Mckenna Grace On Playing Jan Broberg In Peacock's A Friend Of The Family - Exclusive Interview

At 16, Mckenna Grace has already had the kind of career most of us could only dream about. Having starred in everything from "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" to "Young Sheldon" to "The Handmaid's Tale," Grace has worked in just about every genre at this point. Now, she's back on our screens in Peacock's "A Friend of the Family," a true crime drama based on a horrifying real-life abduction.

"A Friend of the Family" tells the real-life story of Jan Broberg, who was abducted by a family friend on two separate occasions. Grace portrays Broberg as a young adult throughout the second abduction, which happened when she was just 14 years old. The real Broberg serves as a producer on the series, meaning that it's an accurate — and never sensationalized — portrayal of what really happened to Broberg and her family. 

The List sat down with Mckenna Grace to talk about her role in "A Friend of the Family" and how it compares to "The Handmaid's Tale."

On bringing Jan Broberg's abduction to life

You play Jan Broberg as a teenager in the series. Was it difficult portraying this character who's based on a real person and telling their story?

It was very [difficult]. That was probably the most challenging part of the role. It was scary to play a real person. It's so important that Jan [Broberg] was such a big part of our show, which was amazing, and it was great to be able to talk to her. She was always open and honest with me and everyone on set, and that meant a lot. That was one of the most important parts of playing her — to make sure that she was okay with what I was doing, and with the scripts and what was going on in the show. She was so amazing and helpful and cooperative.

It feels like such a respectful portrayal because you have worked closely with the real Jan Broberg. You're not exploiting someone's story; you're helping to tell it. That really comes across.

That was the most important part for me in my first meeting about the show. My question was, "Is Jan involved in this? How involved are Jan and her family?" Because I don't want to be telling her story for the sake of it. I want to make sure that we're telling it how she would've wanted.

You get to work quite closely with Colin Hanks and Anna Paquin, as they play your parents. What was that like?

They are wonderful. It was so fun to be able to work with them. It was cool working with Anna because she was a child actor and one of the youngest Academy Award winners. It's not every day that I get to work with people who were child actors, especially not female child actors who have had such successful careers like she has. I don't know many other people like that. Being a child actor myself, it's really cool to hear what it was like for her and have her give me advice.

Colin Hanks — I told him that I was going to say this the last day when I wrapped. I was like, "Mr. Colin, I'm going to be saying in this press that you are genuinely one of my favorite people I've ever worked with. You are so cool." I adore him. He is so talented and nice and funny, and he's genuinely one of my favorite people I've ever met or worked with. I love him.

Comparing The Handmaid's Tale with A Friend of the Family

I love you so much as Esther in "The Handmaid's Tale," and in the new season, you have quite an exciting role. Both shows are about women who were coerced and had to find their own voice. What was it like going between those two shows?

It was very different because they're two very different characters, and it was definitely very different telling Jan's real story. But "Handmaid's" and "A Friend of the Family" are probably two of my favorite things I've ever done. I love being a part of them both because they're such important stories to tell, and it's important to get this out there. I'm honored.

We shot "A Friend of the Family" over the summer, so I turned 16 on set. On "Handmaid's," I've been doing it since I was 13 or 14, and that's so important to me. It's an honor to be able to play these characters and tell these deeply important stories being the actual age of the character. It's convenient for productions and whatnot to hire 18 to play younger because of working hours but also so that people aren't uncomfortable with it.

If you're watching scenes that I'm in and you are uncomfortable with the scene and you're like, "Oh, why do they have a young girl doing something?" ... On set, it is such a safe environment. You have an intimacy coordinator and a counselor and all sorts of people looking out for you. If I'm uncomfortable with something, I always make sure that I say, and I never have been afraid to [speak up].

But if we're actually uncomfortable with scenes that we're watching in TV shows, why aren't we doing something for the young women who are going through this [in real life]? I'm just happy to be a part of this and to be able to play characters that are so important.

The first four episodes of "A Friend of the Family" premiere on Peacock on Thursday, October 6. The remaining five episodes will drop weekly on Thursdays through November 10.

This interview was edited for clarity.