Lio Tipton gives a riveting performance as Gail Berchtold in the Peacock series A Friend of the Family. Lio plays Robert “B” Berchtold’s wife, who is thrust into his tangled web of lies, manipulation, and grooming. As B nearly destroys the Broberg family after kidnapping Jan Broberg, Gail finds herself in the crossfire of the drama her husband created.
HollywoodLife spoke EXCLUSIVELY with Lio about that gripping conversation between Gail and Bob Broberg in the series, how the actor approached the scene, and the toll of B’s “manipulation” of Gail. Plus, they revealed if we’ll see Gail again as the show jumps forward in time. Read our full Q&A below:
There’s so much to dive into when it comes to Gail. I can’t help but see her as a victim of B’s grooming. It’s different from Jan but obviously very impactful. Talk to me about diving into that the subtleties of manipulation and grooming between B and Gail.
Lio Tipton: When I got to Atlanta, we got there a few weeks early for rehearsals. I think one of the larger surprises was trying to fully wrap my around it as well. Diving into that kind of intensity of what grooming really looked like when, if you look at Gail in the script, because that’s what I really based on my interpretation of the character off of, it’s easy to overlook all of that, all of the possibility that she was groomed, all the possibility that maybe she didn’t actually know what was going on. Through rehearsal and through having to find all these tiny moments of what is she truly doing because that’s how I had to start, from outwards and go in. I had to take what it seemed like, and I actually think probably a lot of the actors had to do this, and take what was the first impression and then take all judgment out of it, which is really difficult to do when it comes to such an intense subject and start pulling out those pieces. I think what really helped me for Gail was the letters that she wrote. We worked with Jan Broberg herself, but we had access to all of this wonderful material and that was vital for me in understanding where Gail was and how Gail was groomed to be dependent on this man, to accept this man, and how I think she was also groomed in a way that forced her to be very cut off from his doings, which I would say, especially in the community at the time in the 70s, it wasn’t unheard of. Women would really stick with women. Men would stick with men. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they have the sisters and brothers, and I think that separation of gender was a big part of the grooming, those gender roles and how they informed those guidelines set up those expectations at the beginning . With Gail, I think B formed a very specific, very convenient relationship in which he could just puppet her.
I feel like he isolated her in very minute ways. There was an isolation tactic that was used to make her even more dependent on him to feel like she had no one else to go to.
Lio Tipton: I was actually talking about it with someone today about the idea that if you abuse something that you have raised to love you and to trust you, then often the situation is that the one abused will want to seek solace. The first person they go to is the one who taught them to trust and who is the one who has always said that they love them most. That is the cycle of abuse in general, feeling like you’re brought up and you’re loved by and celebrated by this one person who only wants the best for you. If that means that they are corrective, or if they use that as a tool to push and pull how they will, but you always come back.
Part of me feels like in this cycle of grooming, gaslighting and manipulation that Gail doesn’t feel that she’s good enough for B. I feel like you see that in the bedroom scene. He makes her feel like she’s not enough.
Lio Tipton: I think another part of marriage in general, thankfully in previous, previous years was widely duties. It was often a woman’s fault when intimacy was like it was here. Gail felt the responsibility of keeping her husband happy. Her life work is making sure their family is happy and healthy and taken care of. Gail, that was her purpose for herself. That was how she found her happiness as well. I think exactly through the manipulation of never quite giving her a compliment or just giving her enough, which was always the give and take with Jake [Lacy] and I working. When we talked to the directors, it was we have to understand that Gail loves B, and we have to see why. There are these moments where he just almost builds her up just so that she’s about to succeed, she’s about to really succeed, and she’s really about to just make him the happiest man. It’s always just shy, and it’s delicate how he does it. And to think of how he really used Gail and Mary Ann’s friendship in this and used them against each other. It was just the webs and layers are insane.
The amount of time and attention to detail B had was genius level. The web he weaved was so intricate. It blows my mind that he was able to manipulate and get away with so much for so long.
Lio Tipton: It’s so complicated for like you and I to look at, but I think it’s amazing to just imagine someone void of having the inability to take anyone else into consideration, any emotion, any emotion, and that makes his web just fascinating. I think that one of the heart-wrenching things is that’s not even a web to him. This was point A to point B and point B to point C and not caring which knots and where things frayed and the explosions that he left in his wake to get to where he wanted.
We have to talk about that Gail and Bob scene, which was such an incredibly intense moment for both of those characters. We see Gail grasping and saying to Bob that he practically threw Jan at B. There’s a lot of deflection there. What is going through Gail’s head when she’s saying these things? Do you think at this point she believes it? Is her mind trying to justify what’s happening?
Lio Tipton: My interpretation of Gail in this, especially at this moment, is that she’s not ignorant. But I think her frustration and her desperation and her anger at the only explanation, the only thing that she can possibly not accept but have any hold on, is what Bob has said. I think in this scene, all I kept thinking about [as Gail] was how honestly B shared this information with me. How genuine it must have been. How delicate, how personal, how heartbreaking, that there wasn’t any anger to be had towards B and being trapped because that was all manipulated out. I play it as if she hated every moment of repeating B. I think that there was pain and anger behind everything that she did to protect her family. I don’t think it was because she was consciously trying to hurt anything. I think that she knew, and she wished she didn’t. At the end of that conversation, she basically blackmails Bob. I haven’t actually yet seen the full edit. I’ve been waiting for the wedding to calm down so my family and I can watch it together. But the one that I saw, I think it was getting across that Gail at this moment was apologizing as she did this. As she said, ‘I know what you did… [she was thinking] that was all B.’ My hope for that scene was for one to realize she does not want any part of this, and she is so sorry. You have to do this, or this has to come out, and please, please don’t make that happen. I don’t want that for you. I don’t want that for your family. I’m telling you, I am so desperate that there has to be something else that we can do because I’m against a wall. There was no spite in it. It was desperation.
That’s exactly how it came across. I felt bad for Gail because she is caught in the middle, and she’s stuck in a hole that she can’t get out of no matter how many times she tries. Just when she thinks she has a leg up, B pushes her right back down. He loves it, too, because she’s having to do a lot of the dirty work for him and have these confrontations that he doesn’t have to have. He further isolates Gail from everyone around her.
Lio Tipton: It’s this idea of it will get better. This is the end. It’ll be fine. I’m sure it won’t go farther, and it just keeps going. I think the writing really allowed and with how the story progresses, you just see her dwindle as a person. It was a lot of careful study of where and when to show what emotion. A lot of my hope for Gail was to say a lot more than what I was saying by the performance. That’s an important aspect to me of abuse, in general, is to really have to listen to someone and their cries for help, signs of abuse can come in the smallest ways, and really listen between the words.
McKenna Grace has stepped into the older version of Jan. Will we see Gail again?
Lio Tipton: We do see Gail again. There is a time jump that happens towards the very end because this happened over the span of so many years. We do know that in the real-life story eventually that they do get a divorce. I’ve read those letters, and it is very startling and sad. She does end up getting divorced and leaving him, although they stayed in contact for I think the rest of his life. She did go on and marry. But honestly, that is all I really know about her later years.