Exclusive Interview: Documentary Filmmaker Helena Coan discusses Audrey

Currently available on DVD & Blu-ray, and available on VOD & Digital beginning January 5th is the new documentary, Audrey. Directed by Helena Coen (Chasing Perfect), the film chronicles the life and work of legendary actress Audrey Hepburn from WWII refuge, to dancer, to Oscar-winner, to international humanitarian, and eventually an icon. The movie features a never-before-heard audio interview with Hepburn, as well as new interviews with Academy Award-nominated director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show), Academy Award-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws), her son, granddaughter, and other close personal friends. 

We Live Entertainment had the pleasure of talking with filmmaker Helena Coan, who is also the former frontwoman of the band Dios Mio and recently launched her own solo music career, about her new documentary, Audrey. Coan discussed the movie, why she wanted to make it, Hepburn’s charity work, her fame, choosing the footage and interviews for the documentary, and what she learned about Audrey Hepburn from making this project.

We Live Entertainment: To begin with, can you talk about what intrigued you about Audrey Hepburn’s story and why you decided to make a documentary about her?

Helena Coan: I think for me; a lot of filmmakers have shied away from telling her story because she’s not that kind of classic tragic heroine figure in a way. She wasn’t a doomed starlet like how Marilyn Monroe is perceived as being. I think that often filmmakers want to tell those stories because sometimes they are easier to tell in a way, these stories of tragedy and doom. With Audrey Hepburn, I just felt like she was someone who had struggled, suffered, and has overcome difficulties in her life, and she always transformed the trauma and the pain she went through. She always transformed it into a greater sense of love and gratitude. I just wanted to tell a story that was a message of hope and also to remind people why this woman is still so prevalent in our public consciousness today. It’s because she stood for something timeless, which is love. That is kind of my take on her story.  

She really struggled to find love in her life. From the abandonment by her father when she was six years old, I think that rippled through the rest of her life and informed the other relationships that she would go on to make. I think she struggled to find love but really found it through the humanitarian work she did. That was really important for me as well to focus a lot of the film on that part of her life because I think that role was so important to her. She was a pioneer. She really changed people’s perceptions about what a “third world country” was. She was the first person to merge those two worlds together, Hollywood and the super glamorous, with people who are struggling to survive. I think because she had grown up in a war-torn area, she knew what it meant to starve, and instead of letting that destroy her, she kept going. She did help people the way she wishes someone would have helped her during the war, and they eventually did through UNICEF, which is why she worked for them as well. That sense of giving is so synonymous with Audrey Hepburn. 

We Live Entertainment: To follow up on that, can you talk a little more about her work with UNICEF and how that was really the legacy she wanted to leave behind?

Helena Coan: As well as being a mother, I think she saw that as her greatest role. I think she is a rare example of someone who genuinely uses her power for good. She was enormously powerful in Hollywood. We talk in the movie about how she had been out of the film industry for ten years, but she would go to the UN and have these discussions where she would get millions of dollars for the cause and get people to change their minds about policies. It just shows how extraordinarily powerful and influential she still was because she hadn’t made a film in ten years. I can’t think of many other people who have done that. I don’t think I can think of anybody else, this day or then, who would do that. 

She just had this real deep love for humanity. She really cared. She wasn’t just going to countries and having a photo opportunity with starving children, she was sitting with them, she was talking to the mothers, she was kissing the children, and she was learning. She would study every environment she was going into. She read about that place and tried to figure out what was going on there. I just think there is no one else like her, really. At the height of her career, she decided to give it all up, become a mother, and just chose not to be in the film industry anymore and devote her life to charity work and humanitarian work. What’s more heroic than that? 

We Live Entertainment: For those too young to understand, can you discuss just how famous she was around the world at the height of her celebrity?

Helena Coan: She is one of the most photographed people to ever live. I saw a documentary on the BBC called something like “The World’s Most Photographed People,” and episode one was on Hitler, and episode two was Audrey Hepburn. It just shows you that she had this intense level of fame that I do think still exists today but in a different way. If you look at people like the Kardashians, or Justin Bieber, they are huge stars, but with Audrey, her fame has been everlasting. She is still such an important figure now. The reaction to this documentary proves that. I get messages all the time from young people, older people, everyone just loves her and is excited to know more about her. 

I think the way her fame is different is that she was very private, something that made people want to talk to her even more. I don’t think fame was important to her. She’d rather have not had it and I think because of her attitude towards fame, she’ll always be in the public conscious. Imagine a world where Audrey Hepburn is not in people’s minds. You can’t! I go to cafes, restaurants, people’s houses, and I see pictures of her on the walls. Often the people don’t even know who she is, which I find funny. She is an icon in the truest sense of the word. Also, her contribution to fashion was immense. I can’t think of another star whose fashion is so prevalent. You see people all the time doing Audrey Hepburn inspired looks like Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman, Kim Kardashian, and Zoe Kravitz. It’s just that everyone is so inspired by her. 

We Live Entertainment: Can you talk about all the hours of archive footage that you had to sift through to find a narrative and create this documentary?

Helena Coan: This was a really hard film to make. The extent of the work is something that I am still recovering from. The amount of archive footage was just unbelievable, and it is also very expensive. We had to stop and change things and that went on for ages but it’s kind of an endless source with her. We had an amazing archive researcher on board who I worked with sifting through loads of footage and it was her job to find stuff and send it to me. We got really lucky finding some never before seen footage, and a never before heard interview with Audrey, which is a really important part of the film. I always wanted Audrey’s words to be the background of the film. So, when we first started editing the film, me and my editor would sit down and go through the different footage, chronologically building the storyline just with her words. 

We Live Entertainment: The film uses a few interviews with celebrities who worked with Hepburn, like director Peter Bogdanovich and actor Richard Dreyfuss, but for the most part, you only talked with her family and close personal friends. Can you talk about the choice to not go after interviews with current celebrities that admire Audrey, but instead focus on the people that knew her best?

Helena Coan: This film is about the person behind that famous woman, so I wanted to talk to the people that had lived with her and knew her. Having her son on board and her granddaughter Emma, who had never done an interview like that before was phenomenal. Having their blessing and contribution just made the film feel so special. There have been TV docs made about her before where you have various actors and actresses, and directors who worked with her, so I thought it was important to get a couple of those voices in. Especially people who worked with her towards the end of her career, because obviously people who worked with her earlier, most of them are not with us anymore. I love Peter Bogdanovich’s work, he is amazing, and Richard Dreyfuss as well, they were both just brilliant. The other reason I wanted to speak with them is that they worked with Audrey at really pivotal points in her life. 

They All Laughed was made right after her second divorce from Andrea Dotti, and she was really suffering, and Peter talks about that in the film. She was very composed and in control in front of the camera, then when he called cut she would be an anxious, nervous, wreck. He saw that and could talk about that. Dreyfuss worked with her on her last ever film, Always, and it is one of my favorite roles of hers. He is the last person in history to be on screen with her and share the screen with her. So, having him talk about that was really special. I remember Dreyfuss talking about when he met her. He said he couldn’t speak because he was so overwhelmed by being in her presence. It is so symbolic that Always was her last film. She was playing this kind of angel figure and she died not long after that film was made. She has this calm beauty that is very singular in terms of the roles she has played in other films. think it is a beautiful lasting portrait of her and I think the movie has been very underappreciated actually. 

We Live Entertainment: Finally, what did you learn about Audrey Hepburn’s life while making this documentary that surprised you the most, and what do you hope audiences learn about her from the film?

Helena Coan: I think something surprising that I learned was about the real horrors that she went through during the war and it was quite shocking to learn how close she came to losing her life. I think the impact that her father had when he left her life and hearing her talk about that was surprising too. In that interview that I mentioned that had never been heard before, she talks about it. She literally said, “My father leaving left me insecure for life.” Hearing that from one of the most revered women to have ever lived, admitting to this real vulnerability was quite amazing to hear. I think, on that note as well, just her real genuine insecurities about her looks as well. In the film, she says that she wishes she could have changed everything about herself. To learn that someone who is so known for her beauty was actually still insecure is shocking. The whole process has shown me what a complex, beautiful, wonderful woman she was. I hope that this documentary helps reframe her, breathes new life into her, and allows people to be reminded of what an amazing person she was.  

Audrey  is now available on Blu-Ray, DVD and VOD

Written by
A graduate of Emerson College, Jami Philbrick has worked in the entertainment industry for over 20 years, and most recently was a Senior Staff Reporter and Video Producer for Mtime, China's largest entertainment website. Before that, Philbrick was the Managing Editor of Relativity Media's iamROGUE.com for 4 years and has written for a variety of magazines and online publications including Wizard Magazine, Nerdist.com, and Collider.com. Philbrick has also been a contributor on Fox News, News 12 Westchester, AMC Movie Talk, and the PBS movie review series, Just Seen It. Philbrick was the 2019 recipient of the International Media Award at the 56th annual ICG Publicists Awards, and has interviewed such impressive talent as Tom Cruise, George Clooney, Bill Murray, Al Pacino, Oprah Winfrey, Bruce Willis, Mark Hamill, Spike Lee, Frances Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Stan Lee, and Kermit the Frog.

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