In 1978, a lone bomber struck for the first time when he mailed a homemade device to a Northwestern University professor. Instead, the package was opened by a campus security guard, who sustained minor injuries when the bomb exploded. It was just the beginning.
Over the next 20 years, the Unabomber as he became known, mailed or hand planted several more untraceable bombs for a total of 16 — killing three Americans and injuring 23 others — before he was finally identified and imprisoned in 1996.
A great deal of the credit for the capture of Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, goes to FBI agent and criminal profiler Jim "Fitz" Fitzgerald, who pioneered the use of forensic linguists to identify Kaczynski.
On August 1, Discovery will premiere the first of an eight-part series, starring Sam Worthington as Fitzgerald and Paul Bettany as Kaczynski, that tells the true story of the FBI's hunt for the home-grown terrorist, which included a task force of 150 full-time investigators, analysts, and staff.
"I think it’s a very detailed and accurate portrayal of how they took the Unabomber down," Worthington told Biography. "What I like about doing non-fiction is the fact that there are the odd parts that you couldn’t even think of creating, like you couldn’t come up with the idea that they took his cabin from the forest and transported it to use as part of their defense. If this were fiction, people would think, 'You’re crazy. That wouldn’t happen,' but it did."
When Fitzgerald joined the Unabom Task Force (UTF), he was a new profiler, so he had to fight against the bureaucracy of the UTF in order to get them to listen to his unconventional idea of tracking the terrorist by using his language to decipher clues as to his identity.
Initially, Fitzgerald had a very small team that began looking at the documents that Kaczynski wrote in a metadata way, not so much for its content as for his style of writing. They attempted to sleuth clues from the grammar, from variations in spelling, and from his use of colloquialisms that could possibly pinpoint the part of the country he was from, his educational level, and so on.
"I think what Fitz didn’t expect was the fact that what was being written affected him so much, and sunk into his soul," Worthington said. "I think that that was what Ted was after all along. He was just trying to just get anyone to listen to what he was preaching, and change them. I think in a weird way, especially in our show — and that’s how I approached it, that what Ted was saying found an affinity with Fitz."
In real life, of course, Fitzgerald would never acknowledge that. He considers Kaczynski to be a terrorist who was his first major case, and the one which defined his career in a big way. Period. The end.
That said, Worthington admits that there are portions of the manifest that ring true to him, but, of course, he is not going to align himself with Kaczynski, because he wholly refutes the manner in which Kaczynski tried to get his point across.
"I think the same can be said for Fitz, that there might be some connectivity and a duality between the two men, but to actually say that out loud is garbage," Worthington says. "You can’t identify with a terrorist, but I could identify with Ted’s thoughts in regards to technology, with us becoming slaves to technology and things like that."
Before he began filming the role, Worthington actually met with Fitzgerald to get a sense of the man, but he was very cautious about asking for information, because he wasn't sure that Fitzgerald would give him an honest version of himself. After all, he is a profiler who isn't used to being profiled. Plus, Worthington already had an idea of how he saw the character.
So instead of gleaning information from Fitzgerald, Worthington listened to a lot of tapes – hours and hours of conversations that the former FBI agent had had with the writer, especially the tapes where he didn't realize he was being recorded, in which he was more unguarded. The Avatar star also watched interviews that Fitzgerald had done, plus he sent him a questionnaire with hundreds of questions that he wanted answered, everything from the bigger picture of how he sees the world to the minutiae of the case.
"My interpretation was that he’s a guy that wanted to be accepted, and by aiming for that acceptance, and aiming for his thoughts and opinions to be validated, he would do that any cost," Worthington said. "In a weird way, it’s the same kind of duality with Ted Kaczynski. Ted wanted his reasoning to be accepted and the way he went about it was blowing up people because he thought he couldn’t get hurt. It's such a devastating and disgusting way of doing it, but in the same context, Fitz is kind of doing that emotionally to the people around him that love him the most and his fellow patriots. He’s blowing them up."
This aspect of Fitzgerald's personality may be the reason why we didn't hear about his work until years after Kaczynski was captured because the people who worked with him may not have liked him sufficiently to give him the much-wanted validation he desired. That will change when Manhunt: UNABOMBER, also starring Chris Noth, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Jane Lynch, and Mark Duplass, premieres tonight at 9 pm ET/PT on Discovery.