Emmy and Screen Actors Guild Award nominee Jake Lacy will next be seen in Peacock’s ‘A Friend of The Family’, based on the true story. The highly anticipated series premieres today (6 October). Jake is also starring in Paramount’s sci-fi thriller ‘Significant Other’, premiering on Paramount+ on 7 October.  

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Jake, you’re starring as Robert Berchtold in Peacock’s ‘A Friend of The Family’. The miniseries is based on the Broberg family, whose daughter Jan was kidnapped multiple times over a period of years by Robert, a charismatic, obsessed family ‘friend’. How was it playing such a character?

There’s always sort of two tracks running. In a way, it’s dealing with the subject, matter and this story of what happened to Jan and the Brobergs and really this kind of community at large. It’s difficult, that’s not material that’s a pleasure to research or work on or participate in. And then the other track is that creatively it was incredibly fulfilling. It’s a complex character, wonderful writing from Nick Antosca, fantastic directors, wonderful cast. The actual acting and telling of this story was really fulfilling creatively. It just happens to be really difficult, hard material. 

It’s odd to keep both those things alive in you at the same time. And I think as uncomfortable or dark as this work could be at points, the saving grace for me personally was that real life Jan and her mother, Mary Ann, were creatively involved and producers on the show. Their intention of telling their story in this format, as a narrative limited series, was to shine a light on the fact that this kind of abuse, the sexual abuse of children, is still a huge issue today and often happens at the hands of people that are known and loved and trusted by the family and the victim. And whatever our filming experience was, knowing that if we can really do our jobs right, it’s serving this larger purpose and that I think gave us, or myself at least, permission to really pour myself into this thing. And that’s not always the case, everybody in Hollywood likes to be championing these stories. We were making a difference by telling this tale and that’s not always true. It’s so fulfilling to think this one actually does matter. I think it actually matters that this story is told and that people hear it. And it could actually mean something to someone. 

What was the most important thing for the cast and crew to portray on screen of these real life events? 

I think starting with Jan, starting with Nick, their intention or hope of being able to tell the story over nine episodes and not in a documentary format, but in a narrative format, would allow the viewer to understand what it’s like to be inside a family, a community that’s been groomed, that’s been manipulated and coerced and affected by a predator. It’s easy to hear this story or just sort of see the facts laid out in a timeline and think from the outside “I would never let that happen. How could these parents do that? Wasn’t it obvious and why didn’t they call the police earlier? “But to actually be within a friendship or a relationship with someone who is a master manipulator and is grooming, not just Jan as a child, but her parents, his own family, that’s a very different set of circumstances to be making decisions in and to try to show people that this kind of grooming and abuse is imperceptible. It is so small and incremental and over such a long period of time that this is how you go from ‘Everything is totally fine’ to ‘I think things might not be okay, but I can’t put my finger on it’. I don’t totally understand what has changed from before until now, but I also feel like I’m trapped and trying to offer that to audiences was the driving force why we wanted to tell the story in this way.

After portraying an expert in manipulation, who put everyone around him at ease while he carefully plotted the abduction, do you have a new outlook on the world as a parent?

Before working on this and working with Nick and Jan and this cast and the story, I already had a very healthy dose of paranoia surrounding new people in the lives of my children. And I thought ‘Is this overkill? Is this unhealthy? Am I too concerned about this’? And I feel like the answer’s no. I feel like I have the exact right, at least for me, level of concern and awareness and vigilance and paranoia surrounding my kids and their wellbeing. Maybe it’s where I grew up or my own issues or something, but the thing that struck me was that Robert Berchtold had tried this to varying degrees of success with other families and other little girls before finding the Brobergs, including people and girls within this community. And those families, for whatever reason, caught onto it or had a gut feeling and followed that, but what they didn’t do is say anything about it. They felt a certain kind of way about him or his presence in their lives and basically said “We don’t need you around here anymore”, but they didn’t say that to anybody else. They didn’t say it to the authorities, they didn’t say it to the Brobergs, they didn’t say it to other families within the community. 

And to me, that’s the piece that maybe I was hesitant on or would be missing in my own life. In the New York City subway, they always say ‘If you see something, say something’ and I feel like my priority was seeing something and now I’m very much like say something. That part two is saying something about it, to speak up to address this directly, to speak to other people about it. And I think that’s part of what Jan and Nick would like to communicate, saying this can’t live in the shadows, we have to talk about it for the sake of people in the future and for our current health.

Tomorrow, the sci-fi thriller ‘Significant Other’ premieres on Paramount+. The film follows a young couple who take a remote backpacking trip through the Pacific Northwest. Tell us more about what can we expect from this thriller.

It’s a little tricky to talk about. It’s like what kicks off the second act in a way, a surprise. And I don’t wanna take that away from anybody who sees it. But I can say it’s a couple who goes backpacking and I am one half of that couple and Maika Monroe is the other and I’ve taken my girlfriend out into the woods to propose to her and have this romantic weekend and an extraterrestrial being sends that sideways. And then from there you sort of see this intertwining genre movie that’s like thriller and horror and comedy, all tethered around love and healthy or unhealthy obsession and what happens when your love for someone goes from a healthy infatuation to cranked up to 10. 

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Two of the most known roles that you portrayed were Pete on the 9th season of ‘The Office’ and Shane in last year’s ‘The White Lotus’, which earned you an Emmy Award nomination in the category of ‘Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series’. Is the role of Shane the one you would describe as your proudest role in the career so far?

There’s a handful of projects I’ve gotten to work on that are fulfilling because the material is great or fulfilling because the story is close or parallel to something I feel or think or experience. And it’s hard to measure those as proudest to least proud, to rank them in that way. But what I can say is that ‘The White Lotus’ and playing Shane was wildly fulfilling for reasons I’m aware of and probably reasons I’m not. It came in the middle of the pandemic, so none of us had worked for at least six or seven months at that point. And for me, it had been like a year because I was on a show called ‘High Fidelity’ and then we were waiting to hear if that would go again, so I wasn’t available for other TV work. And then that got extended. I’m very fortunate that that’s often not how long I’m going between jobs. So I was coming into it really fresh and excited and enthused about this craft, about this business. And then also the fact that Mike’s a genius. To be surrounded by that cast and to be led by Mike directing it, it continually felt like it was getting better and better and more exciting. I felt like we could completely trust Mike as a director, that his taste, his eye, his perspective, his tone was so spot on. With him it was like “You’re on another level, a level that I’d like to be at, so take me there”. So I don’t know if it’s the proudest, but it’s certainly one of the most fulfilling creatively.

And I’ve never really been on a thing that had a moment like that. ‘The Office’ is a good example, people absolutely love that show. I am recognized as sort of being a piece of that, but I think the show was winding things down by the time I joined on. And I was young and I was such a fan of the show that I felt kind of paralyzed on set creatively, because I had such a reverence for the thing and I didn’t wanna ruin it. It’s always awkward for me personally when people are excited that I was on ‘The Office’, but I didn’t like what I did on there, I don’t feel good about that. Whereas with Shane, I loved making this thing, I felt great about what we did. And I’m so happy that people like it and it’s mutual. 

Acting in different genres, would you say that you prefer any genre above others?

I just like good material, like nuanced, funny material. So I’m equally open to tone and genre and subject and matter. I love goofy, broad, ridiculous comedy when it’s done really well and I love period dramas when that’s done well, both as a viewer and to be a part of. That’s always the thing I’m hunting for, hoping for more than ‘Get me a comedy or I need to find a drama to be a part of’. I also think the best things, things I prefer, have both. That there’s some kind of lack of self-seriousness about the performance while maybe the material is serious or darker or more difficult. Or that the things I laugh the hardest at in a comedy are always being played for keeps, it’s not somebody being goofy, it’s someone that’s a buffoon because they are so wildly dedicated to the thing they want or need.

From which of your roles have you learned the most valuable lesson about life and about yourself?

I think I learned more about myself or my place in the world or life from the working experience than from the material itself. You know, whether it’s an actor who offers some tidbit or just a performance that I get to be witness to and think like ‘I want to do that. I want to go down that road. I want to try to beat that’. I had a small role in a movie called ‘Being the Ricardos’ that Aaron Sorkin wrote and directed and Javier Bardem plays in. And I mean, Nicole Kidman plays Lucille, she’s wonderful. I distinctly remember watching him on set and thinking like obviously I’m a fan from afar watching him on screen, but to be there in person and see what that work is in that process, that’s a thing where you go ‘I want to do that’. The way he carries himself as a human with the cast and the crew and the director is also a thing where you go ‘I would love to be able to offer the thing he offers creatively. And also the thing he offers personally and professionally’. 

So I take more from that than being like ‘This story taught me X, Y, Z’. We just did ‘A Friend of the Family’ and Colin Hanks, who plays Bob Broberg, and I were doing a scene and I didn’t think that was very good. And he told me something Bradley Whitford told him. “You gotta sign that painting and walk away”, which means it’s over, you already shot it, it’s done, leave it alone. Driving home self-obsessing about how that scene went isn’t gonna make that scene any better. And also it’s just a job, it’s over, let it go, go home. I take more from those things being passed down from one actor to another, people who I respect and admire. This is how you make it through this business as a neurotic workaholic, creative individual. This is how you stay sane and healthy and also grateful and engaged. 

Filming is allowing you to travel around the country and around the world for your work. Which location holds the most special place in your heart?

My mom’s mom was born in Hawaii, she’s of Hawaiian and Irish descent and so I had been there a handful of times, also filming. She was born on Moloka’i, which is a smaller island there, and we were filming on Maui. It’s different obviously, but just being there meant a lot, it felt like a little touch of home. 

And then right before I got married, I had a job that was going to film just after I got married. It was like I got the offer and then I’d have to get married and 24 hours later get on a plane and fly to London. And I thought, I don’t know about this. And my manager was like “What if they’ll fly your wife? You can make an impromptu honeymoon out of it”, cause we didn’t have any plans for it. And the production agreed. And so a day and a half after we got married, we drove back to the city and we packed our bags and flew overnight to London and shot there for two weeks and then traveled through Europe. And then my wife went back to the States and I went to Wales to finish shooting. This was before they made the movie ‘Dunkirk’, but we filmed on the bay of Dunkirk in Wales. I just remember filming in London, filming with English crews is very civil in my experience, it’s so lovely. And it was myself and Bill Nighy and Sam Claflin sitting on the seagrass laden sand dunes on the bay of Dunkirk in a 1940s costuming, drinking tea from proper mugs and I thought this is the greatest thing on earth. I’ve not been back since then, but that a moment in time is such a highlight and it made me realize how lucky I am.

As a father to two sons, what is the most important thing that you would like to teach them in life?

I really want them to understand themselves as individuals, to feel the freedom of their own personhood and what they like in this world, what they don’t like in this world and that that can change. And how to attempt to have this delicate balance of autonomy and that balance between following your own path and your own heart and your own mind. And also understanding that you’re part of a community, you’re part of a family, a neighborhood, a town, a culture, humanity. I think we do owe each other something, that we owe each other respect and compassion and generosity. It is possible to look out for yourself and to look out for others. I hope that with some version of that foundation, if I can try to aim for that, that sets them up to have meaningful, purpose filled, fulfilling lives no matter what they choose to do or where to go or who to live with. I hope we can offer them that as best as possible.

Do you already have any new, exciting projects coming up after ‘A Friend of The Family’ and ‘Significant Other’, that you can tell us about?

Well, there’s a couple of things in the works. We’ll see if they come together, timing wise and things like that. But I feel like the year before ‘The White Lotus’ we were in lockdown, either in Brooklyn or at my parents’ house, who were very generous to open their doors to myself and boys and our dog. And then went from that kind of straight to being gone for three months. And then we were in Los Angeles and then we were in Portland and then we were in Atlanta for six months or seven months and then LA for a month. So I am more than happy to be home and maybe have an empty plate for a minute. I’ve always been too much of a workaholic and this is the first time that I’ve thought maybe we’ll just take a moment here to settle in. So I hope these things come together. I hope there’s a little work in the next few months, but I’m alright with just trying to be grateful and present and take a breath.

interview by JANA LETONJA

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