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To prepare for his role as Robert Berchtold, Jake Lacy hit the books.
The actor, 37, plays the child predator in the Peacock series “A Friend of the Family,” based on Jan Broberg’s two abductions and sexual molestation. In the show, he
before kidnapping a young Jan, taking her to Mexico and convincing her that they had been chosen to reproduce in order to save a dying alien civilization.
Jan’s parents, Mary Ann and Robert Broberg, hesitated to report their daughter as missing because Berchtold was a close friend. And when Jan was eventually returned to their custody, she didn’t mention the abuse, having been told by Berchtold that her parents and sisters could die if she shared their secret mission.
It’s a difficult story to believe, but Lacy plays the role with such conviction and charm, it becomes understandable how a family could fall under such a person’s spell.
Lacy told Oxygen.com in an interview that he based a lot of his performance on Broberg’s description of her abuser, as well as two books: Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” and Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
“Lolita” is a first-person novel told from the perspective of Humbert Humbert, a professor who kidnaps and sexually abuses 12-year-old Dolores. Through reading this work of literature, Lacy said, he came to understand what the mind of a child predator might be like, because “it's written from a place that's free of judgment.”
“Berchtold right from the start called Jan ‘Dolly’ as a nickname, which is the same nickname given to Lolita,” Lacy told Oxygen.com. “I think he found that book to be close to his heart, close to the world that he wanted to live in and the story he wanted to be a part of."
He added, “I don't think he understood it to be an indictment on that aversion for being sexually attracted to children.”
When it came to depicting Berchtold’s relationships with the adults in Jan’s life, including her parents, both of whom he had sexual encounters with, Lacy said he read Carnegie’s self-help book.
“Another book on not even manipulation but like presenting a certain way in order to get influence over others in a way that is, in the normal world, actually a great tool for business relationships. But when read by Charles Manson or Robert Berchtold is weaponized, you know?”
In the series, Berchtold’s confidence and charm wanes as the Brobergs realize how manipulative he is. So while Berchtold may appear to be a cunning mastermind, Lacy said that’s all he has when all is said and done.
“In the finale, I call again and pick up and try to connect with Jan and say it's so good to hear your voice. And she hangs up on me,” Lacy said, adding that they had two options for how Berchtold would react.
“There's one version where he's convinced himself the love of his life has just ended their relationship. But the more real one is that he just stands there for a minute and then kind of hangs up and is like, on to the next.”
Lacy admitted that the show, also starring Mckenna Grace, isn't an uplifting one, so he admires that creator Nick Antosca decided to close out the show with the real-life footage of Jan confronting Berchtold at a 2005 court hearing.
"For a show that could leave you in absolute despair for what this woman and her family went through, to leave with genuine strength and hope is a beautiful thing that I think a lot of shows that are labeled as true crime don't give you,” he said. “I'm so honored to have been a part of that story, knowing that it ends on this and not just like cratering.”
All episodes of “A Friend of the Family” are streaming now on Peacock. And tune in to the documentary “A Friend of the Family: True Evil,” in which Jan and her family tell their story, streaming Nov. 15 on Peacock.
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