By Valerie Milano
To a writer this might qualify as “textual analysis”. To the man on the street it might even qualify as “common sense”! In any case, Fitzgerald’s new profile was instrumental in capturing the elusive Unabomber.
The TCA press tour for Discovery’s MANHUNT: UNABOMBER took place on Wednesday, July 26th, 2017 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel located at 9876 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Sam Worthington and Paul Bettany, who play Jim Fitzgerald and Ted Kaczynski in the series, were present on the panel to field questions from the press along with showrunner and director Greg Yaitanes; writer and producer Andrew Sodroski; and actors Chris Noth, Keisha Castle Hughes, Jane Lynch, Mark Duplass, Jeremy Bobb, Elizabeth Reaser, and Lynn Collins.
Jim Fitzgerald’s maverick ideas and new approaches were initially dismissed by the system–until he started getting results! Then the red carpet was rolled out in the form of his own office and own team on the UNABOM Task Force.
Showrunner and director Greg Yaitanes succeeds in locating the intrinsically gripping drama at the center of this agon between bright and dark stars Jim Fitzgerald and Ted Kaczynski. Their combined brilliance lights up the drab and darkly lit institutional settings on both sides of the law seen throughout MANHUNT: UNABOMBER.
Both Sam Worthington and Paul Bettany deliver superb performances as Fitzgerald and Kaczynski in their first US production. But the well-crafted script that boils down the complex Unabomber investigation into comprehensible and creative form is probably the series’ biggest star.
THT & other jounalists asked Greg Yaitanes, “What was your approach to tackling what’s a very intellectual process in an aesthetic way?” Interestingly, the production team used macrophotography and medical probe lenses that could “drop” viewing audiences into Kaczynski’s bombs and correspondence.
Australian actor Sam Worthington met Jim Fitzgerald and read his books to prepare for his role in the series. He held off as long as he could since Jim was, after all, a profiler and might have been profiling Sam at the same time! Sam in fact found it easiest to “find his way in” with Jim during unguarded moments on set where he was just returning from the rest room and so forth.
The Discovery Channel is not known for its scripted programming, so one of the audience members was curious how the series even got to Discovery in the first place. Writer/producer Andrew Sodroski replied that Discovery had been interested in getting into scripted content.
In response to another audience question, Sodroski replied that he didn’t think the Unabomber was the first domestic terrorist, but was definitely the first one to capture the attention of the entire country. He had a universal reach and seemed like he could come into anyone’s home or office at any time, which is what made him so special and so scary.
Bettany thought it was advantageous to have eight hours to work with for the series rather than the usual two for television thrillers so audiences could get to know both protagonists better and perhaps even locate some good in the universally hated Unabomber. This was one thing that attracted him to the project in the first place.
Mark Duplass, who plays David Kaczynski in the series, was also drawn to the Unabomber story since he and his brother work closely together and “unabomb” each other all the time despite being the best of friends.
Jane Lynch was asked to comment on her portrayal of US Attorney General Janet Reno, who was often maligned for the way she looked and sounded despite her brilliant political mind. Lynch admired Reno’s dogged dedication to truth and justice in spite of all this and was awed to sit down at her desk!
Reno handled many important life and death cases such as Waco, Oklahoma City, and Whitewater in addition to the Unabomber case. She took a big chance when she published the Unabomber manifesto and it paid off, as Lynch observed.
Andrew Sodroski next responded to questions about the show’s sixth episode, “Sympathy for the Devil”. His general method was to employ a sort of “radical empathy” where we enter into the shoes of each of the characters, which was of course difficult to do with the Unabomber.
Paul Bettany fielded a question about Ted Kaczynski’s tiny mountain cabin in Montana with no running water or electricity where he isolated himself for 20 years while conducting his historic bombing campaign. Bettany thought this cabin had been a place of safety for Ted since his lifelong lack of communion with others was not being challenged in such isolation.
Bettany himself went to live in a much nicer cabin in the woods with a pool as an experiment while making the series. He was amazed to find how long 24 hours can seem when not in endless contact with society via technology.
In response to another question, Bettany thought that the Unabomber’s manifesto actually contained ideas with some intellectual merit. It was printed by two newspapers in its entirety during the bombings and widely circulated.
Andrew Sodroski felt that what this manifesto had to say about our relationship with technology and society was truer right now than when Ted Kaczynski wrote and published it. Now it seems prophetic in that technology has completely taken over our lives. We obey our smartphones on command even if we know the call is “stupid and unimportant” and another person is sitting right in front of us.
Kaczynski had something important to say about the power of technology, but the only way he could get attention was by bombing people with it! He was trapped in a catch-22.
Actor Chris Noth reiterated the fact that the FBI does not normally negotiate with terrorists, but they negotiated with Ted. This was quite a big deal at the time.
In closing, Rich Ross invited the audience to join the MANHUNT: UNABOMBER cast in the Kaczynski cabin that had been re-created in the Wilshire Gardens space at the Beverly Hilton. After YOU!