Plucked from acting obscurity at age 19, Millie Perkins landed the role of a lifetime, starring as Anne Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank. In celebration of the Oscar®-winning film's 50th anniversary, Millie reflects on her experience making the movie and what it means to the world today.
Erin J. Shea: You were chosen to play the role of Anne over thousands of other girls. What drew you to such an intense role at such an early age?
Millie Perkins: I always looked younger than I was. I had just started modeling in New York City, and I wasn't even interested in acting. I never even saw the play. (Director) George Stevens saw my photos and asked the people from 20th Century in New York to give me an interview test. Afterward, I left for London and Paris for some modeling assignments, and while I was gone they called me and asked me to come to California. I was reluctant. It seemed silly to be an actress! I turned them down at first, and they couldn't understand why I wasn't mad for Hollywood. Two months later, George offered me the part. Once I got involved in the movie, and understood the story, I understood Anne Frank and I knew who she was. Her story hit me in my heart and soul, and there was no question in my mind that I would do it and do it right.
ES: What was it like working with Shelly Winters?
MP: It was amazing working her, even though she was a pain in the neck sometimes! (Gusti Huber) was a lovely theater actress. Richard Beymer became my best friend on the set. The press said it was a romance, which wasn't true. We were just wonderful friends. From all of them I learned a lot and I knew I could be an actress.
ES: You beautifully captured the essence of Anne going from an outgoing, clever, vivacious young girl to a teenager enduring the most horrific of circumstances. There is a turning point when Anne understands the fate of her best friend. For a first-time actress, that had to be quite the undertaking. How did you tackle this?
MP: It was really natural. I had something in me. When I read (the book), I knew who she was. She was exactly who I had been as a teenager. (Like Anne), I was the one who got into trouble and opened my mouth. People would always say I was crazy, angry and feisty. I fought with everyone for what I wanted, and Anne did that too.
When I met (Anne's father) Otto Frank, we sat together and had a moving experience. He was so intelligent and truly sensitive and kind. I just kept thinking that, "If he doesn't like me, I won't do the part." At one point I was sitting with my thumb clenched between my index and middle fingers. He looked down at me and I looked at him and he was making the same fist. He said that Anne used to sit like that all the time.
ES: What was it like for you during filming?
MP: I didn't have a social life for six months. I lived in a one-room apartment on Fountain Avenue, and I used to buy frozen macaroni and cheese and eat that every night and go home and go to sleep and then get back up and do it all over again.
ES: The book itself became required reading for many schoolchildren as the years went on, and subsequently the movie was shown in many classrooms. What was it like for you to know that your work was having an impact on such a large audience over the years?
MP: It was wonderful. Everywhere I've lived, schools would show the movie and they would have me come in and talk to classes. There was a quiet period where people stopped paying attention to it, but in the last six years there has been such attention being paid again to the movie. This year, I'm going to Israel to the Yad Vashem. I've offered them my script of the movie.
ES: What does the story mean for you now? What does it mean for you to have taken part in the movie?
MP: I think in today's climate, from genocide to threats from the terrorists, I think our country has to be careful of greed and vanity, and we have to open up our hearts to everyone in the world. We've given ourselves away with our greed. On the other hand, today we're certainly more aware with that there is pain and suffering in the world in a way we weren't able to know before. Seeing a movie like The Diary of Anne Frank opens people's hearts up that are things going on in the world to inspire us to make ourselves kinder than we are. The United States has given more help and money to those parts of the world, but we are not kind to each other anymore. We have to become kinder to people who need it.
Sign up for the Screening Room entertainment newsletter now
Check out this week's entertainment calendar to get the latest on what's coming up in movies, TV and on DVD.
Test your entertainment know-how
Read more celebrity Q&A's
Printed from Oprah.com on Thursday, March 13, 2014
© 2014 Harpo Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.