By: Kayla Caldwell
TED K is the kind of movie you continue thinking about long past the rolling of the credits. It looks into the mind of the Unabomber, a complicated and desperately unhappy man. It shows how he withdraws from society, fiercely writes in his journals, and then spends all of his time, energy, and money building bombs so he can take his anger out on the world. It also has some of the most beautiful visuals I've seen in a film since The Revenant.
All that is to say I felt immensely lucky to be able to chat with director and co-writer Tony Stone, along with actor Sharlto Copley, who is absolutely brilliant in this film. Read on below to learn more about the making of the movie, as well as what it was like to portray a killer.
CREEPY KINGDOM: For Tony, as writer/director, what was it like kind of immersing yourself in the mind of this bomber, and very troubled person?
TONY STONE: It was fascinating, because Ted Kaczynksi was so honest in his writings... and there were just so much of them. He basically wrote four different autobiographies over his lifetime of his different chapters of his life. All that stuff was stored in the archives at University of Michigan. It was just such a dynamic topic that each day you dug into it, you learn something new that you wanted to put on the screen. So, how do you tell this story of this wild guy, and this, you know, crazy manhunt in two hours? So that was more of a challenge of...
CREEPY KINGDOM: Whittling it down.
TONY STONE: Exactly. You know, so that was the biggest, I would say, struggle of it all, but just sort of fascinating too, when... You kind of get the simplified version of something through the media, and then it becomes a lot more nuanced... It was a story we didn't want to tell in sort of this classic, black and white way. We just wanted to share all the nuances and complexities as part of American history, and this somewhat damaged man.
CREEPY KINGDOM: Yeah. Like the scene where he cuts down a power line. That was such an interesting scene, because I like true crime, and I'm somewhat familiar with the case, but I didn't know all of that.
TONY STONE: Yeah, and I think that was something that hit core with me, too. This guy was waging this local war, at the same time, this whole national campaign. So it was kind of act locally, think globally, kind of all work together, you know? So he was this busy bee workaholic... I mean, he's working on his writings, he's sabotaging logging equipment. He's going to San Francisco to send bombs. So, this guy was so much more active than you could have ever imagined, and did so much living from a cabin with no electricity or running water on top of it. So, you know, it was just kind of just a mesmerizing story, you know?
CREEPY KINGDOM: Playing a character like Ted K, one, how did you prepare, but then also was there, because it is kind of heavy, and has all these violent thoughts. So it is very interesting, but also a heavy kind of person to embody.
SHARLTO COPLEY: Yeah. I found it interesting, and one of the most, I wouldn't say enjoyable, but profoundly moving experiences in my career to go into a character and really examine the human condition to the level that I could, because there's so much, there were so many writings that Ted had left. [There's] his manifesto, his 10,000 pages of diary, and he's brutally honest about himself. And he has sort of the mind of a psychologist. When he analyzes himself, when he analyzes other people, he's got a genius level IQ. So you're looking at somebody that our society kind of put away and go like, oh, he's crazy. You know, but that fine line between genius and crazy was very much part of what I was experimenting with here, where it's like... if you're not nearly as smart as he is, how are you sure that he's crazy?
You know, if your IQ is like 110 and his is at 170, are you sure that you can diagnose him? It was very interesting. I sort of left going through that, seeing him as an extremist. He's got extreme views about things, and he acted on the views that he had, as opposed to just that he was some crazy person. It was easy to get to the humanity, because you could see his loneliness. He speaks of his longing on the one hand, he's quite degrading of women in the sense that he's very old fashioned as to men must do this. Women must do that. But then he's desperately longing for female company. He's masturbating, imagining that he's a woman so that he can feel some form of female presence. I mean, he writes that sort of thing in his diary. So you don't have to imagine what he's going through. He really is writing it, you know?
CREEPY KINGDOM: As a fan of true crime, you worry when movies are made about killers that maybe they'll glamorize them or make you feel bad for them. But I thought it was such a good balance of really not making a decision on him at all. But just, this is who this person was. This is why he did these things. Not that it excuses them, but like you said, it was more about the human condition.
SHARLTO COPLEY: It's interesting when people talk about the glamorizing, you know, because, to me, Hollywood glamorizes violence on a daily basis. It's, like, one of the things we do the most, and I'm not sure that we should be doing that. I honestly believe in 2000 years people will look back at many of the movies that I was in and go like, 'Who were these barbarians?' in the same way that we look at gladiators and go like, 'What the hell was that about?' But it's something that is in the human condition. It's the ape part of us that's still there. It's interesting to analyze it, but we love to sort of put it a distance, you know?... It was just trying to show it sort of honestly, and not, you know, trying to push the audience one way or another. I, from an actor point of view, I had to sympathize with him completely while I was playing him.
CREEPY KINGDOM: The movie is very beautiful, and you kind of see the parts of why he's so frustrated, because the opening sequence is these amazing snow-topped mountain views, and that serenity is ruined by snowmobiles. And that's all you hear for, like, seven minutes. So you start to think, well, I understand why he's so angry. (Not that it makes what he did okay.) I loved the sound use, it really kind of puts you in his head space.
TONY STONE: Exactly. Yeah. We really wanted to tell the story visually, you know, and sonically, so you're there, and you get to kind of interpret it, too. I think there's a lot of morality theater in a lot of new cinema, where you're supposed to feel a certain way. It's like, no, no, it's far more complicated than that. Let the audience be the co-writer. Let them come to their own conclusions, you know? Once again, the stuff that's in the film is all real. We didn't alter, you know, all those diary excerpts, those are them, his actions, and that's what he did. So this isn't fiction. This is what happened, and this is what it was like in his shoes.
CREEPY KINGDOM: He wanted this idealistic version of society he had in his head, where nature is sacred and untouched. But he also wasn't actually an idealist. So all bets are off, I guess.
SHARLTO COPLEY: He starts with a very primal response. He refers to, you know, his initial actions of vandalizing equipment and stuff really just came from a sense of protecting what was his family, the forest, the animals, you know? That was his first action. He wasn't trying to change the world. He was just angry about that.
Check TED K out for yourself, in theaters and on digital, February 18.