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Marisa Abela Reveals How She Became Amy Winehouse



Singer Amy Winehouse’s tumultuous relationship with husband Blake Fielder-Civil inspired her to write and record the groundbreaking album “Back to Black.”

Now some 13 years after her untimely death, actress Marisa Abela, best known from the TV series “Industry,” is portraying her on the big screen in the Sam Taylor-Johnson directed biopic Back to Black.

For the film, Taylor-Johnson decided not to use Winehouse’s vocals. Instead, using Abela’s singing voice to belt out Amy’s iconic tunes. She spent four months learning to sing in Winehouse’s specific vocal style (two hours a day, five days a week), play guitar (one hour a day, three times a week) and move like her through “intense” physical training.

HipHollywood spoke with both Taylor-Johnson and Abela during the recent press day to learn more about how they brought Amy’s story to life.

HH: Sam because you also are a musician and artist, was this a project that you really felt like you had to do?

Sam: I’ve always been obsessed with her music and loved her music for such a long time. So when the film came in as an offer for me to make it, I said yes without even processing because I was just so connected instantly to the idea of making this film.

HH: Marisa, what did you listen to during film? Were there artists, were there songs, that really helped you transform into Amy?

Marisa: There was lots of [artists] during the preparation. Listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Diana Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Billy Holiday. And in a way the places that I started to find Amy’s voice most was in those songs because it’s so easy when you listen to something like ‘Rehab’ to get in your head about how it should sound because you know the record. But learning about jazz through these women and then singing along as Amy after learning some of the techniques that I was learning it started to feel more free.

Marisa: There’s a song on the deluxe version of the ‘Frank’ album, which is ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ and I think that’s one of my favorite songs that Amy sings because it’s like her voice as a jazz singer is so important to remember as well. So, yeah, I was listening to all of that stuff as well as hip hop.

HH: Sam talk about your approach with the music because it’s an integral part of this film. What it a fun or challenging process for you?

Sam: Yeah, it was my favorite thing to do, really, to work with music. Through the films I’ve made so far, they’re often really musically connected. When they came to me with the movie, they said, we have all the music rights. It was a joy because just to know that we had access to every part of her catalog and just to be able to work with whichever parts of her music that we wanted to was just a real gift. To then really deep dive into her lyrics and then be guided by them to make this movie from her perspective was super important.

Back to Black is in theaters May 17.

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