Audrey Hepburn Is Eliza Doolittle

         Acting is obviously no easy task: otherwise it would be easy to take a part in a film, do a great job, and then become famous. Although the celebrity would today is becoming overrun with "over-night successes" from reality T.V. shows, the majority of the actors considered "great" belong to an elite handful. Actors today that fit into that category include Danzel Washington, Julie Andrews, Charleze Theron, etc. The passage way into the all-star category has to be a phenomenal role which pushes the actors into an uncomfortable world. The hardest part is convincing the audience that they were transformed into that character on the screen, not merely an actor cast for the part.

         Tom Hanks has been added to the list and has a long list of films that have transformed him over the years. Forrest Gump, directed by Robert Zemeckis in 1994, Apollo 13, directed by Ron Howard in 1995, and the recent Polar Express, directed by Robert Zemeckis in 2004, have all pushed him to the limits of becoming a character. What has made him so successful is the fact that he is so compelling as his role, that for the time being, the audience forgets he is Tom Hanks. One of the worst things actors can do is "play themselves" instead of the role. When this happens, viewers will tend to forget the plot of the movie and in hindsight only refer to it as "the so-and-so movie." The idea is to portray a story line and plot, not to portray an actor.

         Throughout English 213 there have been some actors who have successfully transformed themselves into their roles and others who overtly played themselves. Audrey Hepburn topped the lists of successful actors this semester. Comparing her to the challenges today's "super stars" face would be easy. Instead of relying on the name she made for herself, she continued to pick and play parts that challenged her as an actor, which made her performances that much more compelling. In George Cukor's 1964 My Fair Lady, based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion, her role as Eliza Doolittle was an example of her complete transformation for herself into her character and role. Usually thought of as an elegant person and a clean person for that matter, Hepburn becomes a poor, dirty, and badly spoken street woman. Her ability to change her voice, accent, and grammar as well as her ability to change throughout the film into her opposite is quite remarkable.

         First, Hepburn must speak like Eliza Doolittle the poor and uneducated flower girl. It takes more than a dirty face and old clothes to make an audience believe, and Hepburn's language and tone tie it all together. It is not as though Eliza just has a British accent or an Italian or an Australian accent; she has the speech patterns and sentence structure of a very low educated person. As she bargains with Colonel Pickering (Wilfred Hyde-White) and argues with Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) her true character comes alive. But, when she maintains it and enhances it first, when she arrives at Higgins' house and then when she begins her lessons, she is transformed. The audience forgets it is Audrey Hepburn, and she is Eliza Doolittle.

         The other way Audrey Hepburn transforms herself is the way in which she actually transforms her character throughout the film. She learns slowly throughout My Fair Lady and allows herself, her character, to become human. The mistakes she makes first in her lessons and then at the race track makes it easy for the audience to transfer right along with her and believe Doolittle as a real person instead of a role.

         The hardest part for an actor is making the audience believe him or her to be a real person. Tom Hanks is Forrest Gump, and Audrey Hepburn is Eliza Doolittle. They left themselves at the door and became their characters. Their ability to do this makes their characters into humans an audience cannot only relate to, but also believe in. Hepburn could be proud of her transformation into Eliza Doolittle because it was no easy task.

Elizabeth Fields

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