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Interview: Mckenna Grace on Portraying Jan Broberg’s Real-Life Trauma in ‘A Friend of the Family’

Mckenna Grace as Jan in A Friend Of The Family

Mckenna Grace knows that reality can be scarier than fiction — but that doesn’t mean that the actress shies away from telling tough stories.

At 16, Grace is already an accomplished performer. While many of her early roles featured Grace as the younger version of older characters (you may recognize her from her portrayal of Tonya Harding as a child in I, Tonya or as a young Captain Marvel in Captain Marvel, for example), her recent roles show Grace coming into her own. Notably, she received a nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series at last year’s Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards for her performance as Esther in The Handmaid’s Tale

Grace’s latest role feels like a natural next step as she showcases her skill as a young actor. In Showcase’s true-crime limited drama series A Friend of the Family, Grace plays the older version of Jan Broberg — a child who was exploited and kidnapped multiple times by a charismatic and manipulative “family friend” in the 1970s. (Trigger warning: Jan Broberg’s story deals with the sexual abuse of a minor.)

We recently spoke with Grace about the full-circle step of playing the older version of a character, how she tackled the portrayal of a real-life, living person’s harrowing trauma and how she uses her love for her craft to push past her nerves when working with her industry idols.

A Friend of the Family premieres Monday, October 17 at 9 p.m. ET on Showcase.

Mckenna Grace as Jan in A Friend Of The Family

Showcasing one person through the years

After playing the younger version of characters for many years, flipping the coin to take on the older version of a character was a unique experience for the actress — who collaborated with Hendrix Yancey (who plays younger Jan) and Jan Broberg herself to create a nuanced portrayal on screen.

It was really special to finally have a younger version of myself, after playing the younger version of so many people – it was really, really cool,” Grace tells us. “But it was really interesting and cool to be able to figure out the character after Hendrix, who plays Jan in the younger years, had already been shooting for a little bit.”


In addition to spending time with Yancey while they were both in Atlanta for the project — “we’d hang out and I’d try to pick up on the little things that she would do,” Grace explains — she was able to study some of the younger actress’ already-filmed scenes and some of the real-life Jan’s personality and mannerisms. 

“It was a whole mix of myself, and then Hendrix, and then Jan and then scripts — it was really a fun process to figure out,” Grace says. 

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Mckenna Grace as Jan in A Friend Of The Family

When reality is scarier than fiction

While Grace is no stranger to playing chilling roles — in addition to her role in dystopian drama The Handmaid’s Tale, the actress starred in the horror film The Bad Seed as well as its sequel, The Bad Seed Returns (which she co-wrote and executive produced) — she points out that stories don’t have to be fictional to be terrifying.

Can I just say – isn’t it scary to watch something like The Handmaid’s Tale and be like, ‘oh my gosh, this could be our reality,’ but then it is so terrifying to watch something and say ‘oh my god, this is reality,’” she tells us. “This did happen. This could happen to anyone. It’s terrifying to think about — so much scarier than any horror or thriller that you could watch.”

Indeed, Jan Broberg’s real story is so complex and traumatic that it’s hard to imagine even a fiction writer crafting the tale. In both real life and in the limited series, a trusted neighbour, Robert “B” Berchtold (played by Jake Lacy), takes advantage of Jan’s parents’ (portrayed by Anna Paquin and Colin Hanks in the show) trust in order to kidnap and manipulate her. With the stakes so high, Grace felt the importance of playing the role right. 


it is so terrifying to watch something and say ‘oh my god, this is reality’

As Grace shares, “…playing a real-life character – I’ve done it before, but this felt… different. And [it was] much more nervous and [scary] to me, because I wanted to make sure that I did this right by Jan, and that this was true to her. Even though she gave all of us the go-ahead to work and bring who we are to these characters and to act and to play a character — I just really wanted to make sure that I knew as much as I could about her story and about her and about how she was feeling at the time.” 

In addition to having access to Broberg’s old diary entries and letters between her and B from the time, Grace turned to the now-adult Jan (who was a producer on the series) to help bring a greater understanding of the role. “I talked with her all the time,” Grace tells us.

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Pushing past nerves

While Grace is accomplished as a young actress, she’s still human. Despite acting since childhood, she still notes that she has nerves when it comes to new projects.

Oh no, yeah – I’m always anxious, I’m always nervous coming onto projects, because I want to make sure that I’m in an environment and that I’m in a space that I can really give the best performance possible to this production,” Grace tells us. “Whenever I come onto films or shows, I really always make sure that it’s something that I care about. I’m so happy with the projects that I’ve been doing recently, and I care so much about them that I feel horrible if I don’t give the performance that I wanted to, or the performance that I felt like the scene or the show deserved.”

There’s just nothing that makes me happier than acting and being in this industry – so that’s what calms my nerves

“And so I’m always nervous coming onto shows and working with such incredible actors – like Anna and Colin and Jake — they’re amazing,” Grace explains. “So I was terrified.”


Grace’s strategy for working past her nerves is to lean into them, because she truly loves to perform. “[There’s] always that pre-show or pre-whatever-you’re-going-to-do nervousness, but then I get on set and there’s no place that I’m happier than being on set. I have work tomorrow and I cannot wait to go to sleep tonight and wake up and start shooting in the morning,” she tell us. 

“There’s just nothing that makes me happier than acting and being in this industry – so that’s what calms my nerves — just getting onto set and actually doing it and working it out.”

A Friend of the Family premieres Monday, October 17 at 9 p.m. ET on Showcase.

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