Naomi Ackie fulfilled a lot of firsts taking on the role of Whitney Houston in the new biopic “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
According to the British-born actress this was her first biopic, her first time playing an American and first time playing a musician. So how did she prepare?
“It took about eight months, really, in terms of accent stuff,” she told HipHollywood. “It’s not natural to me, so it took a lot of practice. I worked with three amazing dialect coaches and a movement coach. It was a group effort, really. And after a while, you work on these things in little bits, and suddenly you know, it comes together and you don’t have to think about it.”
“Before I would consider having a serious conversation, I wanted to see her screen test,” said director Kasi Lemmons who came on board the project after director Stella Meghie vacated. “She was phenomenal. Even she blew me away. Even then, if this is where she began, she’s going to crush this.”
Written by Anthony McCarten, the film focuses largely on Houston’s music career — her early years singing with mother Cissy Houston, being discovered by Clive Davis, chart-topping success and untimely death in 2012.
Besides Houston’s relationship with Davis, the film also sheds light on her romance with ex-husband Bobby Brown (played by Ashton Sanders) and best-friend Robyn Crawford (played by Nafessa Williams).
Produced with the backing of Houston’s family and estate, as well as Davis, Lemmons did not consult Crawford for the film, but did rely on her book A Song for You: My Life With Whitney Houston.
Lemmons also told us she opted to book-end the film with Houston’s breath-taking performance at the 1994 American Music Award’s when she sang a medley of tunes “I Loves You, Porgy” and “I Am Telling You, I’m Not Going,” as well as her hit, “I Have Nothing,” in spell-binding succession.
While the film does gloss over many of Houston’s darker moments (including the days leading up to her death), the performance is certainly one of the highlights.
“When she performed the medley, I was crying and I had to remind myself that I was there working,” said Williams. “I looked over at Naomi in one moment and I saw Whitney. I saw her embodying Whitney. I felt her essence. And kudos to my girl who held it down. You can imagine the stamina that it took not just that scene, but the entire movie. I’m just excited for the world to see her rendition of Whitney.”
Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody is in theaters now.