Audrey Hepburn’s Screen Test for Roman Holiday (1953)

When you think of Audrey Hepburn, you think of Roman Holiday, the 1953 film that launched her career. How can you forget Hepburn as Princess Anne? Originally, the part was written for Elizabeth Taylor, then a major star. But something happened during the casting that changed all of that. In his biography of Ms. Hepburn, the author Barry Paris writes:

Her Roman Holiday test took place at Pinewood Studio in London, September 18, 1951, under [Thorold] Dickinson’s direction. “We did some scenes out of the script,” he said, but “Paramount also wanted to see what Audrey was actually like not acting a part, so I did an interview with her. We loaded a thousand feet of film into a camera and every foot of it went on this conversation. She talked about her experiences in the war, the Allied raid on Arnhem, and hiding out in a cellar. A deeply moving thing.”

Later, so the story goes, the director William Wyler watched the footage (shown above) in Rome and found it irresistible. He claimed: “She had everything I was looking for: charm, innocence and talent. She also was very funny. She was absolutely enchanting, and we said, ‘That’s the girl!’”

In watching the footage, one thing will leap out. Hepburn’s adolescence was hardly suited for a princess. Living in the Dutch town of Arnhem during World War II, she experienced the harsh German occupation firsthand and suffered from malnutrition, acute anemia, respiratory problems, and edema by the war’s end. It was a formative experience that later made her a devoted activist for children’s rights.

Related Content:

Marlene Dietrich’s Temperamental Screen Test for The Blue Angel (1929)

Marlon Brando Screen Tests for Rebel Without A Cause (1947)

Bruce Lee Auditions for The Green Hornet



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  1. Kiki says . . . | January 5, 2012 / 7:16 am

    She starts to smile and the world lights up, you hear music in your head and are utterly floored.
    She might not have been a great actress, but she must have been the brightest and truest star in Hollywood. Great find, thank you!

  2. KateC says . . . | January 6, 2012 / 1:45 pm

    Taylor was Capra’s idea in 1943, but by the time the script got to Paramount, Taylor wasn’t right. William Wyler wanted Jean Simmons, but she was under contract to Howard Hughes who wouldn’t release her.

    And Paris’ story isn’t quite right–Wyler couldn’t do the test, so he left instructions that the cameras be kept running after she had finished her scenes. As a result, he got to see how her personality registered spontaneously.

  3. Tatiana says . . . | January 7, 2012 / 6:51 am

    Since Taylor was 11 in 1943, either she was never first choice or the script came later than that.

  4. Dan Colman says . . . | January 7, 2012 / 10:52 am

    Tatiana, Just want to point out that the film came out in 1953, not 1943. So that gives Taylor another decade. It looks like KateC has the story basically right. Find more details here: http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/376657%7C97160/Roman-Holiday.html

    Cheers,
    Dan

  5. BJWalsh says . . . | January 8, 2012 / 3:09 am

    Simply the most beautiful face I’ve ever seen.

  6. Tatiana says . . . | January 14, 2012 / 11:21 am

    I know perfectly well when the film came out, down to the month. KateC is the one who mentioned 1943.

  7. Widia says . . . | February 25, 2013 / 12:32 am

    Nice info. I wish there were a longer version of this footage :(

    Speaking of the movie, this is too disappointing that the movie was shot in black and white. I heard that the director had always wanted the movie to be shot in colorful, but due to budget restriction by Paramount, he eventually resisted the urge. If only Paramount were not too stingy.

    Paramount definitely made mistake by doing that. Big mistake, big. Huge.

  8. jahanzabe dhillon says . . . | August 24, 2013 / 3:19 am

    audrey hepburn a great find. though she didn’t carry the paragon-of-beauty package in her persona yet she proved that chrisma, looks, inborn innocence and lifelikely approach to acting can pay a lot in the field of silver screen. roman holiday one of my all time favourites..

  9. Poicephalus says . . . | November 18, 2013 / 6:35 pm

    We can thank Micky Burn (RIP) for providing the care packages that helped save her life.nnhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micky_Burn

  10. Anthony says . . . | November 18, 2013 / 7:41 pm

    I heard differently. The story I read was they purposely kept it black and white to keep the focus on the story and the acting.

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