Miep Gies and Anne Frank with a British accent, Otto Frank and Hermann van Pels with a German accent; At first glance, these don’t seem like very logical choices. Nevertheless, those accents have indeed been thought about in the drama series A Small Light. The actors and makers tell NU.nl how they worked.
In A Small Light, vanaf maandag te zien op National Geographic en Disney+, staat het leven van Miep Gies centraal. De miljoenenproductie laat zien hoe de Nederlandse van kantoormedewerker het verzetsleven inrolt, om uiteindelijk een icoon van de Tweede Wereldoorlog te worden. Gies nam jarenlang grote risico’s om de familie Frank veilig te houden.
Hoofdrolspeelster Bel Powley nam haar taak dus serieus. Ze ontmoette de familie Gies, bezocht verschillende belangrijke locaties en fietste Mieps vaste routes door Amsterdam. Maar één ding bleef onveranderd: de Londense actrice hield haar eigen accent.
“Het Nederlandse accent is berucht”, vertelt Powley tijdens een bezoek aan Amsterdam. “Voor acteurs is het heel moeilijk om goed te krijgen. Maar het is geen persoonlijke keuze om Brits te praten. Alle Nederlandse personages spreken in de serie Engels met een Brits accent. Op die manier is het beter gestroomlijnd.”
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Creative solutions for accents
With historical films and series, accents are often discussed. Well-known actors and the English language sell more cinema tickets, but it is often not historically correct. That is why makers sometimes come up with creative solutions. For example, Tom Cruise only had to learn a few German phrases before Valkyrie. In the opening scene, that voice-over immediately transitioned into his own American accent. Easy for Cruise and accessible to a large audience.
“I previously watched a film about the attack on Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich,” says Tony Phelan, who, as showrunner, is the creative brain behind A Small Light is. “Czech people were played by British actors who spoke with a Czech accent. It felt weird. They shouldn’t be speaking with accents at all, because you’re looking at characters who speak their own language.”
“For A Small Light we passed standard British as Dutch,” explains Phelan. “The accents you do hear in the series come from German immigrants. For example, we want to make a distinction in the series between Dutch people and people who come from abroad.”
Although Gies was born in Austria, he moved at a young age and spoke Dutch without an accent. Anne Frank also did her best to speak beautiful Dutch. In A Small Light they therefore sound like natives, while Otto Frank sounds German again.
German accent important to Otto Frank
“That German accent was very important to me,” says actor Liev Schreiber. “Otto was first and foremost a German. Some of the actors played with a Jewish accent, but for me it was very important to have that German accent. Otto was proud of his heritage, loved his nationality. One of the things he struggled with was that he couldn’t be German because of his Jewish origins, even though he wasn’t religious at all.”
Schreiber admits that he prefers not to play famous people at all. “I don’t like playing real people, being responsible for someone’s legacy. That shouldn’t be my job. I like to interpret and improvise. If I have to introduce someone I know, the fun of acting disappears. Unfortunately I get quite a lot of those roles, haha. You take the work you can get, but I don’t really enjoy it. The pressure is too much.”
“In the best biographies, you always get an interpretation from the writer,” says Schreiber. “The audience has to take that for granted. It’s not so much about the facts and the physical reality, but more about the inspiration that a person has brought about.”
“I also liked that about my visit to the Anne Frank House. One of the top academics there kept making jokes about my weight. Maybe you can play ‘Lotto Frank'”, he joked. Or ‘Otto XL’. Typically blunt Dutch humor,” says the actor with a grin. “I should have lost a bit more weight. By the end of the war Otto weighed something like 50 kilos. But yes, it turns out I’m not a star at losing weight.”
Tags: Dutch Miep Gies British accent Small Light Movies Series