Jan Broberg is telling her story again, with hope that this time, she’ll be able to help others. In 2017, she was the subject of Netflix’s documentary “Abducted In Plain Sight,” which told the story of how she was abducted twice in the 70s — first at age 12, and again at 14 — by Bob “B” Berchtold, a close family friend. At the time, he brought her to Mexico and brainwashed her into believing that she had been kidnapped by aliens and had to have sex with him in order to save her family.
Her parents, Bob and Mary Ann Broberg, also had sexual experiences with “B,” as they were both groomed as well. (For clarity, Variety will refer to the Brobergs by their first names.)
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Now, at 60, Jan serves as a producer on Peacock’s “A Friend of the Family,” a nine-episode drama based on her experiences. While she wasn’t expecting the public’s criticism of her family that came after the documentary, now, she feels ready.
“I’m definitely more prepared this time, because I was completely blindsided at that point,” Jan tells Variety. “We know if people start talking about things that actually matter like this, it will make a difference. So whether they are talking smack about my parents, they’re talking. Whether they’re talking about, ‘That dumb Jan Broberg, how stupid could she be to think she was kidnapped by aliens?’ I don’t care anymore. I want them to talk because, to me, that moves the needle closer to prevention, closer to awareness and closer to what I hope to stand for, which is hope that you can heal from trauma.”
That said, it was still traumatic to relive it all for the new show; one of the most difficult parts to watch was seeing the moment Jan (played by Hendrix Yancey and later, Mckenna Grace) woke up after Berchtold abducted and drugged her — “the day that my entire childhood changed when I woke up in the back of that motorhome with my wrists and ankles strapped to a bed,” Jan recalls, becoming emotional.
Each time she’d screened the episodes, she had to stop it at that point. Recently, at a group screening, she watched it in full while sitting between showrunner Nick Antosca and her son. “At that moment, they both kind of put their hands over on my arms because it’s the hardest part for me to watch because I had the most beautiful childhood. I was so loved unconditionally, and I have such wonderful memories, even of our time as friends with the Berchtolds. We had such wonderful times together until that moment changed everything.”
That scene was also difficult for Antosca to create, making sure that, first and foremost, Yancey, 11, was safe and comfortable.
“You’re asking a very young actress to go to a really intense emotional place. So I was very scared by getting that right, giving her what she needed to do her best work but protecting her,” he says. “The other really intense moment was early on, from the very genesis of this project, we had known that we weren’t going to depict sexual abuse on screen, because this series is about what people didn’t see, how they didn’t see and how it happened despite everybody who is there. The closest that we come to a moment like that is in a flashback. It’s all implied, but there’s just a moment. We shot it without the kid actor present but there’s just a hint of a memory, a POV flashback. It’s not explicit at all, but it’s just an out of focus, unnerving just a hint of a suggestion. I was shooting that with Lauren Wolkstein who’s directing the finale, and even though there’s nothing shown on screen, Lauren and I both stepped out and I was shaking.”
It was also incredibly challenging for Jan to watch the scene between her father and Berchtold, during which Berchtold convinces Bob to perform a sexual act on him.
“That’s hard for me. My dad is the best person I’ve ever known in my entire life, for real, and I bet the majority of all of my cousins, family members and friends would say the same thing. He was just an extraordinarily happy, positive, spiritual, really good person,” she says. “That he carried that shame from being psychologically led down that road… it’s like if anybody’s ever been conned into just buying something that they really realized later they didn’t want they couldn’t say no, it’s like that sort of thing. He carried that through his whole life, and I tried many times to say, ‘Dad, Berchtold could make you feel like a 15-year-old. You know, boys do what boys do,’ Or whatever! I tried. There were times I really tried, but I don’t think he ever forgave himself. That’s hard for me too because he was such a great man, and that was difficult for me, my sisters, all of our family.”
While filming, Broberg had the opportunity to meet Jake Lacy, who portrays Berchtold. Although she was not involved in final casting decisions, she had spoken at length to Antosca about the kind of man Berchtold was and how important it was that he was believable as a kind man and father.
“When I met Jake the first time, I was so nervous, because I knew he was perfect. He was so nervous because of the party he was playing. Here I am, the real little girl all grown up,” she says. “We are now such dear friends. I have seen him; he is truly a charismatic, generous, kind, wonderful father in his real life. He had the ability to flip that switch as the phenomenal actor that he is. That was really a privilege and to get to know him has just been amazing. “
Ultimately, while Jan was initially worried about how the story would be handled, she was pleasantly surprised.
“I want the end of my life to be about that advocacy: that there’s hope that you can heal. Trauma is a scratch on your record that’s going to be there forever, but you get to choose how to lift the needle, you get to find the therapist, you get to find the medications, the storytelling — whatever you need to heal and to have a happy life. It’s possible,” she says. “I felt nervous, because I didn’t know in the beginning when we were talking and I wanted to believe that they would care about my story and my family members but you don’t know for sure. It’s Hollywood. You hear the horror stories. I have been so cared for and our story is so well done.”
The first four episodes of “A Friend of the Family” premiere on Thursday, Oct. 6 on Peacock. The remaining five episodes will drop weekly on Thursdays through Nov. 10.
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