[VIDEO] Late Night Movie Reel: Audrey Hepburn’s Original Paramount Screen TestPosted: February 4, 2014
Hepburn’s story is as miraculous as any actress in the 20th century. Having survived hunger, deprivation (tens of thousands died of starvation) and dislocation as a child in Nazi occupied Europe, Hepburn emerged, frail, ambitous, grateful to be alive. Audrey studied ballet enthusiastically during early post-war reconstruction, with the aim of performing in London, only to discover that she didn’t have the fitness and endurance to compete with dancers who were healthier and more fortunate during the war years. Audrey settled instead for using her dance training to pursue work as a showgirl in theater. Young Hepburn was discovered, legend has it, in a hotel lobby, by Colette, who was captivated by her exotic, doe-like beauty. Colette immediately cast Audrey, only 19 or 20 at the time, in the starring role of her play, “Gigi“. The stage production was a success, and soon after Hepburn was sought by Hollywood, for a film called “Roman Holiday“.
Unable to interrupt stage performances of Gigi to come to the U.S. for the customary screen test, the Paramount sent a crew to Europe for a hastily-arranged “personality” test–an informal version of a screen test–instead. It was shot inside what appears to be a hotel room.
Legend has it that when the film made it back overseas, got processed, printed, and screened for studio executives at Paramount, it was recognized by at least one executive, who described it as the best screen test, by any actress, ever recorded.
[Roman Holiday (Special Collector’s Edition) at Amazon]
Watching this for the first time (in a documentary a few nights ago) I was struck by what I imagined was their experience of seeing the young Hepburn for the first time. It’s hard to convey (in a little window on a computer screen) but only seconds into the test, before she takes more than one or two steps, it’s all there. I imagined they didn’t even need to watch more than 5 seconds before it was clear that Audrey was an extraordinary creature, someone they’d be willing to gamble a starring role–no film acting experience–in a big budget movie, on the spot.
They were right. Production started in Rome, not long after. Gary Cooper said that making the movie was the happiest 3 months of his life. Audrey Hepburn won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Roman Holiday.
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