The series follows Massachusetts District Attorney Andy Barber (Chris Evans), who begins working with the cops to investigate the murder of an eighth grader in his small town and very quickly learns that the main suspect is a classmate — his son, Jacob (Jaeden Martell). But instead of examining the case through Jacob’s eyes, the story is told through Andy and his wife Laurie’s (Michelle Dockery) as they grapple with the accusations against the child they thought they knew.
Dockery was last seen on the small screen as a Southern con artist in TNT’s Good Behavior. But for Defending Jacob, the Brit best known as Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary didn’t even attempt to make her American accent a notoriously difficult Boston one.
“I love a challenge. If it had been a Boston accent, I would have gone for it. I would have dove in and hoped for the best,” says Dockery. “It’s not an easy accent, so I was pleased that it was just a general American accent for Laurie. I do really enjoy playing characters that have accents and are from completely different backgrounds from me. I’ve rarely played characters that are my own voice. I think I’ve done one project where it was my voice, everything else has been an accent.”
The entry point for the series, really, is through Andy and Laurie’s struggle to come to terms with the fact that maybe they didn’t know their child as well as they thought they did, and the ethically and morally questionable things that these normally law-abiding parents would do to protect him.
“This is, in many ways, a nightmare. It’s the worst possible thing that could happen to a parent,” says Bomback. As investigators, they’re way too biased. “They have everything to lose, and they’re going to bring so many facts to this that may be irrelevant, maybe aren’t. In many ways, my job was to give you this very subjective experience watching it, that you are the third parent in this equation and trying to weigh in. What do I think? Hopefully the audience at some points will say, ‘Oh, I’m sure he must have done it.’ ‘Oh, I don’t think he did do it.’ And part of the fun, for lack of a better word, is where does that intersect with where the parents’ heads are at that same moment?”
And while Andy makes some decisions that a good prosecutor would know skirt the boundaries of what is ethically acceptable, Laurie is consumed with guilt that she had dismissed some of Jacob’s questionable behavior in the past, and that she could potentially be culpable in a child’s death.
Says Dockery, “There are two parents that are both trying to cope in their own way. And at times it really clashes, and it begins to chip away at their relationship. Another great thing about the show is that it really explores a marriage and what something like this could do to a couple.”