Echoes of Audrey – Who’s To Play The Ultimate Icon?

Garon CockrellCelebrities, TelevisionLeave a Comment

 

Audrey Hepburn, Switzerland 1954. Photograph: Gerber, Hans

New Audrey TV Series Casting

As Audrey Hepburn once said, “good things aren’t supposed to just fall into your lap”.

That’s definitely the case for the upcoming leading role in ‘Audrey’, the TV series biography of an adored international icon.

Because the lucky actor is unlikely to win the role of a lifetime without a fight.

Luca Dotti, Audrey Hepburn’s son from her marriage to psychiatrist Andrea Dotti, has spent years preparing the serialized depiction of his mother’s life.

And despite her fame, that’s no easy task.

Audrey’s on-screen characters – exuberant, captivating, and full of charm – make it hard to believe Luca’s description of his mother as a “battle-hardened badass”. And it’s this lesser-known aspect of Audrey Hepburn the series is bringing into the open.

But Dotti isn’t the only one busy with an Audrey project.

In an Apple+ movie of the same name, the starring role has already landed in the lap of co-producing Rooney Mara, star of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. To very mixed reactions.

Because echoing a face everyone knows is an incredible challenge.

And echoing Audrey Hepburn – for reasons that will become plain – is one of the toughest tasks of all.

Audrey’s Public

Very few studios have risked backing a Hepburn biopic.

Nick Taussig, one of the producers of the 2020 documentary Audrey: More Than An Icon, tells us why:

“…she’s almost too virtuous, not quite conflicted enough … She had remarkable self-control, amidst everything, no raging diva tantrums, none of that.”

Most biopics rely on conflict – usually in the form of the personality of the central character. So how can a movie about a woman who simply put her shoulder to the plow hold our interest?

Bucketfuls of conflict exist in movies describing the lives of Audrey Hepburn’s contemporaries and near-contemporaries – Judy Garland, Dorothy Dandridge, Joan Crawford, and Peter Sellers to name but a few. Wild, demanding, oversensitive personalities and excruciating emotional crises made these household names as entertaining on screen as off … for all the wrong reasons.

And this lack of conflict is a significant problem for any director looking to cast the role of Audrey Hepburn.

For those who want to get to know Audrey, Luca Dotti’s multi-part series will be a godsend. A ninety-minute movie gives little opportunity to reveal deep waters, and Mara will find this a difficult role to perfect. It might not be a good thing at all, whether the part fell into her lap or not.

The Biographer’s Nightmare

Audrey Hepburn has been described as the biographer’s dream … and nightmare. No-one has a bad word to say about her.

For many fans, this is part of her attraction. For non-fans, this can verge on the boring.

Audrey Kathleen Ruston was born in Belgium on May 4th, 1929. When 6-year old Adriaantje’s parents divorced, her mother took her and her two half-brothers to the Netherlands. Audrey moved to study in England for a time, but returned to the Netherlands at the start of World War Two. Her parents thought it would be safer there.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The maternal side of the family suffered five years of German occupation. Audrey’s uncle was executed as a (wrongly) suspected member of the resistance. One half-brother was deported to a German labor camp; the other went into hiding.

Arnhem was far from safe during World War II: Photograph: National Archives, The Netherlands.

The young girl’s dreams of becoming a professional ballet dancer were ruined by the war. In London, in late 1948, Audrey was advised to sever that dream. Starvation and malnutrition during the war years had ruined her stamina.

Signs of a humanitarian nature, even at risk of her own freedom and life, began in the early 1940s. Audrey produced dance shows, secretly raising money for the Dutch resistance. She also delivered copies of the local underground newspaper; her family were known on at least one occasion to hide Allied troops.

While certainly no bystander during these tumultuous years, her protests were silent. This tendency toward silent action continued throughout Audrey’s life.

After the disappointment of a broken ballet career, Audrey switched her focus to modeling, theater and film. That quintessential, bright energy attracted increasingly larger roles in British productions. She landed her most memorable in 1953’s Oscar-winning hit, Roman Holiday.

Hepburn enjoyed regular work for the next 14 years, before semi-retiring to play the role of mother. She went on to raise attention to and funds for global civilian causes as a UNICEF ambassador.

But even this background failed to produce an on-screen version of Audrey Hepburn’s life that fully captured her motivations, personality, and achievements.

With Dotti’s upcoming series, that’s guaranteed to change.

Audrey The Role

There have been few attempts to put Audrey on the modern screen. Most studios haven’t felt – until quite recently – that there’s enough of a story to attract anything but hardcore fans.

Existing examples prove why casting Audrey the movie and series needs more than a famous name.

Jennifer Love Hewitt self-produced her leading role under the eye of Steven Robman in The Audrey Hepburn Story(2000) but was barely applauded.

The Audrey Hepburn Story can be found on several Top 10 Worst Biopic lists. The British TV magazine Radio Times was less harsh, but repeated that topic of conflict:

“While the tribute is an honorable one, there isn’t enough drama to maintain interest until the end.”

The same article spoke about a lack of Audrey look and spirit in JLH’s characterization. Characterization is tough; everyone ‘knows’ Audrey. Or at least think they do.

However, one performance in The Audrey Hepburn Story was applauded, and this brings another perspective to the forefront. ‘Young’ Audrey was played by a relative unknown, Emmy Rossum. As Katie Markum in 2003’s Mystic River, Emmy’s film career took off much later.

Was this applause due to her playing a lesser-known child Audrey? One who we didn’t think we knew?

Or did Emmy’s fame (or lack of) simply not compete with that of her character?

The answer to that is key to the perfect casting choice.

Audrey The TV Series

As Rooney Mara prepares for the condensed role of a lifetime, Luca Dotti and Jacqueline Hoyt are working on Audrey the series.

Audrey Hepburn on set during filming of My Fair Lady, 1964

Audrey Hepburn on set during filming of My Fair Lady, 1964

Variety magazine was first to report on Dotti’s project back in 2018; since then, things have been quiet. But with Hoyt’s writing underway, momentum is back.

Produced by an Italian team composed of Wildside’s Mario Gianani and Lorenzo Gangarossa, and Ludovica Damiani, Luca Dotti, and Luigi Spinola, the upcoming series is being kept well under wraps. We know it will revolve around Audrey’s formative years – from childhood to the first steps of her acting career.

Audrey the series has caused a ripple of excitement the movie has so far been unable to achieve. One reason is Dotti’s collaboration with Jacqueline Hoyt, whose screenplay successes include CSI, The Good Wife, and The Underground Railroad.

With Hoyt, we can expect something gritty. Something ‘badass’.

But only after both the series and movie have been released will we know what truly works – or doesn’t work – when echoing an icon. One thing’s for sure, the luxury of episodic screen time will create an immense gap between movie and series. Dotti’s casting choice will narrow or widen that gap.

And with all that extra time to echo a detailed backdrop and persona, Audrey the series won’t need the pull of a big name. It already has one.

Who Can Echo Audrey Hepburn?

How about a quick rundown of potential contenders?

Perhaps we should start with the woman facing the upcoming movie role? How does Rooney Mara measure up to perfecting the Audrey persona in a multi-episode drama?

Rooney Mara certainly looks the part. 2012 Paris Premiere of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Photograph: Elen Nivrae

Rooney can certainly bring off the Audrey look and has no lack of acting experience. Yet, she tends to select roles with blatantly visible conflicts or larger than life personas. An upcoming role as Julia in the Brideshead Revisited remake will show us exactly what she can do with Audrey-like composed, reserved, and stylish traits. But as she seems committed to the movie role, would she consider changing tactic?

Another potential contender is Emma Watson, the typical English rose. With the right look and the right accent, Emma spent some of her childhood on the continent. But would this be another case of a famous face distracting from a famous character?

Watson is very capable of quieter roles. One critic called her an anchor for emotional scenes. As the face of Burberry and Lancôme, and an Elle Style Award recipient, the fashion icon image is apparent. But whether Emma would put aside her UN and women’s rights work to play the role of someone so silently resistant remains to be seen.

And what about the general public’s favorite, Lily Collins? It seems Lily was never in the running, possibly due to her TV commitments. A self-confessed Audrey fan and lookalike, Lily is said to have the potential to produce a believable Audrey in Luca Dotti’s series. However, with a third series of Emily in Paris on the way, Lily’s fans might have been focusing their anger at Mara without reason.

Gaite Jansen, born in Rotterdam, is a lesser-known candidate with the right look and background. It would take very little effort to get that Dutch-tinted English accent. A relative unknown in parts of the world where Audrey the series would get the most interest, Jansen could have the edge.

Gaite Jansen has the big-eyed look, and the Dutch language. Photograph: Nummer 19 Management

After all, the best option for the Audrey role is lack of celebrity, hand in hand with the knowledge and ability to perfectly mimic her posture, speech, fire, and philosophy.

Perhaps this option includes Paulie Rojas, an Audrey be-a-like who has already proven her abilities in a fictional short, Before Breakfast. She has the right voice, as we hear in her narration of Sean Hepburn Ferrer’s book, Little Audrey’s Daydream: The Life of Audrey Hepburn. With classical ballet training, a UNICEF role, and multiple languages under her belt, Rojas has the ability if not the fame.

Another contender is Kendal Brenneman, producer and star in a series of short films made while living and working in France. Now residing in Audrey’s home country of the Netherlands, Brenneman impersonates her personal heroine with haunting precision – in speech, looks, and deportment. A ballet background is quintessential to playing the role of Audrey Hepburn; every candidate requires one. Kendal is therefore another viable option for Dotti, possessing all but that distracting international fame.

Or what about Charlotte Tighe? An actress who recreates the Audrey look ‘just for fun’ with striking success. Charlotte doesn’t stretch anywhere near Audrey Hepburn’s 1 meter 70, but Rooney Mara also misses the boat by a good 10 centimeters. Trained in Method, Meisner, and Movement techniques, Charlotte has already played our favorite icon in a UK theater tribute and has that essential dance background.

An Unknown For Hepburn?

There’s power in an unknown actor.

When it comes to the role of Audrey Hepburn, we don’t want to be distracted. Not by the wrong accent, not by clumsy movement, not by ‘not quite right’ looks, not by limited acting skills, and not by fame, no matter how skilled the performance.

An unknown face doesn’t draw in moviegoer crowds as well as the celebrity. But for any biopic, the famous name is already there. For the Dotti and Guadagnino projects, that famous name is Audrey Hepburn.

And other successful on-screen biographies have used this same philosophy. Relative unknown Michelle Williams received shining reviews in My Week With Marilyn. In fact, of the more than fifteen TV shows and movies about the life of Marilyn Monroe, practically none feature major names.

The most recent, Blonde, is an exception to the rule. Knives Out star Ana de Armas reported, “it only took me nine months of dialect coaching, and practicing, and some ADR sessions” for her to get Marilyn down pat. These nine months paid off, according to several critics. But with preparations for Luca Dotti’s Audrey series well underway, is there time to learn to mirror this quieter, less conflictive icon? Will training a non-Audrey-obsessed celebrity take far more time than ‘Enry ‘Iggins’ creation of his Fair Lady?

Observing how a competent unknown actor echoes the persona of an icon is a refreshing experience. As with Marion Cotillard’s Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose. For non-French audiences, that combination of perfection in looks and skills meant the character wasn’t Marion dressed up. Marion was Edith.

Of course, top celebrities can and do pull it off. Michael Douglas’ Liberace, Salma Hayek’s Frida, Helen Mirren’s Queen Elizabeth II, Ben Kingsley’s Gandhi – all renowned performances featuring international icons.

But easier to find are the misses – Lindsay Lohan’s Elisabeth Taylor, Ashton Kutcher’s Steve Jobs, Demetrius Shipp’s Tupac, and Naomi Watts’ Princess Diana have been slammed. And a thick red thread runs through these less appreciated performances – they have the look, but their as recognized look overcompetes with a larger than life persona. Maybe there’s an even deeper red thread of competition – of a famous name trying to make a professional impact by overperforming another famous name. Trying too hard is all too obvious on screen.

Authentic Audrey

Audrey Hepburn is almost singularly representative of the 50s and 60s. She stands for style and fashion. For human rights and mother’s love. Comedy and innocence.

Who will bring an iconic Audrey to the TV screen?

Audrey Hepburn developed every professional facet in the face of trauma, disappointment, and pain. She notoriously lacked an ego at a time when diva tantrums were de rigueur.

To dilute this principal persona with the persona of a celebrity would be a mistake.

When the right female is found to fit the very long list of Audrey criteria, we will finally have the pleasure of sitting back and observing the life of a quiet but passionate icon unfold, episode by tantalizing episode.

But before that happens, Luca Dotti has a lot of thinking to do.

 

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Garon CockrellEchoes of Audrey – Who’s To Play The Ultimate Icon?