One man’s approximation of “water” with a Philadelphia accent, it’s printed on a whiteboard during the premiere Tuesday of Discovery Channel’s new mini-series Manhunt: Unabomber.
“When I say wudder, you learn everything about me,” Jim “Fitz” Fitzgerald, the FBI profiler played by Sam Worthington (Hacksaw Ridge, Avatar), explains to a couple of his colleagues on the task force set up to catch the killer dubbed the Unabomber. “One tiny word, one tiny mistake, and you can tell I’m from Philly, blue-collar, local school, fan of [Flyers legend] Dave Schultz.”
Clutching the 35,000-word manifesto that would eventually be tied to hermit and former college professor Ted Kaczynski (Paul Bettany), the agent asks: “What if there’s a wudder … in here?”
“I say water now,” the real James R. Fitzgerald said in a phone interview Thursday. But it was teasing about the agent from Olney’s “pronunciation of H2O” while assigned to the San Francisco task force that set him on the path to finding the clues that tied Kaczynski to his words. That work was used to obtain the search warrant for Kaczynski’s Montana cabin, leading to the arrest of the man whose bombs killed three people and injured 23 others between 1978 and 1995.
Unabomber’s two-hour premiere of the eight-episode first season of what’s envisioned as an anthology series doesn’t show us Bettany as Kaczynski until the second hour. Much of creator Andrew Sodroski’s script unfolds from Fitzgerald’s point of view. So if all you remember of the Unabomber case is that Kaczynski was brought to the FBI’s attention by his brother, David (Mark Duplass), you may be surprised by how much more there is to the story.
Not that there hasn’t been some dramatic license, Fitzgerald said. When we meet Worthington’s character, for instance, it’s some time after Kaczynski’s arrest and Fitzgerald is living a life not unlike the reclusive bomber’s, in a cabin far off the grid.
“I had some personal issues I was going through. Being away from my family was very difficult” while he worked the case, he said. But the retreat to the woods? Didn’t happen.
“If anything, I went to the beach, to the Jersey Shore. But they chose the woods. It’s emblematic, symbolic [of] some of the personal things I was going through at the time. But I didn’t exactly mimic Ted Kaczynski,” said Fitzgerald, who’s a consulting producer on Unabomber.