‘A Friend of the Family’: Mckenna Grace on the Emotional Demands of Playing Jan Broberg
[Warning: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for A Friend of the Family Episode 6, “Son of Perdition.”]
In A Friend of the Family Episode 6, Robert “B” Berchtold (played by an intentionally unsettling Jake Lacy) took his obsession with Mckenna Grace‘s Jan Broberg public, telling his wife, Gayle (Lio Tipton) and everyone around him that he intends to marry a teenager.
Jan, completely under his thumb, is starting to panic as the “aliens” who “kidnapped” her and B years before told her they must have a baby by the time she’s 16. In her reality, time is running out, and B’s campaign against her parents, Bob and Mary Ann (Colin Hanks and Anna Paquin), has Jan convinced they’re jealous of her and B’s bond. It’s a bleak time for the Brobergs, to say the least.
Here, Grace breaks down the episode, what it was like coming into the season halfway through, and what to expect heading into the limited series’ final three episodes.
Jan runs away from her family in Episodes 5 and 6. What is she thinking when she runs away the second time?
I did so much research for this role. I had court transcripts, I had all of the letters between her and B, and her old diaries. And I talked to Jan all the time. She’s amazing, by the way.
There wasn’t an ounce of her that didn’t believe that was her life. She was harsh to her parents, and it was hard for her, but she did it for a reason. It’s such a sad, unfortunate reality, but to her, Zeta and Zethra gave her have this mission, B loves her and would never do anything to purposefully hurt her, and she thought, “this is somebody that’s protecting me, and we’re protecting my family and his family, and this is how it has to be.”
Then it became a weird thing of their entire relationship being based on fear. He wants her to love him back romantically, and it’s just interesting to see that switch in everything.
Creating their relationship out of fear was his whole M.O. When she was younger, he scared her into thinking these aliens were threatening their lives. Can Jan even tell she’s scared of B?
Speaking to Jan, I was always like, “Was there ever an ounce of you that was suspicious or felt like something was wrong?” And she was like, “No, I fully believed everything that he said until I was like 17, 18.” That was insane to me.
When we were getting into Episodes 7 through 9, we would have to sit down before each scene and be like, “OK, let’s go over everything that’s happened so far. Where are we leading to with this?” because we shot out of order. It was really difficult having to come in there with my preconceived notion, which was, “Wow, I would be terrified of you. You are a horrible, disgusting, vile person.” I had to put all of that out the window and be like, “Oh, I’m in love with you.”
Yeah! I could never think about the things that he was saying in a scene. I would be like, “Oh God, stop saying this to me.” I had to look at it and be like, “Wow, this is, uh, you know, normal.”
How do you get into the headspace of older Jan, knowing that she has been living her life in fear of these aliens for several years now? That’s definitely had to have changed the way she thinks about the world.
Well, there was constantly so much to grapple with, and there was always this set of rules that you had to remember she had. She couldn’t touch any other boy. Don’t talk to your dad, don’t touch him. Don’t tell anyone about the mission. You have to have this baby before you’re 16, or else Susan’s gonna take your place, and your family’s gonna die. You’re telling this young Mormon girl with such a strong faith that she’s going to be vaporized, but that’s also going to vaporize her eternal soul, so she can’t go to heaven. She’s just gonna disappear, was the thing. And that’s terrifying to a young girl with such a strong faith.
It was really scary coming onto the project because already I’m a little bit scared to play Jan and tell her story and play a real-life person. Luckily, she’s been fantastic. But it was also scary coming onto the show because they had been shooting since February, and I was just coming in about early April. The very first scene I did with Colin and Anna was Anna sitting me down and telling me that B has a problem with young girls. I yell at her, and I’m like, “He would never be like that. You’re just mad because he’s with me and not you.” I had to immediately try to get into that headspace of, “OK, I’m covering for him because of the mission.”
The first scene I ever had with Jake is the scene where I biked down to meet him at those trailers and tell him that I’ll work for him in Jackson Hole. I really got thrown right into it. I was constantly trying to make sure that I was doing it right.
Looking ahead to Episodes 7 through 9, we know what happens because this is based on a true story. So many people have seen the documentary. But what can we expect from seeing this up-close-and-personal version of the rest of this story?
After watching the documentary, I still have so many questions. And then I read the scripts for our show, and I was like, “Wait, this is so much more than what the documentary gave me.” This is really living with them as they’re going through it. They were so naïve. They were like the perfect victims, you know? Hopefully, you can sympathize with the Brobergs and see yourselves in them, because it’s not them just blindly making decisions. Their entire family was groomed.
In the coming episodes, we’ll continue to see these worlds start to crumble and how that affects Jan. We’ll find Jan, wherever she may be. And the Brobergs come together as a family to find each other again. [Jan] never got [her childhood] back, but she got back her family. I think it is a very horrible story, but it’s also a story of hope.
I watched the documentary when it came out, and I had the same thoughts of “how did this happen twice?” Watching this, Jan’s parents seemed to have been these innocent, sheltered people who took too long to learn that they should believe someone’s true nature when it is shown to them. It’s hard to see something bad in front of you and fully believe it.
You don’t want to put your best friend in prison. It’s hard to realize that this is happening right in front of your eyes. You can’t see it cause you’re blinded by “Oh, but they’re a good person, and they would never do anything to hurt me.”
It was also a completely different time. I feel like people say that all the time, but it was. The FBI didn’t know what the word pedophile was at the time. I think that’s a little bit difficult for us to grapple with [in] our 2022 vision, but they didn’t know what that meant. Their case was a learning experience for all of the FBI agents involved, for them, for everybody, you know? Nobody heard about things like that in Pocatello, Idaho.
We also know, based on what happened in real life, that B avoids consequences for a long time. But I imagine there will be some kind of consequences from the Brobergs at the end of this show. Can you give an idea of what kind of conflict we can expect, if any?
I want to say “you’re a disgusting, vile person, and I hate you for what you’ve done to me and my family,” but that’s sometimes not the reality. For the Brobergs, their revenge was coming back together and not letting him take their lives. The family could have shattered, but no, they came back together stronger than ever. There is revenge, and there is consequence, but I think that the biggest thing for me is that they came back together.
The clip of Jan in court telling B that she’s there to protect people, educate them about predators like him, and that he has no soul is one of the most powerful things I’ve ever watched. It’s a real clip of Jan in court many years later, whenever she released the book that B had the audacity to try to sue them over it because he said it wasn’t real. He had to face them in court for the first time in 30 years. She stood up to him, and he killed himself shortly after that. I thought that what she said to him was so powerful, and it’s incredible to watch. If it’s confrontation or a release you’re looking for, that’s an incredible clip.
You’ve played younger versions of so many actors. Who’s someone you haven’t played the younger version of that you would consider doing?
It’s so cool to get into that actor’s space and be able to say, “I was younger you!” So it was the coolest thing in the world to have a younger version of me [in A Friend of the Family]. Oh, how the turn tables.
I wanna play young Natalie Portman. I just saw Léon: The Professional and Black Swan for the first time, and I’m obsessed with her. I think she’s brilliant.
Oh my God. A Black Swan prequel, the next discomforting drama from McKenna Grace. Let’s make it happen.
Next discomforting drama. [Laughs] That’s great. Perfect.
A Friend of the Family, Thursdays, Peacock