Jake Lacy has spent the last decade playing boy-next-door types on screen, most notably in films like Obvious Child and How To Be Single, and shows like The Office, Girls, and High Fidelity. He’s gotten so good at being the “nice guy” that even Emerald Fennel noticed, hoping to use his reputation against a movie-going audience in her Oscar-winning film Promising Young Woman the same way she did with Bob Burnham, Adam Brody, and Chris Lowell. (Scheduling conflicts are to blame for why that didn’t end up happening.)
It took Mike White’s sordid, scandalous soap opera about a group of tourists holding hotel workers hostage to their privileged, out-of-touch whims in HBO’s The White Lotus for Lacy to finally sink his teeth into something a bit leaner … and meaner. As Shane Patton, he’s still trading on his “nice guy” persona, but there’s an elitism and callousness that lurks underneath, one that ensures he’s capable of all kinds of terribleness – even murder.
But measured against Lacy’s latest villainous turn in Peacock’s ripped-from-the-headlines limited true crime series, the polo-peacocking frat bro seems practically angelic.
In A Friend Of The Family, which drops its first four episodes on the streamer on Oct. 6th, Lacy transforms into Robert Berchtold, a pedophile and criminal mastermind who destroyed a close-knit suburban family and became the subject of a Netflix documentary that aired just a few years ago. The show, like the doc, takes audiences step by painful step through Berchtold’s elaborate plan to infiltrate the Broberg clan, building intimate relationships with both Robert Broberg and his wife, Mary-Ann, in order to gain access to their eldest daughter, Jan.
It’s likely the most unforgivable character Lacy will ever play and he seems to relish the challenge, walking the tenuous line between charisma and down-right creepiness to help the real Jan Broberg – a consulting producer on the show – tell her story the way she experienced it. To hear Lacy tell it, it’s not that he enjoyed pretending to be Bob Berchtold (known simply as B on the show), it’s that giving a face to this kind of monster helped him feel like he was contributing something to the true crime genre – and the rabid audience craving more of these kinds of stories, no matter how problematic a response they generate.
UPROXX chatted with Lacy about getting into character, seducing Colin Hanks on screen, and his paranoia when it comes to his own children after filming this show.
Between this show and the character you played on The White Lotus, some fans online are asking, ‘Is Jake Lacy officially in his villain era?’ What would be your answer to that?
[laughs] I was not like, ‘Let’s find the darkest material we can.’ As anyone, I’m always looking for good material. Great writing, complex characters, nuanced storytelling. People have asked if there was a pause before saying yes to this, and there wasn’t really, because as an actor you go, ‘This is great work.’ And as a human, the knowledge that Jan wants to tell her story in this way for a bigger purpose than making content or serving any of our egos, you are like, ‘Oh, I would like to be part of that. I’d to lend the little bit of skill I have in this world to doing something bigger than me for once. Let’s do that.’ So that checked every box.
Had you seen the documentary before signing onto this show and did that project inform this one at all?
I had seen the documentary when it came to Netflix [but] it took me quite a while to piece together when this project came around. Just by the nature of the limited time that the documentary has to tell this very complex, nuanced, years-long tale of grooming and abuse, there are parts that by necessity just aren’t in the doc. And even in our nine-part limited series, there are parts that we have chosen not to highlight that are remarkable, but that sort of complicate elements of the story that narratively, you just need this through line to understand what the experience was and not get bogged down in every detail. But to come to this and then go, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that. Oh, I didn’t know this.’ That there were so many revelations within our telling of this story. It was sort of like discovering it anew in a way.
How do you get into the mindset of a man like Bob Berchtold?
I think the narcissism and lack of empathy were the way in. It’s like somebody who’s done ayahuasca talking to someone who hasn’t, which I’ve not, but being like, ‘You don’t even know. You don’t what this world contains. It’s beyond your scope.’ I think that’s the impression that he had of the rest of the world like, ‘I’m firing on more cylinders than you can conceive of. I have an understanding of this world beyond what you will ever pretend to know.’ And that otherworldly narcissism mixed with a void of empathy leaves a lot of room to go about your business as you see fit and not really care about the fallout.
Berchtold has one person to serve and that’s himself. It’s like, ‘I want what I want and you don’t understand it. Not because I’m wrong, but because 30 percent of your brain works.’ That justification is the way in.
You also have to be charming, though, to convince this family to let him in. How did you strike that balance between creepy and charismatic?
A lot of it was working collaboratively with Nick [Antosca], with the directors, with cinematographers for me to understand, what’s the shot here? There’s a scene where I’m changing a tire for the Brobergs and Bob is sort of standing by the hood and he says, ‘You make it look so easy, B.’ And this is when B is in pursuit of Mary Ann to control to get to Jan. So it’s a calculation on B’s part to be wearing this undershirt and tight blue jeans and to seem like this other thing that nobody else in the Mormon community in Pocatello, Idaho is, to be a little bit alluring. And then in the shot selection, I’m facing her as she walks up and it’s not on me seeing her, but there is a moment where you can see that I’ve given her body a scan for her sake to know, ‘Oh, B just checked me out.’
All of it’s a calculation from B. And at that point, I don’t know if Colin’s version of Bob is aware, but all of that is packed into four seconds. And that’s so fulfilling creatively to go, ‘How can we do this? How can we show so many facets of this person or personas that he’s creating and shifting between?’
You also get to seduce both Colin Hanks and Anna Paquin on this show, so well done.
[Laughs] Thank you very much.
How did you view his relationship with Bob versus his affair with Mary-Ann?
The [intimate] scene with Colin, they moved up. I think there was a rain issue. Things got switched up and so then on the day it was like, ‘We’re going to shoot this today.’ We’re both like, ‘Oh, okay, here we go. You ready for this?’ He’s the greatest. So a scene that otherwise could go sideways just with the technicalities of how to do this was … it’s like, that’s a guy you want in the trenches of TV and movie making. He’s talented, a pro, at ease, fun. You’re like, ‘Great, let’s make something together.’ The seduction of Ann’s [character] is a little longer con. But it’s layered. I think he’s a sex addict so there’s that. I think he’s a narcissist. He’s getting off, not on the physical interaction as if there’s actually a bond or a vibe between them, as much as the power dynamic that he is privately enjoying.
It’s the easiest way for him to control these people.
It’s the most powerful way to keep people apart, to build this intimacy with another person that they can’t possibly share with anyone else is… Whether it’s with Jan and saying, ‘This is the mission and if you tell anyone you’ll be vaporized,’ or whether it’s Mary Ann and being like, ‘You can’t tell anybody because your family collapses, my family collapses. What will the community think?’ Or it’s Bob, who … 1970s, Mormon, Idaho. That man is not going to talk about having a sexual encounter with another man. He’s putting these people in silos in order to then be able to push and pull on them until he can get clear access to Jan. He just used that technique on the Brobergs and then on other women with daughters in subsequent years after the abuse of the Broberg family stopped.
Has this story made you reevaluate your perceptions when it comes to protecting your own children?
I already had a dose of paranoia surrounding my kids and new people in our world. Prior to this project, I was probably thinking, ‘Am I too paranoid? Is this overkill?’ And then after this being like, ‘No, that’s the exact right amount for me.’ I would love to just trust the world and I don’t and that’s probably how I’m going to live.
The other thing is, the intention for Jan in telling her story in this way is to say to people now, this is still happening. It isn’t a stranger in an alley always. It is, most often regarding the sexual abuse of a child, someone who the family and the victim know and trust. So it’s not comforting, but it is fulfilling to feel like I’m able to hopefully strengthen her argument with this story or to just participate alongside her work and her cause. And for fear of being someone who stands on the sidelines and says, ‘I’m making a difference,’ I know that’s not true, but in terms of being like, ‘What am I [putting out] in the world?’ Even though this character is horrific, the overall purpose of this thing feels like something of integrity.
A Friend Of The Family premieres on Peacock Oct. 6th.