From creator/executive producer Andrew Sodroski and showrunner/director/executive producer Greg Yaitanes, the Discovery series Manhunt: Unabomber tells the true story of the FBI’s hunt for the deadliest serial bomber in history. In order to identify, track down and capture Ted Kaczynski (Paul Bettany), one of the most sophisticated and brilliant criminals in history, FBI Agent and criminal profiler Jim “Fitz” Fitzgerald (Sam Worthington) pioneered the use of forensic linguistics, even though this new approach was dismissed by the Unabom Task Force, at every turn.
While at the Discovery portion of the Television Critics Association Press Tour, Collider had the opportunity to sit down with actor Paul Bettany to talk about why he was excited to take on the challenge of playing Ted Kaczynski, being nervous about the mechanics of it all, how much he enjoyed playing off of co-star Sam Worthington, and feeling empathy but not sympathy for Ted. He also talked about what it was like to be a part of one of the biggest movies ever made, with Avengers: Infinity War, and how stress free the set was, thanks to the Russo brothers, as well as how he’d like to direct again.
Collider: Such remarkable work in this! Were you nervous, at all, about taking on somebody like this and going through a transformation like you did to play him?
PAUL BETTANY: Yeah, I was nervous about certain things failing. There were a lot of mechanics. I don’t look like him, at all. Those mechanical things are fun, but you never stop being aware that you’ve got a wig and a beard on. The beard is in six parts, and the moment you put it on your face, it wants to get off your face. The moment it’s stuck on, it’s about continually keeping it stuck on. That means there’s a lot of intervention with a make-up artist, and then you’re worried that it will just look like a fake beard. There are all of those things. But, I was just excited to do this. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a challenge like that, and I relished the idea. I liked it.
Ted Kaczynski is so isolated for so much of this, but when he and Fitz face off, it’s so electrifying to watch you and Sam Worthington together. Was that fun to get to do, as actors?
BETTANY: Sure! He and I worked really well together, and we really liked each other. I thought he had a really interesting take, that he looked up to Ted and admired him. At times, it felt like a brutal paternalistic relationship. I think that Ted begrudgingly, in our story because, in real life, they actually never met, respected his imagination. Original thought demands having an imaginative way of thinking, which he had. He invented a field of forensics to get him. Greg [Yaitanes] and Andrew [Sodroski] did such a good job in making language exciting, and I loved that. It’s actually a TV show about words, which is amazing.
When you saw what Ted looked like and how he lived, how did that inform things for you?
BETTANY: I think that Ted took himself to a place where loneliness made sense. Of course, he felt really lonely. He was in a fucking cabin in the woods, rather than living in a suburb in Chicago surrounded by people, where he should have been better at making friends. We normalize our behaviors. I find parties difficult. I like a dinner party, but I find being at parties difficult, so I choose not to go to parties. Ted found community difficult, and it made him feel odd that he found it so difficult. He saw other people enjoy each other somehow, and that was painful for him, so he took himself away. He became more and more isolated, and more and more furious.
If there had been some opportunity where you could have spoken to Ted Kaczynski, would you have wanted to?
BETTANY: I don’t know. It’s a moot point because it’s supermax. He has to say yes, and then there’s a huge long vetting process to grant you clearance to go in and have a meeting with him. I don’t know why he’d want to meet me. I’m not sure I’d want to meet somebody who’s playing me. Although, I think he’s quite interested in how he’s perceived. You can see that from his letters to the press.
If these two men had met under different circumstances and Ted Kaczynski hadn’t become the unabomber, do you think they could have been friends? Would they find commonalities?
BETTANY: Yes, I do. It depends on whether you mean in real life or the version that we’ve presented, but I think so. Ted also had a similar thing going on with his brother, where for it to work, he needed his younger brother to idolize him. Who fucking knows? He has real relationships with people. He has a girlfriend now, that he is pen pals with. He maintains relationships with people in letters. If you fall out of favor, you can feel it in the correspondence, and then he’ll dismiss you. The guy is really smart and really angry and really hurt. What I think the TV show and the scripts did well was strike a balance where you’re able to feel empathy for Ted, but not sympathy. I think that’s important.