Neck and Neck

Hollywood Starlets Vie for the Audrey Hepburn Mantle

Among today's young starlets, everyone gets to be Audrey Hepburn for 15 minutes. The early front-runner in the race for "next Audrey" was It girl du jour, Gwyneth Paltrow. Of course, that was before the Oscar acceptance speech—now she may be the next Sally Field. But Paltrow is facing strong competition from new gamine on the block Natalie Portman. The future Phantom Menace star has Audrey's feline physiognomy and elegant urchin appeal.

For others, being Audrey is just an elegant pit stop on the way to a nonderivative star identity. If you are, say, Rachael Leigh Cook (whose She's All That updates Audrey's My Fair Lady), and your publicist has to peg you as either "the next Audrey Hepburn" or "the girl in the Partnership for a Drug-Free America commercial," there's no contest. For Jennifer Love Hewitt, playing Audrey—literally, in an upcoming ABC biopic—is the way to break out of the candy prison of teen flicks. But many would-be Audreys are called, and few get callbacks. What are the crucial ingredients of latter-day Audrey-ness?

Holly Golightly's haute couture patois ("Quel rat!") perfectly conveys the transatlantic essence of Audrey's mystique. Born in Belgium, raised in Holland and England, adopted by America, residing in Switzerland, and finishing out her life as a UNICEF activist, Audrey was the consummate citizen of the world. That poses problems for any "merely American" actress who wants to fill her shoes. Advantage Gwynnie: as an American whose greatest acclaim has come with playing Brits, she seems to possess a similarly liminal, Euro-American identity.

But multiculti Audrey was in another sense homeless, orphaned from any specific nationality. In many of her landmark films—Tiffany's, Roman Holiday, Sabrina—Audrey is caught between two worlds, dislocated, forced to fit the entire Givenchy fall line into a threadbare apartment. In this realm, Paltrow's balancing act between a dispossessed Audrey and Grace "I Have the World at My Feet" Kelly (complete with Monaco-style pink dress and blond bun) tilts too far toward the latter, clearing the way for upstart Portman. If you can imagine Holly Golightly as an apprentice hit man, then Portman's performance in The Professionalwas 100 percent Audrey. And her upcoming role as a royal refugee places her in familiar Audrey territory.

Then there's the unavoidable issue of Audrey's neck. Sure, we've all fallen into the trap of thinking that all you need is a long, sinuous neck that seems to have a life of its own and voilà—instant Audrey. Certainly Norman Jewison took that shortcut by playing up Marisa Tomei's neck in Only You, the ill-fated remake of Roman Holiday. The problem was that, neck notwithstanding, Tomei has as much in common with Audrey as her costar Robert Downey Jr. has with Gregory Peck.

Ultimately, the notion of the "next Audrey" is a fallacy: no one really wants another one. Short-term imitation may be flattery, but replication is blasphemy—which is why Audrey is best conserved as an unattainable ideal for future starlets. That being the case, maybe Jennifer Love Hewitt should hold on to that I Still Really Know What You Did Three Summers Agoscript until the dust settles.

 
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