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Vague Visages Writers’ Room: Favorite Audrey Hepburn Performances

In celebration of the late Audrey Hepburn’s May 4 birthday, Vague Visages writers remember a couple of the actress’ finest performances.

Walter Neto (@wfcneto)

What can be said about Audrey Hepburn’s one-of-a-kind acting that hasn’t already been written about? Her name still is, and will continue to be, synonymous with American cinema, or cinema in general, as she was that famous. In Hepburn’s incredible filmography, her performance in Terence Young’s underrated horror Wait Until Dark (1967) has always been my favorite. It showcases Hepburn’s talent, yet it’s so different than many of the films that made her a star. Here, viewers get a simple home break-in story, shot in a one-location setting. Efrem Zimbalist Jr.’s Sam Hendrix accidentally brings home a doll stuffed with heroin, and a group of criminals break in and find the man’s blind wife, Susy, played by Audrey Hepburn. The screenplay keeps building the tension so meticulously and so slowly that it’s almost unbearable.

The criminals terrorize Susy, and I will never forget a scene in which she tries to call for help, with all the tension and fear leaving her disoriented. Susy realizes the cable has been disconnected, and the dramatic sequence ends with a close-up of Hepburn behind the stair’s handrail — Susy won’t be able to call for help. Not enough has been said about that close-up, and how this showstopping performance is one of Hepburn’s best.

Q.V. Hough (@QVHough)

Every couple of years, I revisit Audrey Hepburn’s endearing performance in Blake Edwards’ 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. As Holly Golightly, she plays a self-aware New York City socialite (OH, DAWL-ING!), with her lyrical dialogue and movements creating a specific look-at-me aura. But, the character has a secret, and it’s her vulnerability that inspires Hepburn’s best acting.

For crying scenes, famous actresses typically receive the close-up treatment for dramatic effect. But when Holly learns of her brother’s death in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Hepburn covers her face and breaks down slowly, leaving the audience to process a wail that temporarily strips the character of everything. She’s alone and insecure, but accompanied by two men that love her for different reasons. As Holly learns to let go and accept the truth, it’s a joy to see Hepburn smile and infuse the character with a new energy. Not many actresses can fill the screen with such warmth, and such a radiant glow.

Kate Blair (@Selective_Kate)

While it might not be the performance most associated with Audrey Hepburn, I chose Wait Until Dark because of the way her presence anchors and deepens the narrative. Hepburn’s delicate, elfin beauty masks her inherent toughness, and here it causes her attackers (and the audience) to underestimate her. But she possesses a secret grit. As Susy, Hepburn dips into wells of resourcefulness that seem unknown even to her. She cannily outmaneuvers her attackers by turning out the lights and nimbly avoiding ​the men through rooms she has come to know by feel. All the while, Susy battles her own fears that she will never be truly independent again, that she will not be able to adapt to a life without sight. Early in the movie, Hepburn plays Susy with a winning smile that seems slightly too big, an effort to conceal her deep anxieties. As the film enters its final act, the grin is replaced with a naked look of terror, but also surprise as she begins to recognize and trust her own ingenuity. For many women, Susy is an inspirational heroine, showing us that it’s okay to be afraid, even to be terrified. Strength doesn’t have to come from pushing fear away, and most importantly, self knowledge is sometimes the greatest strength of all.

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