By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Billie Boullet, who stars as Anne Frank in the National Geographic limited series “A Small Light,” is invested in the celebrated diarist’s story.
To prepare for the role, Boullet read “The Diary of a Young Girl,” listened to it on audiobook and asked her mom to read it to her so she could process the story multiple times.
“I just tried to get into a mindset and her way of thinking so I could see what she thought of the relationships that were going on in her family and what words or what things would trigger her,” Boullet says via Zoom.
“I wanted to know how she thinks, rather than the façade of her, which has been done before. She’s a strong person, and that’s what I wanted to show and bring forward for ‘A Small Light.’ The writing allowed me to do that. It was incredible.”
Also starring Liev Schreiber and Bel Powley, “A Small Light” premiered May 1 on National Geographic with two episodes. New episodes debut every Monday on the channel and stream the next day on Disney+.
“A Small Light” tells the true story of Miep Gies (Powley), who hides the Jewish Frank family from the Nazis during World War II. In Frank’s diary, she shared everyday life in hiding from 1942 to 1944 during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II.
For those two years, Gies and her husband, Jan (Joe Cole), watched over the Frank, van Pels and Pfeffer families hiding in the secret annex.
Gies found Frank’s diary and preserved it so that she and Otto (Schreiber), the family’s lone survivor, could later share it. Frank and her sister, Margo, died in early 1945 at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
“The writing on ‘A Small Light’ captured her personality, her feistiness and her strength,” Boullet says. “She’s opinionated. I love that they were able to show that and her truth. It was easy flowing. It felt natural.”
She says she hopes “A Small Light” educates viewers about the equally brave Gies, who housed the families without hesitation.
“I want them to, obviously, enjoy it, but I hope they get educated by it,” Boullet says. “Miep’s story isn’t told often. The story would have never been told without her. She is the glue that holds it all together — and one of the most important parts. I’m so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to tell her story and bring it to life.
“I hope that people understand that she was 23 when this happened, and she made this life-changing choice at such a young age. I hope that people take away any opportunity that comes your way — even at a young age — you can take it on, and you’ll be able to execute it well, as long as you try hard enough and you put your all into it.”
Portraying Frank was also a learning experience for Boullet, 18. In school, teachers covered the war, but Boullet was not assigned to read her diary. When she was auditioning for the role, she read it.
“That was eye opening for me,” she adds. “I learned a lot from that. Plus, this cast and crew are fantastic and amazing. They take you under your wing and they just nurture you, really. (Director/writer) Tony Phelan was incredible. There were times when I wasn’t filming when I went on set. I was behind (the) camera with Tony, and he would explain to me how he would direct and the choices he would make. I was just absorbing it all because they were willing to allow me. They were willing to teach me as much as they could.”
Boullet is passionate about “A Small Light” and her role.
“I’ve come to grow and love, love, love Anne,” she says. “She’s a part of me now.”