Little Fires Everywhere
Credit: Erin Simkin/Hulu

The sixth episode of Hulu's Little Fires Everywhere showed viewers a new side of Mia and Elena, long before they met on the streets of Shaker Heights. And for the flashback hour, Little Fires cast AnnaSophia Robb as a young Elena and Tiffany Boone as a young Mia. EW spoke with both actresses about their experiences taking on characters played by Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you signed on, was it just to play young Mia/Elena, or did you fully understand that it was young Kerry Washington and young Reese Witherspoon?

TIFFANY BOONE: I don't think I understood what it was gong to take, not when I first signed on. I was like, "What the hell did I agree to?" [Laughs] Once I started talking to the producers and seeing how this important this episode was to them and seeing how closely they wanted us to embody what Kerry and Reese were doing, and especially once I came to set and saw AnnaSophia on her second day and I saw how much she was like Reese, I was like, "Oh no. Didn't mean to do this." [Laughs] So I had no idea.

ANNASOPHIA ROBB: I didn't know how nervous I would be. It felt like a workout — it felt really good because it was challenging, so I hated it and loved it at the same time. The writing for the show is so good and so strong. They really packed so much into all of the episodes, especially episode 6. Both of us have so much to do and the emotional roller coaster that happens was a lot to chew on. Both of us were able to shadow, which was so important, being able to spend time on set watching Reese, having conversations with her, talking with [showrunner] Liz [Tigelaar], talking with the writers and producers and living in the environment was so important for me.

BOONE: I also had no idea it'd be so rewarding.

In your conversations with Reese and Kerry, was there a specific piece of advice or something that felt central to their interpretation of the character that you wanted to emulate?

ROBB: The calculation of Elena. The things that really stick out to me are her having a very internal sense of what is right and what is wrong, the way she judges herself, the way she judges the world, other people, everything. She sticks so hard to this plan and her worldview is this black-and-white way to live life that it totally dictates the way that she drives her life. And then when she ends up having a fourth baby, it totally veers out of control. We meet her for a period where she's completely trying to grasp at something and then by the end with Jamie, when she gets ahold of the wheel and is like, "I like my life, I chose my life," that is the Elena we meet in years to come. She goes through this whole unraveling and that's how it has to end. It was like this map in my brain that was created by Liz and everybody involved.

BOONE: Some of the first things that Kerry shared with me were about the way that Mia looks at the world, which as a visual artist is different than how we look at the world as actors. Kerry would say she'd play this game in scenes, she'd be in scenes looking at the colors in the room, seeing how many colors she could point out in the middle of a scene. I didn't really have the brain space to do that in a scene, but it was looking at the world very visually. I would see Kerry listening to a person but really be looking at them like she's trying to take a picture of them. That's how she is in the world, everything is a possibility for art. That's very central to the character. And also Kerry talked about her mother being an inspiration for her in that her mother would never try to fill in pauses for people or make people comfortable. You see that with older Mia — people asking her questions and waiting for her to be like "thank you" or "sure," whatever that uncomfortable moment is and she will not play along. I still wanted to have a little bit of that in young Mia even though that impulse gets stronger and stronger as she gets older. She's just really an observer of the world in a lot of ways.

Little Fires Everywhere
Credit: Erin Simkin/Hulu

I knew it was impossible, but I kind of wanted you two to have a scene together.

ROBB: They would've had a very different relationship. I feel like they would've gotten along.

BOONE: I think they would have too, yeah!

What was the process like of trying to nail Reese and Kerry's voices and mannerisms?

BOONE: I focused less on sounding like her, although she had certain rhythms I tried to stick to, but I feel like physically Kerry is such a specific actress and she's doing really interesting things with Mia in particular. So for me to get into the character, I really went from the outside in. I tried to understand her by the physical choices she was making, watching every hand movement. When Kerry cries as Mia, she uses two fingers above her lip to stop her nose from running, and she tilts her head when she's listening, or she'll grit her teeth when she's angry. She does something with her neck when she's trying to make a certain point. And I think those things really helped me to get into the character, but I didn't want to feel shackled to that. Once I felt like it was in my body, I just let it happen and was able to be free and focus on what choices I felt like the character'd be making.

ROBB: I listened to Reese's book on tape to hear her, because she has a really interesting voice, she has a lot of range. But with this character in particular she was more clipped, it was deferential to men, like when she's speaking to them. I've been watching Reese my whole life so there are specific things I just know that she does, like the way she squints her eyes when she's listening or she'll tilt her head or you notice her arms are always very close to her body when she moves. Her voice never gets angry, there's always a slight sweetness to it. There's a certain range of emotions that she'll let herself have as Elena. It was interesting because when she does become untethered, we don't see the older Elena freak out in that way in the scenes that I watched. So I felt more of a freedom to hold onto certain parts of her behavior and voice but then let go because she feels so detached from her body and her emotions. It was a weird line to walk, like how far to let her crumble. It felt like I was sliding a lens into my brain and looking at the world through that perspective, which just colored the whole thing.

Were Kerry and Reese on set for your scenes?

BOONE: Kerry was there pretty much every day I was shooting except for my first day. She was very respectful. She would show up and sometimes I wouldn't know until she'd been there for a few hours. She helped me with the scene where you see Mia walking down the street and she has her camera and she's shooting and she was telling me, "This is how I think of it, this is how I hold the camera," which was super helpful because I hadn't been able to see footage of her doing that. But other than that, she was just being a producer on set. I was terrified at first when she started coming, but she was so supportive every day.

ROBB: Reese didn't come on set, and I'm so grateful she didn't because I would've had a breakdown. [Laughs] But she was so open if I had any questions, she recorded some scenes for me because I wanted to make sure I got her voice right. I was so nervous and I wanted to do a good job, not only for myself but for everyone involved. She was very chill about talking to me. She as like,"You're going to do great, don't worry about it!" I was like, "Okay, she thinks I can do it, I can do it! Let's do it!" I'd have to remind myself of that stamp of approval on set every day.

New episodes of Little Fires Everywhere hit Hulu on Wednesdays.

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