With Peacock A Friend of the FamilyJake Lacy plays Bob “B” Berchtold, a man who befriends a Midwestern Mormon family in the 1970s only to kidnap their young daughter Jan not just once, but twice. It would be an incredible story if it weren’t true: Jan Broberg’s story was previously chronicled in the 2017 documentary Kidnapped in plain sight.
For Lacy, playing a kidnapper and pedophile was an emotional challenge for the actor, especially given the age of his victim: Jan was 12 and 14 when she was kidnapped. Hendrix Yancey, now 11, and Mckenna Grace, 16, play Jan at different ages, while the real Jan Broberg and her mother, Mary Ann, were often on set as they served as producers on the limited series.
“It’s so selfless for them to say, ‘We want this story to be told so people understand what grooming and coercion and manipulation look like,'” Lacy says. THR about getting the Brobergs’ blessing. “And understand we didn’t get to 1985 and this stopped. It’s still common today, and it usually happens at the hands of someone you know and love and trust. That is why it is so very difficult to talk about it and to prosecute.”
The series begins with the real Jan Broberg sitting in a chair, introducing himself and telling what happened to her.
That had two purposes. One was to let people know that Jan is okay. The story does not end with Jan’s death or disappearance. She’s here, she’s vibrant and vibrant, which I think allows people to give something more to the story than the complete horror of thinking, “Am I watching the story where this kid doesn’t come back?” It’s also almost unbelievable unless someone says, “This happened.”
Did you feel any trepidation about taking on such a sinister role?
No. This is not a voyeuristic view of their lives or a tabloid version of a story. We wanted to be authentic and compassionate with what the experience was like within this family, within this community when this amazing young girl is kidnapped. … Ultimately, the saving grace for me, and for the production, was that telling this story has a real purpose: let’s shine a light on what it’s like to be a victim of sexual abuse both as a child, but also as a family and the people around it, and what it’s like when you’re in the throes of a predator who manipulates and gaslights and coerces, and how hard it is to make decisions that are very easy to say from the outside, “That’s a red flag, why did they?” But inside you feel cornered and trapped and alone, that’s the tool he uses to get what he wants, and he’s very good at it.
What kind of research preceded this?
Jan was so great to say “I’m available.” And I held her at arm’s distance, somewhat out of fear and somewhat because I had to create this silo where I didn’t have any emotional connection to the real Jan Broberg, because Robert Berchtold is obsessed with Jan, but is a void of emotion. It was hard enough creating this and finding a way into this role and then also having a personal friendship with Jan. I thought, “I can’t balance that one,” and I was wrong. She reached out and left me this wonderful note on the first day of filming, and I think she knew I was hesitant to contact her. The note kind of described how Berchtold was warm and charismatic and funny and kind, which was how he settled into the family and gained their trust and then how he got what he wanted. And the back of the note said, “I’m fine, I’m in a healthy place, and I love that you’re doing this, and you’re cleared to play this part and tell this story if you see it right without worrying The level of grace and compassion for someone to offer that to me who is just a stupid actor playing this part when she’s the one who actually lived through it is beyond my comprehension. And from there I kept my distance creatively to stay in this delusional trajectory that Berchtold herself created, but every time she was on set, we ate lunch together and talked, It turned out to be possible to have an affinity and friendship with her and also tell this story.
It was deliberately chosen not to show intimate scenes between Jan and B, but there are so many uncomfortable scenes. How did you and the two actresses who play Jan create a safe place?
Jan was creatively involved and creator Nick Antosca really hammered home [that] we don’t show the abuse, we don’t cast an 18-year-old actor and then hope they look 14, and then do these scenes. He said, “I have no interest in creating that and putting it into the world.” … A long part of this story is the Brobergs’ feeling that something terrible is happening, and we don’t know what it is. The audience also experiences: “Something is terribly wrong here.” So it works to our advantage, creatively and just like humans, to say, “We’re not doing that.” The production and also the producers on set actually [went] went out of their way to create this safe, supportive environment, between having a therapist on set and changing the scripts the minors had so any mention of anything sexual was either removed or rewritten. An example is that there is a book that B has planted in the RV, and that’s it The joy of sex, and Jan finds it. But when we shot with Hendrix, the book we use got the title People from another planet. Even the props out there may not cause trauma to a young person in this environment. And later we go back with a double hand and get an insert of the actual book. … In the end, it comes down to just two people, and so before and after each shot, I’m very low-key, like, “Are you good?”
Was there one scene that was more challenging to shoot than others?
Here we put a trampoline at the house and on the car ride to school I say: “Don’t mind my boys, they’re tired from all the jumping around”, very quietly all those little sandwiches plant crumbs to make Jan think it’s her idea is to stay at her house. … And that was the first time we had really gone, movie-wise, from how he manipulated the family to friends. That whole scene takes place in a kitchen, in the dark; it is very quiet and intimate. There are three of us – Lio [Tipton, who plays B’s wife, Gail] and Hendrix and me – in this family portrait, except this girl was just sexually assaulted. That is so terrible to me.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the November 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.