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Audrey's Story
Film Charts Hepburn's Tough Early Years

By Patricia Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 26, 2000; Page Y03

For years, said producer Kimberly Rubin, she had wanted to tell Audrey Hepburn's personal story.

She wanted to portray the years before Hepburn became a well-known actress, the period that included her relationship with her estranged father, a Nazi sympathizer; the time of near-starvation in Holland when she helped the Dutch Resistance during World War II; her time at an English boarding school, where she began studying ballet.

She wanted to portray how, after bit parts in a few British films, including "The Lavender Hill Mob," Hepburn vaulted to fame. She starred on Broadway in "Gigi," chosen by French playwright Colette for her blend of innocence and sex appeal. In her first film lead, "Roman Holiday" (1953), Hepburn played a princess who briefly plays hooky with an American reporter, and won an Oscar.

And Rubin wanted to honor a woman she idolized.

"I grew up adoring her, and she was a role model to me," she said. "As I'd found out what she'd gone through and how she really triumphed, it was so incredibly inspiring to me."

On Monday, her three-hour tribute, "The Audrey Hepburn Story," airs from 8 to 11 p.m. on ABC.

For 21-year-old Jennifer Love Hewitt, whose television resume lists "Party of Five" and its spinoff,"Time of Your Life," the role is a plum.

In addition, young Sarah Hyland plays Hepburn as a child, and Emmy Rossum portrays her as a young teen during one of the most interesting -- and perilous -- periods of Hepburn's life.

Frances Fisher plays Audrey's mother, Ella von Heemstra, a Dutch baroness; Keir Dullea plays her Anglo-Irish father, Joseph Hepburn Ruston, who abandoned the family without explanation; and Eric McCormack is Mel Ferrer, her first husband.

It was "Party of Five" producer-director Steve Robman who suggested to Rubin that she consider for the role the young actress they call Love Hewitt.

"Love Hewitt really does have a sparkle that is similar to Audrey Hepburn," said Rubin. "She has a sweet, kind, loving spirit. Her essence reminded me of what I thought Audrey Hepburn was like, although I never had the privilege of meeting her."

Hewitt also is credited as a co-executive producer with Rubin and Robert Greenwald. Pulitzer Prize-winner Marsha Norman wrote the script.

"The Audrey Hepburn Story" is told in flashback, using her film "Breakfast at Tiffany's" as a springboard. That was Rubin's idea: "I thought 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' was a wonderful framing device because it was her most recognizable role."

She also decided not to take the story further into Hepburn's life "because of Love's age -- we would not be able to successfully age her past 33.

"And there wasn't that much more to say. To me, it was so important for people to see where she started."

Hepburn's son Sean Ferrar and her companion, Robert Wolders, saw the film, said Rubin, and were pleased with the portrayal. Hepburn's other son, Luca Dotti, "lives in Europe and is not a public person at all, so his choice was not to participate."

The movie's final frame pictures the real Audrey Hepburn visiting children in Africa on behalf of UNICEF, in remembrance of her own days of struggle as a child in war-torn Holland. In 1993, at 63, she died in Switzerland of colon cancer.

"I feel she was analogous to Princess Diana and brought a consciousness of world hunger and land mines before it was a hip thing to do," said Rubin.

As for Hewitt's performance, Rubin said: "At the end of the day, people are going to make comparisons, but we never set out for her to emulate or imitate Audrey Hepburn. She was very brave to take it on."

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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