Jewish Actress Billie Boullet Brings Anne Frank to Life in Disney's 'A Small Light' – Kveller
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Jewish Actress Billie Boullet Brings Anne Frank to Life in Disney’s ‘A Small Light’

The 18-year-old hopes that watching the show will inspire people to stand up to injustice and persecution.


via National Geographic for Disney/Dusan Martincek

For decades, readers around the world have had the privilege of getting to know Anne Frank through her diary, first published two years after her death in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Knowing how this utterly winning person died has helped connect so many to the human price of the Holocaust, perhaps more than any other work of fiction or nonfiction has.

In Disney+ and NatGeo’s recent series “A Small Light,” which tells the story of Miep Gies (Bel Powley), the secretary who helped hide the Franks in the Secret Annex — and who helped salvage Anne’s diary from the Nazis — Billie Boullet, who plays Anne, gives us a whole new way to fall in love with Anne Frank. Her Anne is bright, feisty, moody, a dreamer and wholly relatable, just as she reads in the pages of her diary.

Boullet doesn’t just look eerily like Anne in this incredibly crafted show — she feels like her. Talking to Boullet, it’s clear that she’s as passionate as Anne is in the pages. At 18, this is the biggest role for the Jewish actress yet, who was born in London, where she’s currently attending drama school, and who spent much of her childhood in Paris. It definitely feels like just the beginning for this incredibly promising star.

Kveller spoke to Boullet about how she prepared for this monumental role, how acting in this show made her see the Holocaust in a new light, and about why the cast of “A Small Light” felt a lot like an extension of her own Jewish family.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

You are such a magical Anne. Did you have any personal connection to her story before you worked on the show? Did you read her diary?

I never got the opportunity to read her diary within school or at any point. I had her diary, but I never read it. When I was auditioning for the role, I decided to audiobook it, so I could go through a bit faster. And so I audiobooked it a couple of times, and I read through different pages and chapters of her diary so I could get into her mind space. So for me, I created the link whilst auditioning for her role.

What did you see in her that moved you?

Her energy and her fieriness, I really connect to that. I first started doing auditioning for Margot. I found that really difficult because Margot was quite reserved and within herself. Then when I started auditioning for Anne, I felt, “Ah, this is me. This is a lot easier for me to get into.” She’s very much fiery, and I am, too.

Why does it feel important to you to tell this story today?

I definitely think it’s important to tell the “A Small Light” story because antisemitism is on the rise. I don’t want history to repeat itself — in the way of not liking Jewish people or putting them down. I know that that is still a mindset for some people. I want this story to be told so that they can just refresh themselves on what humanity is, and how you should treat people. We are all people, and we are all the same.

I want it to be told so that people can see, okay, here’s this person that wasn’t Jewish, in this really tough time against Jewish people, and she stood by the correct opinion — helping people and staying human. I want people to see that and think, OK, some people are antisemitic, but I’m not going to do that. I’m going to stay true to myself, to humanity, to morals, and I’m going to stand by the people that are being persecuted in an unjust way.

I want the people that might see themselves as bystanders watching it happen to finally stand up and not follow the crowd of hate and see the optimistic side, the helpful side and the human side.

What were some of the most challenging parts of playing this role for you?

The most challenging part was that she’s a real person, so it’s not a character where I can just do whatever I’d like with it. This is a person that everybody knows and holds a lot of respect and a lot of hope for people. I really had to take that on board and try and show her in her true sense, her real self. I found that quite challenging because I kept having to refer back to a diary. Sometimes I could click my head into the Billie-playing-Anne [state of mind] and I kept having to go, “No, no, no, no, no, click back to Anne, you have to see through to how Anne would think, not how Billie would think Anne would play this thing.” Trying to let go of Billie throughout the scenes and trying to do that with ease and fluidity was definitely the most challenging part for me.

Did delving into Anne and Miep’s story change the way you think about the Holocaust?

During my history classes within school, I definitely was taught about the Holocaust — though it was quite a short bit of my education, not as much as I was taught about the Tudors. [But] I definitely knew a lot about it already, because I am Jewish. So you know, you get acquainted with it, and you talk a lot about the Holocaust. But doing a project like this changed my mindset, definitely. It made me a lot more aware of what was happening during that period. Obviously, I knew what was happening, but I never got to “secondhand firsthand experience it,” if you understand what I mean? Going through Miep’s story and learning about her definitely changed the way I thought.

I never knew how hard she worked to hide them. I didn’t really know much about Miep. I never knew she had a relationship with [the Franks]. I never knew she had a relationship with any of them. Learning about it and learning about the annex as well and where it was situated — I never knew that it was in the office. I knew they had to be quiet, but I thought that was because of the people on the street; I never knew people were in and out all day.

So researching that and learning about that for me created such heartbreak for her story; it made it so much more real, in the sense that it wasn’t a school story that is told.

Learning about “A Small Light,” researching as much as I could for this project, it really opened my eyes towards the whole story, not just the story of Anne Frank but the whole story of World War II. I feel like when people watch “A Small Light,” they’re going to be educated in one of the best ways possible. I’m so thankful that Disney+ and NatGeo took this on board and decided to to let the story be told.

Can you talk a little bit about what being Jewish means to you?

I grew up with Judaism around me, not a lot, but definitely prominent. I love it. I’m very proud of being Jewish. I’m proud of it because of what’s happened to Judaism and the heartbreak and heartache of what [our people] went through.

[Working on “A Small Light”] has made me feel a lot more prouder and a lot more strong in the sense that I am Jewish, nobody’s going to take that away from me, this is who I am, this is my culture. After I finished filming, I was like, I feel a lot more connected to Anne and to Judaism.

What’s your favorite part of being Jewish?

My favorite part of being Jewish is the food. Oh God, Jewish people have such good food. Anytime we had our family gatherings, we had so much food on the table. I just remember little me going around eating everything — all the kneidlach [matzah balls] and the matzah, I just had all of it…

Is that you favorite dish?

Yes, kneidlach, oh my God. I love it. I make it homemade. I absolutely love it. I remember being with my family and my sister, we’d have to go and find the afikoman. It’s cool memories for me. I felt a lot more connected to this project because it’s a mainly Jewish project.

Yes, like that super special Hanukkah candle lighting scene.

That scene is amazing. I loved doing that scene. I don’t know that many Jewish people at school. But one moment while filming “A Small Light” which has become a core memory — it was such a moment of glimmer in my life — was when we were on a plane going to Amsterdam, and the cast was talking about being Jewish and we started singing old Jewish songs, all together, loud. It was just amazing, because I only get to do that with family occasionally, because I’ve moved away from them.

It just felt like family. When you’re Jewish, you have a connection with people that other people won’t understand. You’re Jewish, you have something special together, and you can just relate on so many things. It did shape our cast into a little family, which was amazing.

Do you have a favorite Jewish song?

“Sevivon Sov Sov Sov.”

I love that song! Is there anything else you want Jewish people watching this show to take from it?

This isn’t told in a documentary style, it isn’t told so factually and robotically. It is told through a story, where you have each emotion going through it — the reactions to real Judaism and the loss of it and the heartache of it and the brutality of it. The warmth of it, the sadness of it, the fear of it — it’s all there. It’s something that you connect with, rather than feel that you’re being lectured.

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