[Interview] ‘Maniac’ Star Jan Broberg On Being Abducted And Brainwashed As A Child

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IFC’s remarkable Maniac, arrives on VOD platforms tomorrow, June 21st (Brad’s rave review here). Yesterday I spoke with Jan Broberg, who plays Nora Arnezeder’s sardonic agent in the film. It was an especially interesting conversation because we got on the topic of Broberg’s childhood, and how she was kidnapped twice (for months at a time) between the ages of 12 and 14. It’s a harrowing tale that I assume is relayed in greater detail in her mother’s book, Stolen Innocence, but this conversation was the first time I had been exposed to it.

In the slasher redo, “Frank (Elijah Wood) is the withdrawn owner of a mannequin store, but his life changes when young artist Anna appears asking for his help with her new exhibition. As their friendship develops and Frank’s obsession escalates and the number of victims increases, it becomes clear that Frank is far more dangerous than he seems. With a pulsating electronic score by Rob, the film is an intimate, visually daring, psychologically complex and profoundly horrific trip into the downward spiraling nightmare of a killer and his victims.“. Elijah Wood, Nora Arnezeder, Genevieve Alexandra, America Olivo, Morgane Slemp, Sal Landi, Dan Hunter, Freedom, Délé Ogundiran, Steffinnie Phrommany, Joshua De La Garza also star in the feature directed by Franck Khalfoun.

Check out her story below. As you can tell by the fact that she’s able to approach material like Maniac, Broberg is quite resilient.

I really liked the movie, but tell our readers who haven’t seen it a little bit about your character.

Rita is the agent of the main girl [Nora Arnezeder], who is an artist, and she kind of has this snarky and pretentious layer to her. However, if you start just playing those stereotypes the character is less interesting so I think she has a backstory with some pain that [feeds that]. She’s a very complex character who is covering up and making fun of this artwork and the goofiness of the mannequins.

The fact that she comments on the mannequins like that sort of makes her an identification point for the audience, who might be creeped out by them too.

Exactly. She is a character other people can relate to because there is something creepy about body parts arranged in rows of arms, legs and heads. The art in that is very odd and unique. And representing a woman who does that without telling her that she feels that way is another thing that she’s hiding. It’s another reason why I really loved her, I always think that people who are snarky and make fun of other people have something that they’re hiding.

From what I’ve read you’ve got an interesting past that might make this role even more difficult. You were abducted twice as a child.

Yes, I was. This family had moved into my area when I was ten, and within two years the father – a married guy with five kids of his own – had befriended essentially our whole family. He became my father’s best friend and his wife was best friends with my mom. We had gone on vacations, boating trips and barbecues.

They befriended us like no family had ever done, but he was plotting and planning this crime. He picked me up from a piano lesson when I was 12 and drugged me. I woke up literally strapped by my wrists and my ankles to the bed of a motor home. I woke up to a high pitched monotone voice, I thought I had been kidnapped by aliens. This is in 1974, so earlier he had taken me to see all of the alien movies that were popular, he was grooming me to think this.

I was instructed of everything I was to do, including treating him as a male companion. But I didn’t see him for several days, I was kept to the bed, drugged. I would wake up periodically and a voice would come over through the [intercom] telling me to go to the bathroom or get something to eat. I never saw him. It was about three days in when the voices instructed me to open the door and find the male companion, and when I opened the door – there he was. He was all cut and bloody. I was bawling and screaming and trying to wake him up, telling him we had a mission and I needed to find the male companion. I didn’t know what “male companion” meant, but the way – I was way pre-puberty, I didn’t turn into a woman until I was 17.

The FBI found me about 5 weeks later, I was brought home. He pled insanity and went to an institution for 8 months – and all through that 8 months I still thought the aliens were real. I still thought they were watching me. I did everything I had been instructed to do. He was still in touch with me through letters at school telling me I had to be at certain phone booths at certain times and it would either be him on the other line or one of the alien voices.

My mother took my 900 page FBI file and we started writing this book as a therapeutic experience. But during this he had even rigged my bedroom at home with one of these boxes so he could call as the alien voice when he was in the institution. It was a really planned out, elaborate crime.

It’s unfathomable. You sound remarkably normal right now.

I had a happy, normal childhood up until that point, 12 really happy years, which helped. This man also had my father’s business burned to the ground. He paid 2 arsonists to send the whole thing up in flames. It’s remarkable my parents survived all of this because the second time he kidnapped me I was gone for 4 months.

And I didn’t know the whole alien brainwashing thing was real until my 16th birthday. I had a whole list of rules to follow and I started testing them. I broke one of the rules. The crux of my brainwashing was that I was half alien and half human and I was supposed to have a child to save this dying alien planet. I was protecting my younger sister, because if I couldn’t have a child to save this dying alien planet, then they would take her.

That certainly exploits the lack of boundaries most children have. Everyone wants to help out, but kids aren’t equipped to draw the line between helping others and taking care of themselves.

You’re right. And if I talked to boys at school, then something would happen to my father. I was only supposed to be with the male companion, who was sexually abusing me even though I was still way pre-puberty. But I was half alien, so I didn’t live by the same laws and rules. I was also the oldest child in my family so I didn’t have the advantage of an older sibling to [contrast the experience with].

It’s amazing how you can control someone’s mind when you control all of the information they have. When they eat, when they go to the bathroom… they’re strapped to a bed. You can brainwash them within a very short period of time.

I still have more work to do.

Of course it’s an ongoing process. I can imagine coming out of an experience like that and never wanting to even see a violent movie. But you have a pretty intense, brutal death in this film. You mentioned drawing on your past to play that character as a whole, but when it comes to something like that scene, do you just have to divorce yourself from it and be in the moment?

For me, you do just have to be in the moment. But I have a whole body full of past moments in my life that allow me to go to a very deep, very dark, very lonely place – I feel like I have a lot to add to a character going through such a torturous experience. The moans and the screams that come out of me are coming from a real place.

I think because I was a stage actress and had been on stage for 6 years before I was kidnapped, that was the only therapy I really had. Because I never told a soul until I was 16 years old [about the alien belief] until I was sure it wasn’t true because as I was approaching my 16th birthday I began to know that I was not pregnant with an alien child. At one point, to protect my sister, I had decided that I would kill her and then myself if she didn’t want to go. But before I did that I had to make sure this was real, and that’s when I started breaking some of the rules. And when I did start breaking them, my father didn’t end up dead – there were all sorts of rules that had terrible outcomes for members of my family. For my middle sister, I was told she would go blind. Things would happen to my mother.

And when that stuff didn’t happen, I realized it wasn’t real. I was alone in this for 4 years as a child. I have felt the feeling of, “please don’t kill me” before. I know what that feels like, so it comes out.

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  • j.c

    The movie sounds great…but damn… her real life experience sounds just as terrifying. Much respect to her for coming thru as well as she has.

  • WalkWithMeInDarkness

    Completely agree. Major props to her for overcoming such a dark history. And the movie is fucking fantastic!