'Defending Jacob's Jaeden Martell Talks 'Toying With the Audience' (VIDEO)
Apple TV+'s latest original series, Defending Jacob, serves up a head-scratching mystery based on William Landay's book of the same name.
Jaeden Martell (It) stars as the titular Jacob Barber. Jacob is a teen accused of killing his classmate Ben, but there's a catch: His father, Andy Barber (played by Martell's Knives Out costar Chris Evans), is the DA of their small Massachusetts town of Newton, creating quite the predicament. Faced with the question of whether Jacob did or didn't kill Ben, viewers will be wonder what really happened as the mystery constantly unfolds.
Martell is joined by Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), who plays his mother, Laurie Barber. The show tells a story about a family faced with an unusual predicament, but that's only scratching the surface of what Defending Jacob holds in store.
Below, Martell opens up about working with Evans and Dockery, teases what sets this thriller apart from other titles in the genre, and more. Plus, catch an exclusive first look at the series with a sneak peek clip.
What should people know about Jacob and his family dynamic with parents Andy (Chris Evans) and Laurie (Michelle Dockery)?
Jaeden Martell: Jacob is essentially a normal boy who's put into this terrible situation and he's forced to grow up in a very fast way. He is accused of murdering a fellow classmate, and he has to deal with it. And his whole family is now in the spotlight, whether or not he actually did it, so he's a mysterious character. My perspective is probably different from the viewers; I'm excited to see people's opinions on him. It's a very loving family, but it's a very secretive one at the same time.
Defending Jacob is based on William Landay's book of the same name. Did you do any research for your role as a teen accused of murder?
I heard about a few [cases] but I didn't want to have a reference point for Jacob. I think when it came to being in court and around all of these new and unfamiliar elements, I had to have, not confusion, but definitely not familiarity with the setting. I kind of have had to feel uncomfortable in it.
You reunite with your Knives Out costar Chris Evans. What was it like getting to explore a father-son dynamic with him onscreen?
It was great. I found out that I was doing Defending Jacob right when we were doing Knives Out in Boston just a few months before. So that was really exciting, knowing that we were going to work together [again], and we got to do some bonding, which was nice. It's funny, because my first-ever movie [was] Playing It Cool, where I played a younger Chris Evans. We never met on that set, but we joked around about that, which was really funny.
Laurie doubts her son at times. What was it like getting to work on that mother-son relationship with Michelle Dockery?
She's super-talented and super-sweet and kind, so it's hard to see that dark side of her. But it was also educational for me to be able to watch her because she's so talented and hardworking. That dynamic is interesting and changing all the time, which was really fun to do and to be a part of and just to witness her play with her emotions.
What sets this crime thriller apart from others in the genre?
The biggest thing is that this definitely plays with perspective a lot. I feel like a lot of crime movies or TV shows are from one person's perspective and you know whether or not that person is bad or good. This show definitely plays with your idea of who's good and who's bad.
Most of it is told from Chris' character Andy's perspective; he's sort of the moral compass for the whole thing. But then you realize he's made some mistakes and he has secrets, too. You'll see it from Jacob's perspective, but you don't know whether or not to trust him and whether he's lying or telling the truth. So I think that it's kind of toying with the audience in a way.
Do you think Andy and Laurie's faith in their son is misguided?
I don't think so. When you have a kid and you love someone so much and you've seen them grow up, I think it's easy to believe that they're the best person in the world and they're perfect. I think that their love is sort of blinding them, but I don't think it's necessarily too much. They don't have too much trust in him. But it is an interesting thing that the show explores, how far will you go for the people you love and how much will you believe?
Did filming in Boston add to the authenticity of the show for you?
For sure. The book takes place in Boston and the writer's from that area and he lives close to the park where the fake murder occurred. So, I think it definitely adds to the authenticity. I think whenever there's a clear setting in a movie and it's not shoved in your face, it's just another character in the background to add to the authenticity of the show.
Sarah (Jordan Alexa Davis) is a character that plays into Jacob's story. What can you say about her role?
She's an interesting character because she is sort of Jacob's tie to the normal world outside of his trial, and he wants to hang onto her and wants to keep her as a friend. And it's clear that he really likes her, but that's difficult when he's going through the trial. It's hard to hold onto those things. It's relatable for all teenagers to have that awkward relationship between two people, but it's also in this unbelievable setting that not many people can relate to, so that's interesting. And Jordan, who plays Sarah, is super-talented and does a great job of making the character feel natural and real.
Did you do anything to lighten the mood around the set since the show deals with such heavy subject-matter?
Yeah, it was always fun on set. There was always ping-pong tournaments going on, and Chris would always have parties at his house. Everyone was having so much fun. It was such a light environment to be a part of. And I think that was really important to keep us all sane with this very heavy show.
Defending Jacob, Series Premiere, Friday, April 24, Apple TV+