Movies & TV Shows

A Friend of the Family Post-Finale Interview: Mckenna Grace

After six harrowing weeks, Peacock’s A Friend of the Family is coming to a close in epic fashion. Chronicling the same events as Abducted in Plain Sight before it, the true-crime series tells the story of the Broberg family in the ’70s as they become the target of serial child abductor Robert Berchtold, who primarily set his sights on their eldest child, Jan, and attempts to kidnap her multiple times over the years.


Jake Lacy leads the cast of A Friend of the Family alongside Anna Paquin, Colin Hanks, Lio Tipton, Mckenna Grace, Hendrix Yancey, Mila Harris, Maggie Sonnier, Elle Lisic, Norah Murphy, and Austin Stowell. Though no stranger to darker subjects, Grace continues her rise to stardom with a powerful performance as the young girl at the heart of the story.

SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY

Related: A Friend Of The Family Cast & Character Guide

In honor of the show’s finale, Screen Rant spoke exclusively with star Mckenna Grace to discuss A Friend of the Family, her initial concerns to play a real person, her love of working with the real Jan Broberg, what she learned while working on the show, her hopes to reunite with Mike Flanagan, and more.


Mckenna Grace on A Friend of the Family

Mckenna Grace in A Friend of the Family

Screen Rant: A Friend of the Family remained phenomenal from start to finish. What has it been like to see the positive response from critics and audiences alike?

Mckenna Grace: It’s been really, really special. This is one of the things that I’m most proud of in my career right now. Making it, I knew that I was just really proud of it, and happy with the work that I was getting to do, and so grateful to be able to work with the actors I was working with, and the wigs, and the costumes, and everything was so cool. To be able to see it in its entirety has been so special, but then to know that everybody else is watching it too, has been just such a cool feeling. It’s something that, I watch this show, and I am excited to tell people to watch it. It’s just so cool and special, and I’m honored to have been a part of the show, it’s amazing that it’s finally out.

Now I remember the last time we spoke for it, you had mentioned that there was a part of you that was a little nervous about tackling the show. Could you speak a little more to that? What about the role and the show really had you initially kind of hesitant to take it on?

Mckenna Grace: I don’t think there was a hesitancy, per se, the only thing that would have made me hesitant to accept the role was if Jan wasn’t involved. As it turns out, she was heavily involved, and I could message her, and call her anytime I had questions, so that was an amazing experience. But I think that in taking on heavy roles like this, especially with the true crime, real life genre, that’s especially scary, because you’re telling someone’s story, and you’re playing real people, and you just want to make sure that you do it right. And then heavy roles are always a little scary to take on, because there’s so much to be said with them, and there’s so much heavy subject material that you’re going to have to tackle. So, there’s a lot of things that go into it, but overall, I’ve been really honored to have been a part of the process of telling the story.

Since you mentioned getting to have so much interaction with the real-life Jan, what were some of your biggest goals and your biggest talking points when you would speak with her to really help make sure you were encapsulating who she was at that time?

Mckenna Grace: It was questions that would come up on the day, but most of the time, I would just tell her, “Tell me anything and everything that you think I should know. Anything that you want to tell me, any habits or things that you’d do whenever you were this age, going through this, and just tell me all the stories and things that you think I should know, in order to play you.”

I was really just open to hearing anything and everything that she wanted to tell me, because I didn’t want to ask the wrong questions, but as time went on, I learned that there was no wrong questions with Jan. But I just wanted to know what she felt was important. I would always make sure to tell her, “If you read the script, or if I ever do anything, and you’re watching this, and you feel like I’ve done something, not right, or if there’s anything that I can do or shouldn’t do, please always help me.”

Jake Lacy and Mckenna Grace in A Friend of the Family

Was there any one scene you feel like you went to her the most to really dive into her mind and know what she would want from the scene, as much as what you would want from that scene?

Mckenna Grace: There’s not one that I distinctly remember, but I do remember in episode 9, the last time I go see B, I’m wearing an orange dress. I remember messaging her, because we had recreated that dress from a picture of her from whenever she was that age, and I remember sending her pictures side-by-side of me versus her, and she gave me a whole story of why that dress was important to her, and that was so cool.

I love that you got to recreate that for her, as well as create your own special memory for that. Now, since you do mention B, I do really like the way that you and Jake Lacy work off of each other throughout the scenes that you have. What was it like developing that rapport and that dynamic with him both prior to and during filming?

Mckenna Grace: Mr. Jake is one of my favorite people I’ve ever worked with. It was such an interesting experience, because in my scenes with him, I could not come in to see him and have a certain way that I wanted it to go, there was a certain way that I knew set in stone how I wanted to say my lines, because everything that I did depended on what he was given me.

I was basically just there to react off of whatever he was saying, or whatever he was giving me, because that’s what Jan’s life was at the time, was hanging on his every word, hoping to hear something from him, or if he’s happy or sad, or can I do this. So, for her, her life was hanging on his words, and depending on him, so in my scenes, that was really what I had to play with, with whatever he was giving me. If he changes the inflection of his voice, then it might change the entire course of the scene from my perspective.

So, it was really interesting and fun getting to develop that with Mr. Jake over a couple of months, because as the episodes go on, their relationship just continues to get more and more complicated and strange. So, it was cool to be able to portray such a complicated and dark relationship, I’m glad that I got to do it with Mr. Jake, because he’s really lovely.

Mckenna Grace and Jake Lacy in A Friend of the Family

I love the way the school dance in the finale starts to break down Jan’s walls of realizing what all has been going on with B, especially as a lot of it is done through just your face in those moments. What is that like for you to find the perfect way to embody Jan’s shifting emotions without words?

Mckenna Grace: It was a lot of thinking of what would I be thinking or feeling in this moment. Because waking up in that bed after she was convinced that that was the end of the road for her, and she was gone, it’s definitely not an immediate, “Oh my God, everything is a lie.” It’s more like, “Why am I alive? Are the aliens still watching me? Does this mean I’m pregnant? Does this mean I’m dead? Was that a dream? What’s going on?” At least, that’s what was going through my mind, so it was a matter of talking to Miss Jan, but also thinking what would I be feeling in this moment.

I think that it was a lot of very small deliberate decisions that all kind of led up to the dance, and the dance is kind of the final straw, the entire Jenga tower tumbling over. There was just a lot of really tiny, small decisions that had to go into each scene leading up to the dance, and the coming scene afterwards, because it was a very gradual thing for Ms. Jan. Whenever your entire life is based on this lie, and that’s what you base your entire life on, and that’s what you believe your entire life, it’s not going to be an immediate, “Oh, well, it was all a lie.” It was just so complicated to figure out, but I’m so honored to have been able to do so.

As an actor, I can only imagine the layers of exhaustion that must have taken on you as you had to that depth across multiple takes. What was it like filming that scene on that day for you, did it require a lot of takes, did you feel that you got it pretty quickly?

Mckenna Grace: I would say that I’ve never shot anything, or done a scene, like that before. So, that was a very new experience for me, emitting that kind of emotion on screen, and even now, I look back, and I’m like, “I feel like I could have done it so much better.” It stresses me out, because I hope that I did Ms. Jan right, and I hope that she likes the performance, and I hope that it feels right to her, and not performative. So, it always stresses me out, especially watching very emotional scenes like that, because as I grow as a person and an actor, I always know, and I feel, that I could do things so much better.

But that was my first experience and time trying to emit that kind of emotion on screen, and since then, I still have had more surprisingly breakdown scenes, and very complicated emotional characters, but that was really a first for me. So, it was a big learning experience, that day in particular, and also figuring out the scene where Jan tells her parents what has happened to her was a massive learning experience in acting for me on this show.

I feel like I’ve learned so much, and I look back, and I’m like, “Well, I could have done a lot of things a lot better if I only would have known what it took to get this kind of performance and emotion out of me, I feel like I can do better now,” and then a year from now, I’ll look back and be like, “Oh, I think I could have done that better.” So, it’s a constant learning process, and constant evolving, but it’s a very new experience for me, and we shot that scene for a good while.

I don’t remember what scene we shot afterwards, but we still had a scene to shoot after that breakdown scene, and it was more light upbeat, which was kind of funny to switch so quickly in tones, but I guess my main thing to say about that scene is that I hope that I did Ms. Jan right, because in my heart, I feel like I could have done better, but I hope that I did Ms. Jan right, that is my only main concern, in regards to any of my performance. Whether people like it or hate it, I just hope that Miss Jan is okay with it.

Jan Broberg in A Friend of the Family

With as involved as she was in the show, I’m sure she wouldn’t have taken casting lightly. Speaking of Jan, I love that she herself makes an appearance in the final episode as the family therapist. Did you get to see that come to fruition, and what was it like when you learned that was going to be happening?

Mckenna Grace: I didn’t know until a couple of days before that she was going to be playing the therapist, and I was just so excited. She came in that week, and that was the same week that we were shooting the dance, so she got to see us do the dance, which was amazing. Then, we also got to be in that scene together, where she was her own therapist, and it was really special and nerve wracking to do a scene with her.

Especially a scene like that, where I’m talking about her family to her, that was really crazy, but it was really special to have her on set, to be there and give me advice, because then not only am I looking to the director, but more, so I’m looking to Jan, and I’m like, “Well, does that feel right?” She would tell me, and she’d be like, “That sounds exactly like I would have said it,” And that was magical for me to be able to have her there.

Mckenna Grace Ghostbusters Afterlife

I know you mentioned that you hadn’t heard any updates on Ghostbusters yet, and that you were pressuring Jason Reitman all the time for new tidbits. But I also read recently that Ernie Hudson had gotten a version of the script. Have you been able to hear or learn a little more about the next film?

Mckenna Grace: I’m always so stressed out talking about Ghostbusters, or any large film like that. I feel like I’ll say something, and then people [in charge] will go crazy. [Chuckles] So, my lips are completely sealed. I won’t even say if I know anything or not, because I don’t know. I have to keep my lips sealed, and I don’t want Jason to come after me. [Laughs]

I’m also a big horror genre fan, and I’ve loved seeing you work with James Wan and Mike Flanagan on so many great projects. Even though Hill House ended on a pretty definitive note, it always feels like there’s room for certain characters to have more stories told. Between Theo, Madison and Judy, is there any one character you would love to revisit at some point in the future?

Mckenna Grace: I loved all of those. It was very cool to play Madison, and playing young Theo was magic. I literally just saw an article that said that Theo should have her own spin off series, and I sent it to Miss Kate, who played older Theo, and I was like, “Let’s do it!” I would love to work with Mr. Mike Flanagan again. I just saw him recently, I thought that he’s brilliant, and I loved doing that show. I feel like I’d love to revisit the field. But Judy was so much fun, it’s The Conjuring and Annabelle. If they’d have me back, I would be ecstatic.

About A Friend of the Family

Jake Lacy Mckenna Grace A Friend of the Family

A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY is based on the harrowing true story of the Broberg family, whose daughter Jan was kidnapped multiple times over a period of years by a charismatic, obsessed family “friend.” The Brobergs — devoted to their faith, family, and community — were utterly unprepared for the sophisticated tactics their neighbor used to exploit their vulnerabilities, drive them apart, and turn their daughter against them. This is the story of how their lives were permanently altered — and how they survived.

Check out our previous Friend of the Family interviews with:


Next: A Friend Of The Family: What Happened To Kidnapper Robert Berchtold

A Friend of the Family is now streaming in its entirety on Peacock.

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