Since its November debut, Apple TV+ has gone the slow-but-steady route with a string of solid programming but its latest mini-series is anything but. The latest successful mini-series is Defending Jacob, starring Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery as the parents of a teenage boy Jacob (played by Jaeden Martell) who is accused of murdering a classmate. The series stuck close to the suspenseful novel on which it was based until the final episode, which left viewers stunned and wondering if Jacob was innocent. But don't bother asking Jaeden Martell about Defending Jacob's ambiguous ending. "I can't tell you. I haven't told anybody. It's sort of my little secret," he teases to Elite Daily.
Warning: Spoilers for Defending Jacob follow. Martell, 17, already had an impressive resume prior to this hit series, starring in It and It: Chapter 2, as well as Knives Out — another high-profile project with Evans.
Martell says the unique angle Defending Jacob took on the material was part of intrigued him. "I think what drew me to it is that I haven't seen a story like this," he says. "Obviously, it’s a crime courtroom drama, a sort of whodunit. But you never really see [this kind of story] from the perspective of a family being accused. The story is just the family traumas in them dealing on a very personal level, rather than the story focusing on the crime itself. And beyond that, I was drawn to the character, Jacob."
Martell knew the show was based on a best-selling novel, but quickly decided reading it wasn't a good idea.
"I began reading it in pre-production before shooting, but I then decided not to. The book is mainly from Andy's perspective, and I didn't really want to see myself or see my characters through his eyes. I wanted to stay away from that. Also, the character is quite different."
For Martell, it was essential to make the character of Jacob 100% believable as innocent, despite the evidence.
"One of the most important things for the show was to make sure that Jacob was more normal, in a way — more of a relatable character, or just a normal kid who, you know, you're unsure about," he explains. "The audience is unsure whether he did it or not. I think the ending was sort of helped [by that]. Up to that point, that he could still just be an average kid."
In the show's finale, Defending Jacob took a sharp turn from the book. During a post-acquittal vacation with his parents, Jacob met a girl, Hope, with whom he seemed to be infatuated. In the novel, after an argument, she disappears, turning up dead after Jacob and his parents return home. The show changed that; instead, Hope was found alive, and her disappearance had nothing to do with Jacob at all.
Martell felt that was a necessary alteration.
"I think that adds to Jacob possibly being a normal kid," he says. "It kind of leaves it more open-ended in a way doesn't doesn't lean towards his guilt, as the book does."
He also liked that, unlike in the book, Jacob survived the ending's car crash, which his mother engineered when she became convinced of her son's guilt.
"I think it leaves a hopeful tone at the end," Martell explains. "I mean, maybe the audience can imagine In a life that they live afterward, although it would obviously be very rocky and it'd be interesting to see their lives after the fact you know, hopefully. I mean, you don't want to imagine his mom Laurie in jail or Jacob dead. I feel like this sort of left it open-ended."
All eight episodes of Defending Jacob are currently streaming on Apple TV+.