Ok, I'll admit it. I tend to watch films (well older ones mostly) depending on the actresses (and actors--but this is an actress post) in it. I know there are many others involved in the film, you have your director, producer, cinematographer, writers, set designers etc, but up on that screen, it's the actress/actor that you're watching. They're kind of your window to the film.
I like a whole range of actresses (a lot of them from cinema's Golden Age). I admire them for their acting, their ability to be believable/fascinating/etc in a performance, but also I admire them for who they are or how they come across in their persona, what they kind of bring to the table as a human being.
And so I will now go on to a produce a list of my favourites with some explanations on the side.
Audrey Hepburn: She's probably my favourite. I've admired her for a long time (I guess most people hear about Audrey at some point in their lives). Without really knowing why, her name epitomised for me the words 'elegance', 'poise' and 'class'. I also knew of her iconic role in Breakfast at Tiffany's for quite a while before finally watching it--having only seen that picture of her in Tiffany's with a breakfast sprawled out in front of her and a cigar in her hand (I hadn't taken notice of that cigar until much later, yup I am not good at paying attention to detail), I thought that she was a young innocent teenager (opposed to the callgirl she actually plays-but it's due to Audrey's charm that even today people probably still can't believe the subtext of her character).
Audrey's not only a style icon and the personification of good breeding, but she's also a talented actress. I know that often she played similar characters (with Parisian backdrops and much older men opposite her), but sprinkled around her filmography are some standout characters. There's, of course, her Oscar-winning performance in Roman Holiday, showing audiences for the first time how charming, fun, quirky and moving she could be. There is also her performance as a nun in The Nun's Story, which Audrey tackled with hardwork and showed her character's anguishes and difficulties with repressing her spirit and adopting the role of a nun. Of course, there's Audrey's iconic Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany's, which apparently was the performance that Audrey was proud of because the character, being an extrovert, was so different to her own introversion. Other two performances I'd like to point out are: Audrey playing a blind woman in Wait Until Dark, a role she thoroughly researched for and played to conviction (apparently she was advised to wear sunglasses to make it obvious that her character was blind, but she refused, wanting her character's blindness to show from within); and in Two for the Road she played a woman whose marriage is chronicled through various stages: when they first meet, when they're in love and when their marriage is crumbling. In her role, Audrey was uninhibited, natural, full of fun and misery as her marriage fizzles out. Just about every film role Audrey she did, she seemed to tackle with much effort and professionalism. And even when the film is not terrific, you can still depend on her to be (one example for me is War and Peace--for the most part I thought it was boring and was dissatisfied, but I felt Audrey was full of spirit and joy and lifted the film up in the parts she was in).
Then there was the humanitarian aspect of Audrey. In her later years she worked for UNICEF in third world countries and you can see from footage of her just how much goodness she had. As I vaguely remember, her son (in his memoir of her) said that she believed in simplicity, and I think that can be seen in the way she seemed to live. She once said "I decided, very early on, just to accept life unconditionally; I never expected it to do anything special for me, yet I seemed to accomplish far more than I had ever hoped. Most of the time it just happened to me without my ever seeking it." She's an inspiration indeed.
Ok, so this turned out much longer than I thought it would, and I haven't even touched on other actresses yet. I might do that in another post then.