The mak­ing of a na­tive ter­ror­ist

Paul Bet­tany chan­nels the mind of the Un­abomber

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MERED­ITH BLAKE >>> NEW YORK — To pre­pare for his role as Ted Kaczyn­ski in the minis­eries “Man­hunt: Un­abomber,” Paul Bet­tany spent time alone in a re­mote for­est home, un­plugged from tech­nol­ogy, read­ing books.

But please don’t take that the wrong way.

“This story has be­gun to take on a life of its own, which is me, like Daniel Day-Lewis, in the woods,” says the rangy ac­tor over lunch at a Greek res­tau­rant near his home in Tribeca.

Bet­tany wasn’t ex­actly rough­ing it: “It was a lovely, chic lit­tle cabin,” he clar­i­fies.

Nev­er­the­less, the ex­per­i­ment left an im­pres­sion on the 46-year-old Brit. With­out the con­stant dis­trac­tion of tech­nol­ogy, “There’s lots of time in the day when you’re not end­lessly in con­tact, not end­lessly check­ing what Trump said now,” he says. “It was great.”

The eight-episode se­ries, which pre­mieres Tues­day on Dis­cov­ery, fo­cuses on the un­ortho­dox in­ves­ti­ga­tion that fi­nally led to Kaczyn­ski’s cap­ture. FBI pro­filer Jim Fitzger­ald, played by Sam Wor­thing­ton, be­lieved the Un­abomber’s distinc­tive

writ­ing style could help track him down and pushed to have his 35,000-word, an­titech­nol­ogy man­i­festo pub­lished in the Wash­ing­ton Post, which in the process helped pi­o­neer the field of foren­sic lin­guis­tics.

“Man­hunt: Un­abomber” also com­pli­cates the pop­u­lar per­cep­tion of Kaczyn­ski as a crazed, di­sheveled her­mit scrib­bling away at an un­hinged man­i­festo. It presents a more com­plete un­der­stand­ing of what led the Har­vard-ed­u­cated math prodigy to be­come one of the coun­try’s most no­to­ri­ous do­mes­tic ter­ror­ists.

Par­tic­u­larly il­lu­mi­nat­ing were the books Bet­tany read — the same ti­tles found in the 10-by-12-foot shack in west­ern Mon­tana, where Kaczyn­ski, whose home­made mail bombs killed three peo­ple and in­jured 23 oth­ers, lived for two decades un­til his ar­rest in 1996.

His read­ing list was “re­ally, re­ally, to­tally clichéd, like if I was writ­ing ‘Crazy Man Liv­ing in the Woods,’ ” says Bet­tany. “It was like Con­rad’s ‘The Se­cret Agent,’ Dos­to­evsky’s ‘Crime and Pun­ish­ment,’ ‘Dark­ness at Noon’ by Arthur Koestler.”

Bet­tany also turned to an un­pub­lished au­to­bi­og­ra­phy by Kaczyn­ski for more in­sight.

“What I came away with, more than any­thing, is he just felt fu­ri­ous and alien­ated and there was no place for him in the world. He didn’t fit into it, and it made him an­gry. And he saw other peo­ple move through the world and nav­i­gate all that with ele­gance, and he just couldn’t. And it made him just re­ally, re­ally hurt, and re­ally, re­ally an­gry.”

The se­ries gives par­tic­u­lar weight to Kaczyn­ski’s ex­pe­ri­ences at Har­vard, where he en­rolled at age 16 and was re­cruited as a re­search sub­ject in hu­mil­i­at­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal ex­per­i­ments con­ducted by his pro­fes­sor, Henry A. Mur­ray.

“It al­lows you to go back in time and see this man who did mon­strous things but who mon­strous things also hap­pened to,” Bet­tany says, not­ing the poignant de­tail that Kaczyn­ski’s code name in the pro­gram was “Law­ful,” be­cause he was so obe­di­ent.

Bet­tany makes a dis­tinc­tion be­tween sym­pa­thiz­ing with Kaczyn­ski and hav­ing em­pa­thy for the child he once was. He mar­vels at Kaczyn­ski’s bril­liance — “He was mak­ing the epoxy out of the hooves of an­i­mals!” — and sees in his choice to tar­get rel­a­tively ob­scure in­di­vid­u­als a de­sire to inf lict per­sonal pain.

“Look, he’s got an IQ of 168. He could go and sab­o­tage the sys­tem, blow up the Hoover Dam, what­ever the … he wants to do. He’s that bright. But he doesn’t. Why? It’s pe­cu­liar. And I can’t square that cir­cle with­out think­ing that part of him got re­ally, re­ally hurt.”

Aside from Bet­tany’s tinted glasses — a touch rem­i­nis­cent of the pair de­picted in the fa­mous Un­abomber com­pos­ite sketch — the man who plays the Vi­sion in “The Avengers” ap­pears to have lit­tle in com­mon with the reclu­sive Kaczyn­ski.

He is warm and open, heartily rec­om­mend­ing his fa­vorite meat­balls and a bot­tle of stout, and chat­ting with the staff of the res­tau­rant, where he’s a reg­u­lar. There’s noth­ing mis­an­thropic about him — though he does have a charm­ing ir­rev­er­ent streak.

Like when he’s talk­ing about plans to va­ca­tion with his fam­ily, which in­cludes wife Jen­nifer Con­nelly and three chil­dren rang­ing in age from 6 to 20, far from the reach of pa­parazzi.

“Once you know they’re there, you start suck­ing it in. You’re try­ing to shout at your kids like any other par­ent and the cam­eras are there,” he says. “Ter­ri­ble — es­pe­cially the not be­ing able to shout at your kids part.”

Bet­tany says the only down­side to hav­ing kids so far apart in age is that he’s been go­ing to te­dious potlucks with other par­ents for 15 years. “The only thing you re­ally have in com­mon is you … in the same year,” he says.

Bet­tany has also found a much more pos­i­tive way to chan­nel his frus­tra­tion with the di­rec­tion of the coun­try.

In Jan­uary — the day af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump’s inau­gu­ra­tion — he vowed to get his cit­i­zen­ship af­ter liv­ing in the U.S. for a decade and a half.

“The repub­lic is at stake,” he says. “I just felt a lit­tle help­less and wanted to be able to vote.”

Right now, Bet­tany is brush­ing up on civics to pass the cit­i­zen­ship test, which, he says, con­sists of “a hun­dred ques­tions that I’m con­vinced most Amer­i­cans couldn’t an­swer.”

Which may be why he views the story of the Un­abomber with a po­lit­i­cal al­le­gory.

“The con­tract that you make with the state is that you’re go­ing to leave your sword at the city gates and the state’s go­ing to keep the mon­sters out­side the wall,” he says. “And this is a story about a child turned into a mon­ster within the walls.”

Casey Curry Invision / As­so­ci­ated Press

AC­TOR Paul Bet­tany went the ex­tra mile to play Ted Kaczyn­ski in Dis­cov­ery’s “Man­hunt: Un­abomber.”

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