Audrey Hepburn Turned Down Playing Anne Frank for These Surprising Reasons

Belgian-born actress Audrey Hepburn is most known as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Had she taken her father's advice and abided by the pleas of Otto Frank, Hepburn may have become most recognized for playing Anne Frank on the silver screen.

Revelations from Robert Matzen's biography Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and WWII revealed that, despite significant pressure to accept the role, Hepburn did not feel equipped to play the German-born Jewish girl whose diary would become a lasting testament to the horrors of German occupation.

Hepburn Had Her Own History With German Forces

Growing up in England, Belgium, and the Netherlands, Audrey Hepburn personally witnessed the terror of living under German occupation. In fact, Hepburn was eleven years old when the German army captured her home nation, the Netherlands, in 1940. Hepburn's aristocratic parents reportedly held pro-German sentiments until their family was touched by the ruthlessness of the occupying forces.

Hepburn's uncle, Otto, was reportedly killed by Germans in 1942 after being arrested and imprisoned for aiding the resistance movement. Audrey's half-brother was later deported to a German labor camp, further shattering any pro-German sentiments Hepburn's parents may have held. In fact, Hepburn reportedly took an active role in fighting the Reich.

Stories abound about Hepburn aiding in the Dutch resistance as a young girl, reportedly bringing food and messages to downed Allied pilots. Hepburn also lived through the famine that struck Holland as her country became an increasingly contentious battleground late in the war, exposing her further to the horrors that war creates.

The parallels between Audrey Hepburn—who herself huddled in shelter as bombs fell upon her hometown—and Anne Frank are more plentiful than many Breakfast at Tiffany's fans may realize.

Why Hepburn Turned Down The Role of Anne Frank

Playing Anne Frank in a major motion picture is a career-defining opportunity that most starlets would accept without a second thought. Not only was Hepburn offered the role, but she was reportedly handpicked by Anne's father, Otto, to portray his daughter in George Stevens' movie The Diary of Anne Frank.

According to Matzen, Hepburn's own history of huddling in bomb shelters and witnessing German atrocities was simply too heavy to reenact on the screen. In fact, Hepburn is quoted as feeling that Anne Frank could have been her own sister, indicating how vivid the German occupation remained in Audrey's mind:

“I was so destroyed by it again, that I said I couldn’t deal with it,” Hepburn recalled later on. “It’s a little bit as if this had happened to my sister . . . in a way, she was my soul sister.”

Reading The Diary of a Young Girl opened deep wounds for Hepburn. The prospect of re-opening those wounds in service of a film was not acceptable to Hepburn.

The Film Moved Forward Without Hepburn, but She Remains Iconic

George Stevens' film moved forward with Millie Perkins playing Anne Frank. Released in theaters in 1959, The Diary of Anne Frank won three Academy Awards after receiving eight nominations. Notably, Perkins was not nominated for her depiction of Frank.

While every rational film and history buff will respect Hepburn's decision, we have to wonder what could have been. Audrey Hepburn as Anne Frank would have blurred the lines of real life and acting in a manner we rarely witness, and would have certainly made for compelling cinema. 

Sam Mire is a freelance writer who has manned a variety of beats over nearly a decade in the literary biz. He has spent weeks in the Alaskan wildlands, immersed himself in the world of Florida's homeless population, covered live sporting events, and served as a linchpin for media outlets in the legal, tech, and entertainment spaces. Sam has been published in Fast Company, Forbes, Entrepreneur, AP News, Fox News, and, most notably, Wealth of Geeks. In his free time, he enjoys boxing, woodwork, petting his dog, and reveling in good company.