[Interview] Nick Antosca for A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY

[Interview] Nick Antosca for A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY
Courtesy Peacock
In Nick Antosca‘s (Brand New Cherry Flavor, Channel Zero) latest project, A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY, based on the harrowing true story of the twice kidnapping of Jan Broberg, the series follows The Brobergs, a family devoted to their faith, family, and community, who were utterly unprepared for the sophisticated tactics their neighbor used to exploit their vulnerabilities, drive them apart, and turn their daughter against them. A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY shows the story of how their lives were permanently altered – and how they survived.

Ahead of the season finale, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon McGrew spoke with creator/showrunner Nick Antosca. During their chat, they discussed everything from being introduced to Jan Broberg’s story to making sure the kid actors on set were safe, and wrapping with how true crime and horror continue to draw Antosca in.

It’s such a pleasure to be speaking with you today, Nick! To kick things off, how were you introduced to Jan Broberg’s story and what about it made you want to turn it into a series?  

Nick Antosca: I first learned about the case like everybody else did from the documentary, Abducted in Plain Sight. It was sent to me in the sense of, hey, maybe there’s something to adapt here. I watched it and thought, this is not a TV show. This is too horrifying. It’s too uncomfortable. That said, I was so fascinated by the story because I couldn’t get it out of my head and I kept thinking about how could this have happened? How could these people have made these decisions and how did this guy manage to do what he did?

When I read the book and heard it through their voices and their eyes as a slow burn that took place over six years, which of course is in the documentary, but you’re hearing it in 90 minutes. It’s like headline after headline and crazy twist after crazy twists. But, in the book, seeing how he planted the seeds and what their experience was like crystalized for me how it was an extremely powerful story about a family struggling with something unthinkable and overcoming something.

It also made me realize that the thing that I had been so uncomfortable about in terms of a series is the potential for it to feel grotesque or exploitative by showing sexual abuse. It was actually thematically right to not show it because the story is about how people didn’t see it for so long. It’s the monster in the background or the nightmare under the surface. Once I had read that book and the shape of the story was so clear, then I thought this is a very, very compelling story and I really want to be a part of telling it if it’s the right time and if it’s gonna be a thing that’s welcome to the family if they want to be involved. My producing partner, Alex Hedlund, and I reached out to Jan and that’s how it got started.

What was it like bringing Jan onto this project and were there specific things she wanted to see portrayed? 

Nick Antosca: It was amazing. It’s an opportunity that you don’t often get in storytelling and TV creation. It was scary too for that reason because most importantly the responsibility and pressure of God, if she watches this or starts to go through this process and is unhappy with the results, then I would feel pretty terrible. But also, you never know what somebody’s point of view is going to be. It was just a very rich and generous partnership and she was very, very involved. It was a conversation from the initial outreach and it continued as they talked about the rights and all that, which takes a long time.

She and I had really extensive conversations before the writer’s room where I would just ask, not like, what happened then, or what about this kidnapping? It was more, what music did you listen to? What was your dad’s personality like? What phrases would he use? What did you do on a typical Saturday? We had to have that flavor of their lives in order to have the context of what happened to them. Jan was in the writer’s room, not every day but she would come in frequently and was super generous with her time. She came to visit set, she came beforehand to look at the sets and look at the recreation of her house and all that stuff there during the key scenes.

And then, of course, she even appeared in the last episode. She has a guest role which was a very, very powerful moment. It was something that I was a little nervous about. Is this gonna feel meta or like a gimmick? I just thought that for the specific role and because she’s an experienced working actress, it would be more emotional and meaningful than it would be meta. Not that the meta part of it is a bad thing, but I didn’t want it to be distracting, you know? I think, at least to me, watching it, I think she’s so good and seeing her have the opportunity to speak to her younger self and speak to her father who’s no longer alive and say the things that she says was meaningful, I think, for everybody involved.

Jake Lacy in A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY | Peacock

Jake Lacy’s portrayal of Robert Berchtold is chilling. Can you talk about bringing him on for this role?

Nick Antosca: I admire him for taking the role without hesitation. I’m sure he had some hesitation but he’s an actor’s actor. He loves to act and he is incredibly thoughtful, compassionate, and a deep and dedicated actor. He’s a joy to have on set. On a show like this where the subject matter is so sensitive and there are kid actors and you’re shooting for a long time, it was so essential to have somebody like that as the leader of the cast. He has an untapped charisma. He’s known as Hollywood’s nice guy but he can do anything. Two weeks into the shoot, I was already thinking to myself, what else can I write for him?

Expanding on the kid actors, how was it navigating the sensitive topics with them? Were they aware of the subject matter or was that something that was hidden from them? 

Nick Antosca: You have to be upfront, certainly with their parents, their families. And you have to be upfront with them, too, to a degree. Coming into it, I think that most of them had seen the documentary. But, in some cases, you talk to their parents and they saw it, but it went a little over their [kids’] head. So, it’s just a case by case basis. We made sure that there was nothing in the scripts where [the kids] were going to be asked to do any scenes that would be insensitive or uncomfortable. For one or two scenes with the youngest cast, we would create signs with slightly different dialogue. So we would shoot their coverage and the other actor is saying something a little bit different so they don’t feel uncomfortable, like in the doctor’s office [scene] and that’s it. Then you try and foster a safe, fun, protective working environment. We had a therapist on set at all times for everybody. You just make sure that the resources are there.

I love that you go back and forth from horror to true crime stories. What do you enjoy about doing both and do you consider yourself a fan of true crime?

Nick Antosca: I am interested in true stories. I’m a fan of true crime, certainly. I don’t necessarily think of the stories that I’ve done that I’ve worked on as true crime because when I think true crime, I often think investigations and I’m just not interested in that. A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY, Candy, The Act, they’re all about core relationships. They are horror stories in a way. I think of A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY, most of all, is kind of a horror story. There is a big bad wolf. There’s a monster menacing this family. There’s a lot of debate now, a lot of conversation about the volume of true crime, and I certainly understand the conversation. I also think that the amount of true stories… the things that we want to do as writers and storytellers is to tell real people’s stories and hopefully do it authentically and with true emotion and depth. Obviously, bad true crime is bad but the stories that have inspired me in this zone are Boys Don’t Cry and Heavenly Creatures and things like that, which I don’t think of those as true crime. I think of them as really powerful, true human stories told with empathy and poetry.

All 9 episodes of A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY are now available to stream on Peacock.

Shannon McGrew
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