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The teenage years are never simple. There are the hormones, the ridiculous high school hierarchy, the peer pressure, the homework, and in Jacob Barber’s case, the murder accusation. Okay, so Jacob isn’t a normal teenager. But until recently, his parents thought he was.

In Defending Jacob (now streaming on Apple TV+), the 14-year-old title character (Jaeden Martell) goes from homeroom to a jail cell when a classmate turns up dead and he’s suspected of the murder. Based on William Landay’s best-selling 2012 novel, the Massachusetts-set limited series stars Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery as Jacob’s parents — his defenders, if you will. But when their son becomes the biggest news story in town, their seemingly normal existence is thrown into a blender of accusations, rumors, and curious stares.

“Their lives are completely turned upside down,” Dockery, best known for her six-season run on Downton Abbey, tells EW. “The show asks how far you would go for your family.”

Although the mystery at the center of Defending Jacob is strung together with the kind of precision reserved for the best dramas on television today, it’s less of a whodunit than it might seem on the surface. This thriller is just as much about the toll such an accusation can take on a family, and what happens when parents start to doubt their own child’s innocence. “Laurie goes through so many different emotions, and the guilt was something that was there in the text,” Dockery says. “Something that was very important to portray is the guilt that you feel as a parent in any situation, but particularly this. ‘Why are we in this situation? Where did it go wrong?'”

Over the course of eight episodes, as the Barber family is put through the wringer, Laurie and Andy will learn just as much about each other as they will about their son, because Jacob’s not the only one with secrets.

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Chris Evans may have played superhero Captain America on-screen, but he admits that a real acting challenge for him has been playing a parent.

Defending Jacob follows the Barber family and what happens when their only child, Jacob (Jaedan Martell) is arrested on charges of killing a fellow classmate.

Jacob’s father Andy, played by Evans, happens to be the district attorney, which causes an extreme moral conflict for Andy as he tries to support his son while not really sure of the boy’s exact involvement in the crime.

Downton Abbey alum Michelle Dockery plays Jacob’s mother, who struggles to understand just how to help her son, and suffers social ostracism because of her parental actions.

Dockery says that she signed on to play the maternal figure in Defending Jacob for reasons similar to Evans. “What I was drawn to is really tapping into how you would react as a parent and what lengths you would go to to protect your child. And I’d never really read anything like this before. I was just so instantly drawn to the project. She’s very different from any other character that I’ve played.”

She added with a slight smirk, “You know, I like doing accents, so I liked playing another American.”

Morten Tyldum, executive producer and director of the series, says that assembling the family was key to the success of the series. “One of the things we were worried about is did we really believe in and care for this family? The heart of this story is about a family who’s experienced this extraordinary situation, this nightmare, this thing that both tears them apart and pulls them together in some way. You need to believe 100 percent that this is a family.”

To that end, Dockery says, “I felt like it was very easy for us to become a family on set. We all had a really lovely time together in spite of the intensity of the subject matter.”

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A good thriller keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. A great thriller keeps viewers on the edge of their seats even when they know what’s coming. Just ask Defending Jacob star Michelle Dockery, who watched all eight episodes of the limited series — based on the 2012 William Landay bestseller — after filming. “I kept holding my breath!” she says. “Watching a thriller like that is what we [as viewers] love. That [intense] feeling you have as the story unravels.”

For the Barber family, unimaginable problems pile up quickly. Happy suburban couple Laurie (Dockery) and Andy (The Avengers’ Chris Evans) are blindsided when their mild-mannered teen son, Jacob (Jaeden Martell, Masters of Sex), is accused of stabbing a classmate to death. Immediately, the Barbers’ close-knit community turns on them. “The way it’s portrayed, it’s very real,” Dockery promises. She lets us in on more neighborhood secrets.

How faithful is the series to the book?

Michelle Dockery: What’s great about this story is there are so many twists and turns, and the TV version is very similar. And there are some added twists and turns, certainly. So you never know quite which way it’s going to go. The book is a real page-turner, and each episode has a cliffhanger.

There’s a scene where Laurie insists, “A mother knows her child.” Do you think she’s blinded by her love for Jacob?

I want the audience to see it as it plays out. But the show brings up questions of how far you would go to protect your family. Can you believe your child? Do you believe your child?

After the news of his arrest breaks, Laurie’s best friend shuns her, and the Barbers’ house is vandalized. Many in the community assume Jacob is guilty from the outset.

It’s out there immediately, and social media plays a huge part in that. Certainly Jacob’s face is everywhere. They can’t go anywhere as a family. On top of having their lives completely changed, everything is pulled from under them and they have nothing to hold on to.

Shifting gears a bit, last year’s Downton Abbey movie was such a hit. Would you be up for playing Lady Mary again in a sequel?

I would love to. We had such a good time doing the film, so if there is an opportunity to do another one, I hope that we would all hold hands and jump in again.

We’re all stuck inside these days. What are you watching?

Reruns of The Sopranos. It’s one of the great shows of all time. And I’m loving [cheerleading docuseries] Cheer on Netflix. I’m on Episode 2 and already crying and rooting for them all!

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The series will premiere the first three episodes on Friday, April 24th.



Check out a short roundup of what was said during the panel.

Huge thank you to Claudia for her help!


Apple TV+’s new Chris Evans-led thriller Defending Jacob will debut this spring with a three-episode premiere, the company announced Sunday. The streaming service will drop the series’ first offerings on Friday, April 24, and new episodes will follow weekly thereafter.

Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by William Landay, the character-driven thriller will be a limited-series that unfolds around a shocking crime in a small Massachusetts town. It follows an assistant district attorney (Evans) who “finds himself torn between his sworn duty to uphold justice and his unconditional love for his son,” according to the streamer’s official description.

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