The 2017 documentary Abducted in Plain Sight could easily fall under the categories of horror or psychological thriller. The true crime story is a stranger-than-fiction tale that Stephen King couldn't have conjured up while dreaming and on drugs. The film depicts a monstrous tale of child abuse and the destruction of a suburban religious family by a criminally manipulative neighbor, leaving viewers in collective frustration toward the abuser, the family, the time period and humanity as a whole.
Texas actress Jill Klopp Turner played victim Jan Broberg’s mother, Mary Ann, in the film’s re-enactments and witnessed the film’s production since its inception and through its mega-success on Netflix. She spoke with us via phone from her home in Austin between film auditions.
How did the casting come about for Abducted In Plain Sight?
I was working at a management company with my friend and business partner named Stephanie Tobey, and she and I were working together, and she found this book by Mary Ann Broberg, Jan’s mother, the woman who the documentary is about and, incidentally, the character that I played in the movie. She had written a book called Stolen Innocence, and it was about this story, this thing that happened to their family. And Stephanie read it one day and she just decided, “I’m gonna make this movie,” so she’s a producer in the film. And she and I pretty much throughout our time together, in LA at the time, we basically started as kind of collaborators and accountability buddies, and we would go over each other’s auditions and help each other out. And then our relationship really did morph into this kind of partnership, and I guess it’s been now 12 years since we’ve been working together. So basically everything that I’m involved in, she’s woven into it somehow and vice versa, so when she was casting the movie, she asked me to audition for it. I was thankful and grateful that the director and the other producers felt like I was right for the role too.
Were you involved in the production?
I was kind of like Stephanie’s right-hand woman. I definitely by no means was a producer; I don’t have a producing credit. But I definitely collaborated a lot with them on how to portray the character, mostly because it’s pretty delicate, the whole concept, especially playing one of the parents. Some of the reenactment scenes were actually filmed in my apartment in LA; I had like a super vintage-y, late-’70s-old apartment. So I was definitely involved from the very beginning but more in an all-hands-on-deck way. I helped with a lot of shoots, and Stephanie and I bounced things off each other throughout the whole thing.
What did the audition consist of?
That was basically a reading through some of the questions that were gonna be asked, really just a discussion with Stephanie and the director mainly, so it was really just a discussion about the story in general since it is so strangely delicate. For me that’s what my audition consisted of.
Did you have empathy for your character?
I had lots of empathy for my character. It’s interesting seeing all of the press that this project has gotten, and comments in general, from tons of people I’ve talked to about it. Most people’s first reaction is, “I can’t believe these parents, oh, these parents are so dumb.” And while, yes, I agree that there was definitely a huge level of naiveté that existed within this entire universe, I do definitely have much more empathy for the mother specifically because I kind of got into her world and her mind. I really did, in order to play her and to play her convincingly as a mother who’s in this situation, I had to really dig deep into the Mormon faith and The Church [of Jesus Christ] of Latter-day Saints, one of the cornerstones of their faith. And of course, the time it was, and the atmosphere that they lived in, and how they had from the very beginning all lived in these sheltered, protected lives. Questioning things and second-guessing people just did not exist for these people, did not exist in this family or in this community. So I definitely do not claim to be an expert in this LDS faith, nor do I think that this is a story about that in general, which is why I think the filmmakers did a really good job at not homing in on that fact. But for me, in preparing for this character, I did do quite a bit of digging into what makes this person who she is just as a human being, so I think that was where some of the empathy I had came from.
Did you get to meet the family?
I did not. Stephanie and the director, Skye Borgman, went to their home and interviewed them over several weeks, so I didn’t get to meet any of them.
What did you think when you watched the completed film?
Well, like the rest of the world I was very, I guess, shocked is the first thing that you are after you watch. And, you know, a lot of times what happens to actors when you see the completed project, you really do see every single piece of the puzzle in order, because you don’t shoot scenes in order ever. You know what’s going on in the story, but it’s really incredible the way that they built this story, the twists and turns were just shocking, and all true, so I felt a couple of things for the story itself and for the family itself. I felt heartbreak and I felt shock and I felt, like, disbelief just like everyone else. But as someone involved in the film and personally connected to the people who built it from the ground up, I felt lots of pride and I felt very impressed with the storytelling which took place, and proud to be a part of it.
What is your take on the fact that a story about such horrific child abuse spurred so many memes, as audiences zoomed in on one act, specifically about the father’s involvement with the pedophile?
Well, I haven’t really thought a lot about that. My main focus as far as my involvement and any type of anything in the public as far as promoting this project, definitely my main goal is to make sure that awareness is raised, that people are taking advantage of trusting people who really just want to be loved and accepted, with the fact that one person can actually manipulate an entire family is just absolutely shocking. So I think that part of the story itself is getting so much attention because it was pretty much the tipping point for a lot of people, like at that point in the story, you’ve already been shocked and you’ve already been thinking, “What? How did these parents not stop her from getting on that plane,” and this and that, and by that point in the story you’re just at your wit’s end and it’s just, “Are you kidding me? That’s insane.” So I guess, yes, maybe I understand why that is what people are latching on to, but also who knows why things blow up on the internet the way they do?
Did you have any idea that the movie would become so huge?
No, definitely not. This film has been in the festival circuit for a couple of years. Filming was wrapped in 2016, and then it started on the festival circuit, I think, in mid-2017. And when it was bought by Netflix, that was pretty much, for the filmmakers and for everyone involved, like, “Wow, that’s incredible.” That’s huge, that’s your goal, whenever you make a documentary especially. Really at this day and age getting on Netflix is your goal, so we all thought, “This is great, we’re gonna raise awareness for this issue, yay.” It was this sense of accomplishment, we’re gonna put a bow on this project, so the fact that it has gotten so much attention, I definitely was not expecting it.
Do you have any idea how the family feels about the attention the story has received?
I only know what I’ve spoken to Stephanie about, and I know that they are pleased that Jan’s story is being told, and that it was told in such a respectful and responsible way because, as you can see when you watch, they’re freely giving this information and they want this story to be told because they want others to learn from it. They want to shine a light on this issue, not only the child abuse but the entire concept of manipulation, so I know that they’re pleased with the way that the story turned out and that they fully support the filmmakers to take it and run with it in order to continue making the story known.
What feedback have you gotten from your friends after watching it?
It’s interesting; there’s two camps. There are people that are like “I cannot believe this, I cannot believe that the parents are so stupid, how did you even play that character? How did you even wrap your brain around that?” A lot of disbelief and shock about it, and then of course people just immediately saying the story was unbelievable, a lot of people ask me if it was all true, which I thought was interesting ’cause you’re like “Yeah, it’s a documentary,” but it is so insane that you think no, that had to have been embellished, it had to have been movie magic. A lot of people asked me if all that really happened. And then I have a large handful of friends that said, “I’m not gonna watch it,” because they’re afraid, and I find that interesting too, because I get it. What I’ve kind of noticed about the media coverage and the articles that have been written and the tweets is that I feel like because the story is so shocking in that there are so many unbelievable elements to it, that it is scaring some people out of watching it. Some people are saying, “I have kids, I’m not gonna watch.” And I understand because the way that it’s being reacted to, I would feel the same way, that maybe popping it on Netflix and reading the synopsis you would go, “Oh, this sounds crazy, this might be hard to watch,” but then you’ll push play anyway, but there really are a lot of people who have been scared by the media and won’t watch it because of that.
What do you say to those people?
I say that it is a very compelling story with many disturbing elements to it, and if you are somebody who is easily disturbed, especially by psychological manipulation, then you shouldn’t watch it, because it’s not easy to watch. It’s horrifying what happened to this girl and this family.
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But do you think people need to know the truth of what lurks out there?
Of course, that’s how I feel, that’s why I encourage people to watch it, but I’m not trying to force somebody to do something that’s gonna make them live in fear. One of my friends said, “My biggest fear is somebody kidnapping my child,” and I told her then she should watch it, because this story is about — it’s not a kidnapping, it is a complete psychological manipulation of an entire family, a true abduction and brainwashing of a young girl several times throughout her life and how she has come out on the other side as a really strong and passionate person, who has really raised so much awareness through her story.
What about casting agents? Is this something they ask you about a lot?
Well, since it’s come out mid-January, I have had a lot more auditions than I usually have. That might be because it’s pilot season as well. I usually have a lot of auditions in January and February, but I did find it interesting that two of the projects that I auditioned for were pilots, and both of them were fictionalized true crime stories.
What’s the one thing you’ve done in your acting career that you’re most proud of?
I think that my favorite thing that I’ve ever done was a live comedy series in LA called Chico’s Angels and it was a spoof on Charlie’s Angels, but the leads are three Latina drag queens and it was really slapstick and really campy, and it was put on in the basement of a Mexican restaurant in Silver Lake, and I played five different roles and that’s probably the most fun thing I’ve ever done.
Have you seen any difference in the casting business since the Weinstein scandals?
I definitely see all of the people who have spoken out, now it’s almost like this huge curtain just got drawn back, there’s no hiding anymore, which I’m really proud of and grateful for as a woman in the industry. A difference I would say yes, in the amount of women that are writing episodes of television shows and women that are directing and producing. For instance — and this also might have to do with my age — but before the Weinstein scandal, a lot of roles for women were pretty one-note, like, you’re the girlfriend or you’re the best friend or the mom or whatever, and I really have seen so many more complex, vibrant female characters and I’m grateful for that. The past three or four years have been a lot more fun in terms of projects.