It's no secret that the subject matter portrayed in A Friend of a Family is hard to digest — but making the limited series wasn't all bad for the show's all-star cast.
Based on the real-life case featured in the 2017 documentary Abducted in Plain Sight, the newly released Peacock show tells the story of how Jan Broberg was kidnapped twice in her youth by close family friend and neighbor Robert Berchtold. (Berchtold took his own life at age 69 in November 2005.)
Jake Lacy stars as Berchtold, with Mckenna Grace portraying as 14-year-old Broberg and Hendrix Yancey playing the 12-year-old Jan. Colin Hanks, Anna Paquin, Lio Tipton, Austin Stowell, Patrick Fischler, Bree Elrod and Philip Ettinger also star in the series.
According to Grace, 16, her onscreen dad Hanks, 44, actually helped to make the vibes on set feel less tense in between takes.
"Mr. Colin Hanks, who is genuinely, I think, if not my favorite, one of my favorite people that I've ever worked with or gotten the pleasure to know. But he decorated the cast chair area as a tiki bungalow," the actress exclusively tells PEOPLE of Hanks, who underwent a major transformation to portray Bob Broberg. "There was constantly Hawaiian music playing at a low volume. There was a disco ball, there was flags, there was little banners, there was a backdrop to the ocean."
Grace says Hanks "really went all out with this."
"Keep in mind, we were shooting for a very long time," she continues. "It was a really great way to detox in between scenes. It was so smart on his part."
"It was amazing," adds Grace. "One of my favorite memories."
For Lacy, the opportunity to raise awareness of a very scary but real issue ultimately helped him find balance between takes.
"I think for me, the best I can figure is two things. One is, probably out of necessity and somewhat organically, finding a way to switch on and switch off, which normally I feel it's a little more ebb and flow of drifting into a character and filming all day and then gently drifting back out on the drive home and settling back into me by the time we're getting out of the car in the driveway," the 37-year-old White Lotus alum says.
"But this ended up being a bit more like flip the switch, drop into it, go, flip the switch, step back," he continues. "The other piece is that I think the saving grace, for me at least, and I suspect for the production itself, in a lot of ways, was that we all wanted to tell Jan and the Broberg's story in this way to serve their purpose of telling it, which is to get the message out that this still happens. That the sexual abuse of children has not stopped. That the abducting of children has not stopped. And that it's often done by people that the victim knows and trusts and loves and is familiar to the family."
Lacy also explains that it's fulfilling as a performer "knowing that you're making this thing and telling this story as truthfully as you can — even if it feels uncomfortable or is dealing with subject matter that can be difficult — it is actually serving a better purpose and not just your own ego or for a paycheck or to create content, but to actually be involved in something that matters."
"As much as we talk about that in the arts, it's honestly rare that you get to participate in something where you go, 'I think that mattered. It actually mattered,'" he adds. "For the most part [it's], 'I guess people come home and escape to this.'"
Navigating how to portray abuse on screen is particularly tough, especially when it involves a character that's a child. But A Friend of the Familyopts not to showcase the abuse at all, which was something that made Lacy — who shares two sons with wife Lauren Deleo — more comfortable with joining the project.
"Both for the purpose of the narrative, both creatively, and then just as a human, there's no purpose," he says. "And I don't want to create that."
Grace, for her part, believes the crime thriller "did a good job" telling the real-life victim's story while also remaining sensitive to the situation.
"We weren't overly explicit because some things are better left unsaid. I think that we told her story in a tasteful way that I hope that she is proud of," she explains. "I think that a lot of things nowadays are about shock factor or what can we show, but I'm really proud and happy with the way that our production handled everything. I thought that it was quite a very safe environment on set."
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The first four episodes of A Friend of the Family are streaming now on Peacock, with the remaining episodes premiering on Thursdays through Nov. 10.