profiler. So we probably would have gotten nowhere and you certainly wouldn’t have gotten to the truth of what drove him and what kept him connected so intensely to that case.

I tried a method where I looked at everything on the outside. I listened to a lot of the transcripts, dialogs that he did with the writers and the directors. There were times when he would walk off and forget that he was on mic that I started to discover who he really was, because there was no guard. I would watch him on YouTube, and it was the moments I could when he was off guard that I kind of found a way in.”

What about getting into [Ted Kaczynski’s] mind?

Paul Bettany: “Well, there were a bunch of things. Some things were more helpful than others and some things were a total waste of time and dead ends. Actually, the two most interesting things were his unpublished autobiography — I have excerpts from that which were incredibly honest and revealing. When Ted Kaczynski was arrested, of course the FBI itemized everything that was in his 10-by-8 cabin and I had access to his reading list. And that was fascinating. The novels that he had chosen to keep quite literally around his head, above his bed, were fascinatingly clichéd in that they were like Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon

50 Shades of Grey as well.

Bettany:50 Shades of Grey. But they were all novels about the outside, the man who feels like an alien in society and commits a crime that he can’t come back from and that was really useful for me.”

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When you play someone who is so much hated, do you still try to find some good in him, or you don’t even think about it?

Bettany: “That’s what attracted me to this script. What was fantastic about eight hours of television is if you were making this as a movie, it would almost certainly become a thriller with dogged maverick cop chasing [a] monster, right? Because you’ve got to do this in an hour and a half, two hours, whatever.”

Photo Credit: Jason Elias/Discovery Channel

But having eight hours allows the freedom to look at the domestic life of Special Agent Fitzgerald and the toll it takes on his family and his wife and his children, etc., and also allows you to spend some time with Ted Kaczynski and see what his domesticity was like and also what his childhood was like.

I don’t think that I or the show are trying to engender any sympathy for Ted but certainly asking you to have empathy for this child. What happened to that boy was very damaging and somehow it can be separated from the — I think we can all agree — monstrous acts in his later life.”

Edited for space and content.

Missed the premiere? Watch here:

Photo Credit: Jason Elias/Discovery Channel

In “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” we get a closer look at the adversarial — but also co-dependent, in a way — relationship between Fitz and Kaczynski. Even though the Unabomber is in custody, the FBI doesn’t think they’ll have a slam dunk until they get him to plead guilty. Remember, their mountain of evidence is based on an entirely new field of forensics — one that Fitz literally created because of this case. And, lest Kaczynski forgets to remind you, he’s an actual genius. If he wants Fitz in his cell, he’s there for a reason and probably not one you could fathom. But maybe more exciting, is watching Fitz and the team discover Kaczynski’s “wudder.” If you think you’ll get bored watching them dig deep in trying to determine how he talks, where he’s from or where he learned those quirks in his writing, you’re wrong. And I’ll leave you with this: You can’t eat your cake and have it too.

Episode description, from Discovery:

In 1995, Fitz works with linguist Natalie Rogers to find more clues about the Unabomber’s identity in the Manifesto, but Fitz’s conclusions face deep skepticism at the UTF (Unabomber Task Force). In 1997, Ted claims that he can invalidate all of the evidence the FBI has against him.

Manhunt: Unabomber airs Tuesdays on Discovery at 10/9c.

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