In ‘A Friend of the Family,’ Jake Lacy Breaks Character
In this nine-episode limited series, which streams on Peacock, Lacy plays Robert Berchtold, an Idaho husband and father who in the mid-1970s twice abducted Jan Broberg, the eldest daughter of a family that he had known for years. (This case was previously explored in the Netflix documentary “Abducted in Plain Sight.”) As the show tells it, and as Broberg confirmed in a recent interview, Berchtold, or B as those close to him knew him, used his smile, his jokes, his great charisma to insinuate himself with the Brobergs. The two families were so enmeshed that when Jan was first taken, her parents delayed contacting the FBI.
(Following the first abduction, Berchtold was convicted of kidnapping. Sentenced to five years, he served just 45 days. After the second, he avoided prison entirely, serving five months in a psychiatric facility instead. In 2005, having been found guilty of aggravated assault and possession of a firearm for a later offense, he committed suicide.)
Most of the episodes of “A Friend of the Family” had been written before casting began. Finding the right Berchtold was particularly daunting, because the actor needed to project an uncanny charm.
“He had to have a natural charisma that would come through the screen and drop into the living room of whoever was watching the show,” said Broberg, who is a producer on the series. Because charisma, she continued, was “B’s superpower.” And yet, that same actor would also have to travel to some very dark places.
Nick Antosca (“The Act,” “Candy”), the showrunner on “A Friend of the Family,” had been impressed by Lacy’s turn on “The White Lotus” and the sympathy that he brought to such an unpleasant character. An audience isn’t meant to sympathize with B, Antosca clarified. “But you have to understand how that family fell in love with him,” he said.
B doesn’t think of himself as a monster, though — inarguably — he is one. Antosca suspected Lacy would be able to play both aspects at once.