In 2017, Netflix sent shockwaves through audiences with Abducted in Plain Sight, a documentary about the kidnappings of Jan Broberg by a close family friend. Five years later, Peacock’s limited series A Friend of the Family takes us deeper into understanding why the Broberg family was unprepared for the sophisticated manipulation of their neighbor Bob “B” Berchtold (Jake Lacy) that led to Jan’s abductions.
As new episodes of A Friend of the Family continue to roll out, Colin Hanks, who plays Jan’s dad, Bob, spoke with LA Confidential about playing the nice guy, why he set up an on-set tiki bungalow and his upcoming documentary about baseball legend Willie Mays.
You were hesitant to take on the role of Bob Broberg. Was there a pivotal moment that made you change your mind?
Just on super first glance, judging a book by its cover, the idea of playing a very naive, sweet nice guy, Mormon was not really on my list of things to do. And in a lot of ways was the very thing that I've been trying to run away from. I just feel like there was very little to that nice guy thing. I feel like I had tapped a lot of that. And I read the scripts and thought they were incredibly well written and I got a little bit more versed in the Broberg story. And this interesting thing happened where I was just having a lot of conversations with people about their story because, obviously, there were a lot of people that had seen the documentary about them. The more and more people I talked to, the more and more I kept thinking about the story. It was like the aha moment of I can't stop thinking about this story. I really wanted to find out more and try and make more sense of it— how it is that the Brobergs ended up making all of these wrong decisions. And once I spoke with Nick Antosca, the showrunner, and expressed that, and he basically said, “That's exactly what we're doing then.” Then I was a little bit more onboard. And also, coming out of two years of the pandemic, I said to myself that I wanted to be able to push myself more and try and do things that really scare me. There's so much about the story. There's so much more to Bob Broberg and his story than just nice guy-Mormon. And so really, I just looked at it as an opportunity to really push myself and do something that I've never really done.
How did you prepare to play Bob Broberg?
None of us would have done this story hadn’t Jan and Mary Anne been involved. There was a tremendous amount of research that I wanted to do and I was able to ask Jan all sorts of questions as to what she remembers about her father.
Jan was incredibly graceful because she had left the note for me when I landed in Atlanta where we filmed the series, and it was basically a note that said, “I’m here if you need me, but go ahead and make this your own.” She was very aware that everybody has a different process, and that she was offering herself to be a resource if I wanted, but then also giving this tremendous blessing just to say trust your instincts and do what you do. It was incredibly thoughtful and just really special the way that she did it. And so I texted with her quite a bit and just asked her millions of small questions that were really just more based on, “Hey, what music do you remember hearing in the household? Are there any phrases you remember him saying?” Just things that could help me better understand his state of mind just as a person, nevermind his state of mind during all this sort of stuff. And I found all of that to be incredibly helpful. There was one phrase in particular that the family mentioned that he said, which really gave me a greater understanding of who he was, which is “Every day is a bonus.” And it just struck me as if someone can say that even on the dark days that every day is a bonus, that’s incredible insight.
When Bob first starts becoming frustrated with B overstepping into their family and spending too much time with Jan, what are the roots of his frustrations? In particular, I’m thinking of when Jan goes with the Berchtolds to Seattle. Is he suspicious of B, is there a power struggle between him and Mary Anne about who decides what their kids can do or something else?
Well, it's a lot of different stuff to be honest. At that point, there has been quite a bit that Bob is aware of. The first couple of episodes jump back and forth quite a bit, and so there's certain things in that particular moment and he's very aware of the history that he has with B. He's very aware of his own struggles with his identity and his struggles with his faith. He was an incredibly devout man. There's so many layers there. There's so many things at play. And those are the kinds of scenes that you just love as an actor, so I just tried to do everything I can to be mindful of the multitude of feelings that I'm feeling at that moment, and it's a challenge. And so really, it was more about just trying to be aware of all of those feelings and then just try and play the moment, play the scene as it is.
McKenna Grace, who plays Jan, mentioned in an interview that you made the cast chair area as a tiki bungalow as an area to decompress between scenes. Did you come onto set knowing you wanted to make some sort of space like that?
Oftentimes, you're set up in some room and it's not very personal and it's not very homey, but we had the luxury of having the Broberg family home as a set. And we knew we were going to be there for a long time. And it just so happened that it was a small space that was under one of our stages that was a two-story stage, and so I just started decorating. Everything about this show is just very heavy. There's not a moment of levity. I don't know what it was; I just felt compelled to create a space for us that was fun so that going to work was not a constant drag. We go onto the stage, we go on to the set, we do what it is that we need to do and then as soon as we're in between setups, we can go back to the bungalow and decorate it. It was literally like, “Hey, whatever you want to bring, decorate it. This is going to be a cheesy tiki bar. Let's go.” So I got all sorts of knickknacks and all sorts of odd stuff from consignment shops and antique stores. I had a sign made up and we put up Christmas lights and all stuff. It was just this fun thing to do that. I think it just came out of necessity.
Why is the Broberg’s story important to tell on television now, in this moment?
I think the very nature of the subject matter, it's one of the most common crimes and one of the least talked about. And I think by and large, the conversation has grown and evolved so people understand concepts like grooming and gaslighting and those kinds of terms, but Jan’s experience and what it is that she went through, that's the one that people don't really talk about very often. And Jan said herself, and it’s incredibly eye opening, but it's absolutely 100% true— it used to be “stranger danger,” but the truth is it's very rarely that. More often than not, it truly is a friend of the family. And so really, it's important to have that conversation. But I think also, more specifically to the Broberg story, it's not just Jan's relationship with B, but it's also Bob and Mary Anne’s. There's so many components. When telling someone else's true story, one should always take that very, very seriously. And I'm just so excited that Nick had the idea to really tell this in a way that really would make the Broberg family proud and feel like they are finally able to really tell their story.
Say Hey, Willie Mays! premieres on HBO and HBO Max on Nov. 8., for which you are a producer. Why did you want to be part of telling Willie Mays story?
I've been making documentaries for quite a while and so I'm always looking for a new subject, and I’m a massive baseball fan and a huge San Francisco Giants fan. Willie Mays has always been a big presence within baseball, but having not been around to see him play, I never really got the chance to really understand just how great he was. I just was always told, “He's great. He's one of the best.” He's never really let anyone tell his story, and we were able to be fortunate and be the lucky ones to be able to do that, which I'm beyond thrilled and honored.
It's a chance to show younger generations, and I include myself in that, just how unique he was and what a truly special individual he was. His life touches so many aspects that go far beyond baseball: American civil rights and cultural norms. He plays a part in that in a way that most people aren't necessarily aware of or don't necessarily think about. Most people just jump straight to Jackie Robinson. He’s such an interesting, fascinating guy that I'm just so happy to be able to help produce the official Willie Mays story.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Photos by Sam Jones