Few actresses could live up to the tremendous public relations campaign that was launched on behalf of the young British actress Julia Ormond when she was chosen to star in Sydney Pollack’s 1995 remake of “Sabrina.”
Not only was the unknown actress (in this country) appearing opposite Harrison Ford in a big-budget romantic comedy, she was stepping into the shoes of Hollywood legend Audrey Hepburn who played the title role in the 1954 version (co-starring Humphrey Bogart and William Holden).
Ormond had already completed another Hollywood film — “Legends of the Fall” — by the time she started work on the Pollack comedy, but the PR campaign for that western romance was nowhere near as big as the one for “Sabrina.”
Ormond’s approach to the role in “Sabrina” was cooler than Hepburn’s — and she didn’t get much to play off from Ford — and no one much cared for the picture.
The actress became another of those highly touted imports — ala Marthe Keller in the 1970s — who was dropped by Hollywood almost as quickly as she was picked up.
Now it seems obvious that the mid-1990s slice of Ormond’s career was an aberration in the development of an extraordinary actress. She had worked in England on stage and in television and indie films before she was “discovered” by Hollywood and that’s where she has been working steadily ever since.
Many Americans rediscovered Ormond in the terrific HBO movie “Temple Grandin” which won her an Emmy in 2010 (for playing the devoted mother of Clare Danes in the title role) and she co-starred in a fine independent film “The Green” which was released in theaters last year and is available on DVD and video-on-demand services.
Ormond had a key supporting role — as Vivien Leigh — in last year’s biodrama “My Week with Marilyn” which earned an Oscar nomination for Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe during the filming of “The Prince and the Showgirl.”
“The Green” is a drama about what happens in a Connecticut coastal town when a gay teacher in a private school is accused of molesting a male student.
Well written by Paul Marcarelli and beautifully directed by Steven Williford, the picture is blessed with a top notch ensemble that includes such New York theater stalwarts as Cheyenne Jackson (left) and Laura Esterman; the very talented New Haven born actor Michael Godere; and the underutilized film actress Illeana Douglas.
Ormond gives the picture a big boost with her surprisingly amusing and unsentimental performance as the lawyer who takes the teacher’s case. The attorney doesn’t believe in sugar-coating reality and acts as a wake-up call both to the naive teacher and his boyfriend and the film itself (“The Green” could have easily devolved into one of those gooey, preaching-to-the-converted gay films that never escapes from the LGBT festival circuit).
Ormond, who is 46 now, puts the lie to Hollywood notions of what constitutes female beauty after an actress passes through her starlet phase.
She looks every bit her age, but she is more attractive than ever because of what time and living in the real world has done to her face. And the maturing of her talent — the simple, direct quality of her performance as a small-town lawyer — matches up perfectly with her looks.
I wish that Hollywood studios would start looking to actresses like Ormond to play leading roles in major films so that the chemical and surgical horrors perpetrated on our middle-aged stars could cease.