“A Friend of the Family” isn’t a light lift. In fact, even the person handling 14 hours a day of ADR had to step outside for walks in between editing. The story behind the Peacock series is a true one: Bob “B” Berchtold was a family man who abducted Jan Broberg when she was 12 and again when she was 14 and sexually assaulted her numerous times. He also had sexual encounters with both of her parents.
His crimes were overlooked because of the times but also because he was a trusted man in the community — and trusted by the Broberg family.
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Many actors would shy away from tackling such a daunting task as playing Berchtold. Instead, Jake Lacy dove in headfirst, especially after learning that the real Jan Broberg was a producer on the show and that no sexual assault would be shown. In order to get into that disturbing headspace — of a beloved man with a very dark side — Lacy imagined it as something completely different.
“I replaced these abductions or the sexual motives behind the abductions with a heist. He thinks he’s Danny Ocean pulling off this caper. In the community at large, he positions himself as Steve McQueen. He wants to be the dangerous, cool, edgy guy in this LDS community in Pocatello, Idaho, Lacy says. “I leaned into a lot of that ego and assumed charisma, assumed charm and fearlessness.”
For Lacy, the “unknowable” part of the story is that Berchtold “thinks he’s in love with Jan.”
“I read ‘Lolita.’ The nickname for the little girl is Dolly, which I think he directly lifted, obviously. That book opens with a foundational sense of the excitement of teenage love or that first sexual interaction fused with thinking the only way to get back to that feeling is with a person of that age — even though you’re now in your 30s,” he continues. “He’s also trying to convince this person they’re in love with him, which you can do at any age to a person of any age. So, it was like replacing the fact that I’m speaking to a child with the thought, I’m speaking to someone who’s my own age that I’m interested in who is not interested in me and is also captive.”
For Broberg, who was happy to tell her story through creator Nick Antosca’s eyes in order to help others who’ve been through abuse, it was important that Berchtold was played by a person who was “lovable, likeable, charismatic, kind and service-oriented” — everything that Lacy is.
“You have to believe that he’s a good father, otherwise, you won’t get sucked in. That’s the story that I want to make sure people hear because it’s someone close to them; that’s what they don’t see because they’re close to them. They already love them. They trust them,” she says. “When I heard it was Jake Lacy, I got to write him a letter and leave it in his dressing room before he ever came to set and say, ‘Go for it, and know that you’re a fully formed human because if we aren’t sucked in by your charisma and charm, then you can’t really tell the story.’”
Both Broberg and Lacy were “nervous” to meet each other, for very different reasons. For her, it was because “I knew he was perfect,” she says, imagining coming face to face with the actor portraying her abductor.
“I was concerned that having too much affinity and connection with Jan on a personal level would somehow keep me from having this kind of inhuman distance as Berchtold where he’s not seeing people as people,” recalls Lacy. “He’s not seeing this girl as a little girl. It’s an entity of desire.”
After a pause, he reveals that “the opposite proved to be true” after he met Broberg while filming the second episode. “That friendship helped settle the work more than shake it up because you get to see the person you’re doing this for.”
Since he started acting 14 years ago, Lacy has been mostly cast as a nice guy. It wasn’t an intentional decision but as an actor, he was just happy to be working. Then “The White Lotus” came along, as he took on the role of Shane Patton, an entitled, wealthy man used to getting what he wants and not worrying about the treatment of others.
“The real creative thrill is to be the one who’s forcing this story ahead. That’s really fun,” Lacy says of the leading roles. “I’m thrilled to have had the other experience and now it’s the icing on the cake to see the other gear to shift into. But it’s less like, give me villains. I feel like I already have gone really bad, so it’s only up from here. I mean, am I going to run a puppy mill?”
For Lacy, taking on a role is strictly about the script.
“I always love stories where people with limited abilities or resources or whatever are in over their heads and they’ve gotta find a way to get out. Berchtold does that halfway through the show. Shit goes off the rails for him, and he just starts going crazy-town to get things back under control,” says Lacy. “It’s what makes the first ‘Die Hard’ so great. He’s not a superhero. He’s just a beat cop from New York who happens to be up against terrorists. It’s what makes the early ‘Bourne’ movies so amazing. He’s remarkable and has a real deficit in having no idea where he is or where he is supposed to be. You just see a guy who’s a little bit more than we are, as viewers, struggling to make it through. Those are the ones that I respond to in any genre.”
So, does that mean he has no interest in playing a superhero?
“I just think it’s really tough with those. I’m not saying, ‘Marvel, please don’t call,’” he says. “This is showbiz. Being known publicly and also having a successful career go hand in hand. I don’t really know any of those guys personally, but I just don’t know anyone who has that level of public presence who is like, ‘Yeah, that many people knowing me everywhere I go puts me at ease. It’s really solved a lot of my anxiety.’ That is a real concern for me where I’m like, What’s the ceiling for my happiness and success?”
While Lacy is now more recognized than ever after “The White Lotus,” he notes that he’s “not getting mobbed” — and he’s happy about that.
“It’s very different than pushing your kids at the park and people are like [sneaking a photo]. Or just the internet stuff, where you get messages and hate and stuff where you go, ‘Whoa, I don’t want to be part of it,’” Lacy says. “That stresses me out, the amount of being like, I’m in the world and I’ve invited them to judge and yell at me. No thank you!”
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