The Cast of A Small Light Talks Bravery, Stamina and Comedic Relief

I couldn't be more honored to have attended the red carpet for A Small Light. This National Geographic limited series tells the heart-wrenching true story of the heroic Miep Gies, who risked her life to help hide the Frank family from the Nazis during WWII.

"Told with a modern sensibility, A SMALL LIGHT shakes the cobwebs off history and makes Miep's story more relevant than ever, forcing audiences to ask themselves what they would have done in Miep's shoes; and in modern times, asking if they would have the courage to stand up to hatred. Some stood by, Miep stood up."

– National Geographic.

a small light event
(via National Geographic)

Now, this was my first-ever red carpet press event, and I was in awe the whole time. The premiere was hosted at none other than the Alice Tully Hall on the Upper West Side of New York City, and I had the chance to talk to some of the cast, including Liev Schreiber, Bel Powley and many others. Once I went through security and received the press badge that I proudly draped around my neck, it was interview time—but definitely not before I had some complimentary popcorn.

The first person I had the opportunity to speak to was lead actress Bel Powley, who plays Miep Gies in the series. She was dressed head to toe in Miu Miu (and I immediately added the look to my Pinterest mood board).

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Mhaya Polacco: What have you learned about yourself as an actress through the process of making this series?

Bel Powley: My stamina. I didn't know I could work this hard. We worked 14 hours a day, every day, for five and a half months, and it was a very emotional toll. So I think I just learned that I can do it! I've got the stamina.


Being able to watch the series' first two episodes, Bel wasn't kidding. Performing so many harrowing scenes and encapsulating the grimness of the events while staying true to the heroism of such an important woman in history takes guts and stamina—and she had just that.

Next, I spoke to Joan Rater and Tony Phelan, who were adorably hand-in-hand the whole way down the carpet. Joan and Tony not only created and executive produced, but also wrote the series. Talk about a power couple. I was dying to hear all about how they managed to work in delightful surprises of comedy in the show.


MP: The series had such incredible, unexpected moments of comedic relief. From your perspective, how important was it to include those elements in the show?

Tony Phelan: Absolutely critical because I think that too many historical films have a tendency to be stately and dull and airless. I think it's why a lot of people stay away from those things.

Joan Rater: We wanted people to see themselves in the characters, and people are filled with life and humor. We really wanted to create fully realized human beings, and sometimes I think in historical pieces, it's a little stiff—we didn't want that.

TP: But that I also think, as an audience member, what allows you to really empathize with somebody so that when you have drama, when you have tragedy, you feel it so much more because you feel that this person is somebody that would be your friend.


MP: Besides the importance of telling this part of history, what else do you hope people take away from this series?

JR: We live in a time of selfishness. I am inspired by Miep's sacrifice. What she and a lot of helpers in Amsterdam did at the time of risking their lives, but a lot of it was in small acts of kindness—bringing food, bringing medicine, bringing a kind word. It's something we all can do.

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Liev Schreiber, who plays Otto Frank in the series, told me about his experience on set and why he ended up saying yes to this project.


MP: You play such a strong and vital character in the series. What have you learned about yourself as an actor through the process of making this series, and what initially drew you to the project?

Liev Schreiber: I don't like wearing prosthetics. Look, it was obvious that this is an important story, and it comes at an important time. I've done a lot of dark stuff in the last 10 years, and I was very moved by Joan and Tony's optimism. And the heroism of Miep Gies is someone history definitely owes a debt to.


And last but not least, I had the chance to grab Ashley Brooke, who plays Margot Frank.


MP: This series has many beautiful instances of bond and friendship. What did playing Margot teach you about the importance of friendship?

Ashley Brooke: I think that A Small Light, tells a story of how you can be a light for others in your world. It's so important to be a light in your friendships. I think that Anne and Margot had to create so much of a bond, especially after years of being together and having only one another in the annex. It's just so important to be kind and be generous in your friendships.

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The eight-part series, A Small Light, premieres Monday, May 1, at 9/8c on National Geographic with two back-to-back episodes. New episodes will debut every Monday at 9/8c on National Geographic and will stream the next day on Disney+ and Hulu.


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