Audrey Hepburn And Cary Grant Were Well Aware Of Their Awkward Age Gap In Charade

Is an Audrey Hepburn movie really an Audrey Hepburn movie if her love interest isn't at least 10 years her senior? Sadly, some of the actress' best films have her playing against some of the most charming heartthrobs of their time ... just a bit past their prime. Hepburn famously smooched Fred Astaire, then pushing 60, in "Funny Face;" a 56-year-old Gary Cooper in "Love in the Afternoonl" and Humphrey Bogart — with a whopping 30 years (!) between them — in "Sabrina," all before she'd turned 30.

I suppose that's the curse of the gamine, but still: there's scarcely a romantic pairing in any Hepburn film that doesn't boast a creepy age gap. That makes some of her most entertaining films, like the Hitchcockian "Charade," difficult to get behind, even for its stars.

In the 1963 film, Hepburn pairs up with Cary Grant to recover her late husband's hidden fortune. Grant had about 25 years on his co-star, and he was well aware of it. There's a reason "Charade" was their first and only film together: Grant had turned down three chances to work with Hepburn (in "Roman Holiday," "Sabrina" and "Love in the Afternoon," respectively) on the basis of their age gap alone. So what made Grant finally say yes 10 years after rebuffing "Roman Holiday," and how exactly did he overcome his trepidation?

Hepburn finally grew up... kind of

By the early '60s, Audrey Hepburn was beginning to break out of the mold that made so many of her romances so, well, icky. In films like "Funny Face" and "My Fair Lady," Hepburn was always the plucky-yet-malleable ingénue. Her allure was tied to her innocence and penchant for mischief, and though she would eventually "become a woman" by the end of the story, such an evolution could always be traced back to her much-older love interests. Their paternal guidance could temper Hepburn's most juvenile leading ladies and (are we cringing yet?) send her head over heels in love, for some curious reason.

All that began to change with "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Though tamer than the Truman Capote novella in every way that mattered, the role of Holly Golightly was also Hepburn at her most independent. It was Holly who pursued — and more importantly, swindled — those older men, and it was nice to see her end up with someone in her age bracket for once.

By the time "Charade" came around two years later, Hepburn had another much-older love interest, but she also had a lot more autonomy. Ironically though, it was Grant who asked screenwriter Peter Stone to make changes to their dynamic. With Stone's rewrites, Hepburn's character became the pursuer, and Grant was the one ignoring her advances. "I gave him lines like, 'I'm too old for you, get away from me, little girl,'" recalled Stone. "She chased him, and he tried to dissuade her. She pursued him and sat in his lap. She found him irresistible, and ultimately he was worn down by her."

How does this switch help Charade?

Does such a pivot actually work? Kind of. But being aware of the age gap in question and calling such indelible attention to it are two very different things. At times, Grant's dismissal plays perfectly against Hepburn's cheeky defiance. But it can also be a little too on the nose. At one point, he literally calls her a minor, and it completely derails their unlikely compatibility.

Yes, Grant was nearly 60, and Hepburn was barely over 30. It can be icky. Fortunately, Stone's whip-smart dialogue elsewhere elevates Hepburn from elvish damsel to Grant's competent (and snarky) equal. "Charade" works because Hepburn is a perfect match for Grant, despite their age. It's not that she doesn't need him — she is still, in fact, a little helpless without him — but she has desires of her own, and it's all because Grant was scared of being seen as a "dirty old man." Small victories!