For years, Jake Lacy has been among Hollywood’s go-to actors to portray the friendly guy next door or a Prince Charming type. But with his turn as the overly entitled husband of Alexandra Daddario’s character in The White Lotus—roles that earned both actors Emmy nominations—Lacy proved his expertise at embodying the dark side of such seemingly good dudes. Now, the Massachusetts native whose television credits include The Office, High Fidelity, and Girls, is plunging even deeper into a dark character. In A Friend of the Family, a true-crime limited series streaming on Peacock beginning October 7, Lacy plays Robert Berchtold, also known as “B”—the husband and father living in Idaho who abducted Jan Broberg, the oldest daughter of a family he’d known for years, two separate times in the 1970s. Here, Lacy discusses the nuances of playing an abusive person, and why it was essential to have the real-life people who experienced these horrors involved in the project.
What drew you to the portray Robert Berchtold?
The first conversation I had with [director Nick Antosca], he said, “You should know, Jan and Mary Ann are creatively involved and are producers on this. If they weren’t involved, I wouldn’t be doing this.” When he had spoken to them, initially he told them, “If you aren’t up for it, I’m just not going to do it. I’m not gonna pursue your life rights and then buy them and do my own thing.” His second point was, we are not showing the abuse. The psychological manipulation and grooming and effect of Robert Berchtold on the Broberg family is the dynamic that we’re interested in exploring. It felt like all these pieces that I would want—creatively, logistically, and just from a human standpoint—were in place. And when all of that stuff is in line from the jump, you think, we have a real shot at making something creatively fulfilling.
There have been a couple of recent series—I’m thinking of Mike on Hulu and Dahmer on Netflix—that have come under from the real-life victims and their families.
There is the feeling in the arts and entertainment that there’s a lot of hope for, but also lip service toward: What we do matters! And telling these stories counts! And sometimes they do, sometimes it’s just an ego thing, and sometimes that’s just PR bullshit. This, for once in my life feels like, We can tell this story in an accurate, meaningful way, that dovetails into Jan and Mary Ann’s greater purpose, which is to show how abuse happens, how it feels, how it’s gradual, over time.
Their drive to continue telling their story is to shine a light on the fact that the sexual abuse of children continues to run rampant through our society. And most often, it’s at the hands of someone the victim knows, loves, and trusts—and is familiar to the family.
How does one go about getting into character when that calls for embodying a pretty evil person?
It’s tricky. It wasn’t necessary, useful, or healthy to try to think like a pedophile. That’s horrific and repulsive. Different days, different scenes, called for different tools. But thoughts or no thoughts, if you maintain eye contact, unblinking, with someone for longer than 20 seconds, it reads as not normal. Maybe that’s a hacky way to go about this, but at times, especially when working with a child on set, I went that route. As a sociopath, obsessive, manic depressive pedophile, there are so many layers to Berchtold. He had built an individual persona for each person in his life: There’s a B for Mary Ann, and a B for Bob, and a B for Jan. Getting to flip the deck a little each time you’re with a new person, is exciting to create, separate from what the subject matter is.
Your costar, Colin Hanks, said in an interview that upon reading the Friend of the Family scripts, he thought to himself, “This is just the saddest show I’ve ever read.” I’m wondering what your first reaction was to seeing the script?
I mean, I understand that, for him: Do I want to do this? Is this a world I want to enter for months on end, and try to create the feeling in myself of, my child is gone? I’m a parent and it’s my absolute worst fear.
That must have been very difficult.
In a way, I think it’s harder for them, to be real. Because Anna and Colin and Leo are being asked to go to that emotional place. Whereas, I’m having to work with something that’s disgusting and off-putting, and egregious. But Berchtold thinks he’s Steve McQueen, running away with the love of his life. He thinks this is Bonnie and Clyde. So that’s a very different world to dip into than having to go, for the next six months, we’re gonna film you thinking your daughter’s gone. It is a different task. But I also felt like, the people that I have admired, or wanted to be like, from the age of 12 on, are: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly, and Sam Rockwell. Guys that are pretty fearless in what they take on, across the board: comedy, drama, TV, film, stage, whatever it is. I felt like, Well, Jake, Here’s an opportunity to do something that is a little scary and uncomfortable. And this is probably something you should do.
Do you consider The White Lotus to be a turning point in your career?
Yeah. But not just because of the role. It’s twofold: the experience of getting to work with Mike [White], it’s the first time, maybe ever, that I’ve been 100 percent trusting of a director. I thought, you’re a genius. Your tone, your sensibility, your taste, your talent, your vision, is what I want mine to be, but yours is better [laughs]. I will follow you wherever you lead, including doing wildly different takes, adding lines, dropping lines, changing things. It was a turning point personally, because I got to feel like, I’m firing on all cylinders. I’m really locked in with this cast and this director in the way that I always hoped for.
I’ve been a part of projects that had a big moment in the zeitgeist, and then as it arced downward, I jumped on board. So I’m associated with it, but I haven’t been there when people are actively engaged and excited and watching collectively—which is its own incredible ride to even be on anyone’s radar in that way. I talked to Mike after episode four of five had aired, and he was like, This is it, man. This is the best of the best. You’ve made a thing you’re proud of, and people like it. I hope you’re enjoying it. Soak this in, because this is as good as it gets.