‘Manhunt: Unabomber’ Offers Unique Peek at Kaczynski, Say Stars

After playing the Unabomber himself in Discovery series, film star Paul Bettany is keen to do more television

Key figures in Discovery’s Manhunt: Unabomber were drawn to the Ted Kaczynski project after finding out how much they didn’t know about the man who mailed homemade bombs around the nation from 1978 to 1995, killing three and injuring 24. While the Unabomber was front page news throughout the world, peeks at the Manhunt scripts showed the series stars, including Sam Worthington and Paul Bettany, that much of Kaczynski’s story had gone untold.

The eight-episode limited series dives deep into Kaczynski’s life before he became the Unabomber. It starts on Discovery Aug. 1.

Worthington, who plays FBI profiler Jim Fitzgerald, talks about the script arriving at his house. “I know this tale, I know how he got caught,” says Worthington. “But I did some research, and it was a bit more interesting.” (Worthington describes the 1,000-question quiz he sent to Fitzgerald here.)

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Same goes for director Greg Yaitanes. He says he became well familiar with the Unabomber from his first job in the mid ‘90s, working at America’s Most Wanted. But there was much more to learn, including Kaczynski, who entered Harvard at 16, being subjected to high-stress mind control experiments while in Cambridge.

“I couldn’t believe I didn’t really know the story,” Yaitanes says. “I got excited about taking people behind the curtain of this fascinating chapter in law enforcement.”

Paul Bettany, who plays Kaczynski, says he obtained a list of books the Unabomber had in his Montana cabin when he was arrested. Those include Albert Camus’ The Stranger and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’sCrime and Punishment. “Of course, an elusive serial bomber is reading Crime and Punishment,” says Bettany, who notes Kaczynski’s keen identification with anti-heroes.

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Bettany, who lived out of a Kaczynski-esque cabin in the woods during the shoot, says the role gave him nightmares that shared the theme of “I’ve done something I can’t come back from—I’ve done something that changed me forever,” Bettany relates.

Yaitanes had a unique challenge in directing Worthington and Bettany: both are accomplished film stars. He says he pushed both men to “follow their guts,” and trust that “their early impulses would be right and good.”

The fast pace of television shooting, he adds, elicited a sense of urgency in the stars’ performances. Bettany called the pace “exhilarating.”

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Bettany, whose film credits include A Beautiful Mind, The DaVinci Code and the Iron Man franchise, is excited to do more television. He notes how mid-size movies have largely disappeared, and says Kevin Spacey, an executive producer on Manhunt: Unabomber, told him he loves not having to say good bye to his TV co-stars when a season’s shooting is done. (Spacey, whose film credits also go on at length, of course stars in Netflix’s House of Cards.)

“I’d love to find another [TV] project, maybe something multi-seasonal,” Bettany says. “I gotta find the right thing.”

Comedy or drama? “I’m totally open to all that,” says Bettany.

Yaitanes’ favorite episode among the eight is the sixth, where Kaczynski’s back story is revealed. “I was surprised by his childhood, and how much he enjoyed being a boy,” says Yaitanes. “It mirrored my own childhood. This was a person that people knew and liked and cared very deeply for.”