How Jake Lacy Shed His "Nice Guy" Persona to Play a Real-Life Predator in A Friend of the Family

The White Lotus' Jake Lacy transformed into real-life kidnapper Robert Berchtold in Peacock's A Friend of the Family—but why? And how? Hear him explain in E! News' exclusive interview.

By Allison Crist Oct 06, 2022 2:00 PMTags
Watch: Jake Lacy Gets Real About Playing a Pedophile in New Series

Content warning: This story discusses child sexual abuse and rape.

Jake Lacy is taking on his darkest role yet in Peacock's A Friend of the Family.

Per the streamer, the '70s-based series is based on "the harrowing true story of the Broberg family, whose daughter Jan was kidnapped multiple times over a period of a few years by a charismatic, obsessed family 'friend.'"

Lacy plays the accused abductor, Robert "B" Berchtold, who the real-life Jan—a producer on the show—says molested, raped and brainwashed her when she was just 12 years old. Like many who are now familiar with the Broberg's story, Lacy told E! News he first learned of it by watching Netflix's 2017 documentary Abducted in Plain Sight, which chronicled both Jan's years-long abuse and how, according to her parents Mary Ann and Bob, Berchtold was able to manipulate them, too.

"But when this project initially came into my view," Lacy said, "I didn't put two and two together. It wasn't until I was speaking with [showrunner] Nick [Antosca] that I sort of went, 'Ohhh, this is the same story.'"

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And while Lacy was admittedly thrilled about the idea of working with Antosca, he wasn't fully on board until he learned of Jan and Mary Ann's involvement as producers. "It felt like they had the foundation for something that could be really special," he shared. "And as much as we in the arts get a little grand about the stories we tell making a difference, it felt like for once I actually would get to be a part of a thing that potentially could be of use or meaning to someone and not just self-inflated hot air, you know?"

So, The White Lotus actor got to work. Describing his preparation process as "twofold," Lacy explained that he did extensive research on not only Berchtold's life, but also grooming, manipulation and pedophilia. "And then more intangible research like reading Lolita," Lacy added, "and sort of looking at those themes and subject matter through media and narrative things in the past. In a way, I just wanted to have this arsenal of information."


Research aside, there was "nothing that prepared" Lacy like meeting Hendrix Yancey, who plays young Jan (Mckenna Grace portrays the older Jan). As he put it, "Seeing the light in her and the joy and enthusiasm and recognizing immediately that that's what Jan has and still has when you meet her—she still has this effervescence to her—that is what Robert Berchtold, in a lot of ways, preyed on."

Naturally, Lacy wasn't interested in getting lost in Berchtold's mind. "As I, Jake, think about it, my brain shuts down and I feel sick and I don't want to go there," he said. "And so if that's then what I'm bringing to my sense of this character, then I'm missing the story because that character had none of those feelings. This character treats it like the one thing he wants in the world. So, at times, there's replacing that emotionally or mentally.

And other times, "it's just knowing how a camera works," Lacy added. "Like, if you tip your head down and stare for too long, that's a creepy thing to do—and the camera reads it as such."

Every TV Show on Peacock

Other aspects of A Friend of the Family aren't as cut-and-dry, though. Some viewers may be quick to blame Jan's parents—played by Colin Hanks and Anna Paquin—for the fact that she was kidnapped twice or for other missteps, like waiting five days to contact the authorities the first time. But Jan, Lacy and the show itself aren't here to shame them (or anyone but Berchtold, for that matter). 

"It's easy from the outside with limited time and limited facts to say 'I would never! I would have known what was happening and I would never let that happen,'" Lacy said, but as he pointed out, the Brobergs were all being "groomed by a master manipulator."

And while the setting—1970s small-town Indiana—certainly plays a role, that's not to say "this kind of abuse and grooming and manipulation" isn't still happening today, Lacy said. "It's not like we got to 1990 and it went away," he continued. "This still happens in a myriad of ways...This is real, be vigilant. Understand that the majority of people that this happens to, it's happening from someone that you know and love and trust. It's not like the boogeyman in an alley."


That's one of the reasons Lacy is "perfect" for the role of Berchtold, as Antosca put it. 

"Jan had told me how truly charismatic this man was," Antosca told E! News, "and how he wasn't sinister. He was truly, truly magnetic. And we needed somebody who could authentically do that and who could make the audience understand how this family fell in love with him, how he seems safe and trustworthy and charismatic. And Jake is obviously so likable, so he just has that quality. He's also an incredible actor."

The first four episodes of A Friend of the Family are now streaming on Peacock. New episodes will be released weekly on Thursdays.

(E! and Peacock are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)

For free, confidential help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or visit rainn.org.