WHITNEY HOUSTON was an extraordinary talent with a tortured soul, and playing the star in a new biopic nearly broke Naomi Ackie.
The little-known British actor was deeply affected by the hours spent in character as the drug-addicted singer, من الذى مات بعمر 48 في 2012 from an accidental overdose.
The high-profile role in I Wanna Dance With Somebody, which had been rumoured to be going to singer ميغان تشع بقبلة قبل هاري على خشبة المسرح في حفل افتتاح Invictus Games, put Naomi under such strain that she had to take a break from filming.
The 30-year-old said: “It took a toll on my الصحة النفسية.
“That meant I had to take a break from the script and Whitney for about a month before going back into it because there was a feeling of urgency and intensity that, thankfully, I’ve let go of now.”
Prior to landing the part, Naomi was best known for a supporting role in Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker and Channel 4’s The End Of The F***ing World.
But five years ago, she almost gave up on an acting career. Naomi grew up in Walthamstow, East لندن, with her dad Brian, a transport employee, and NHS worker mum, Debra, who died eight years ago, مسن 49.
After studying at Walthamstow School for Girls she attended the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, graduating in 2012.
‘I was really down, I was really broke’
Despite plaudits for her debut film Lady Macbeth, which launched the career of her co-star فلورنسا بوج, في 2016, Naomi struggled to land her next role.
To make ends meet she worked in a wine bar and at The Crystal Maze Experience in central London.
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She recalls: “I finished Lady Macbeth and nothing happened. I went back to my normal side job.
“And I was like, 'أوه, I thought I just did an amazing thing’.
“And you have all these thoughts and expectations. And I was really down, I was really broke, I was really frustrated.”
في الموعد, Naomi was still living with her dad and made the tough decision that if she didn’t make a breakthrough within the next year she would quit acting.
She explains: “I said to the universe, 'نظرة, I’m gonna give you a year. If I don’t get a sign, بخير, I will figure something else out. I’m perfectly capable of doing that.
“And then about four months later Star Wars came along. So it was a good sign.”
Naomi played Orbak-riding rebel Jannah in the 2019 Star Wars instalment and, seven months later, won the Best Supporting Actress Bafta for black comedy The End Of The F***ing World.
But there was an initial backlash on social media in December 2020 when it was announced that Naomi would be playing New Jersey-born superstar Whitney.
The fact a Brit had landed the role irked some Americans.
While the criticism bothered Naomi at first, she took a measured approach to the problem.
هي تقول: “They’re not hiring me because I’m British or whatever it is, they’re hiring me because I offer a service — I’m good at my job and I have integrity when it comes to this stuff.
“Am I worried? بلى, but I’m trying to do this thing where I don’t worry about what people think about me any more.
“What am I going to do? I’m not going to quit to work in Tescos now.”
I Wanna Dance With Somebody, out in cinemas today, follows the singer’s path to stardom.
It begins with her being discovered by music producer Clive Davis, played by Stanley Tucci, and takes us through some of her most memorable performances.
It is the brainchild of Whitney’s estate and while they hope it is a celebration of her life, the film was allowed to depict the superstar’s personal battles.
When Whitney first reached No1 with Saving All My Love For You in 1985, the former choir singer had a girl-next-door image.
She went on to have chart success with I Wanna Dance With Somebody and How Will I Know and enjoyed a record breaking ten-week run in the UK charts with I Will Always Love You from 1992 فيلم, The Bodyguard.
And at the height of her fame in 1991, she wowed National Football League fans by singing US national anthem The Star-spangled Banner at the Superbowl.
But Whitney had been hiding a battle with drugs that started long before finding fame and fortune.
انقسموا 2006 بعد 14 years of marriage amid rumours Bobby, who also abused drugs, had cheated on her.
Despite stays in rehab, six-time Grammy winner Whitney drowned in a bathtub at the Beverly Hills Hotel while high on cocaine and suffering heart disease, في فبراير 11, 2012.
Daughter Bobbi tragically died three years later, مسن 22, from lobar pneumonia after also being found collapsed in a bathtub.
There is no doubt that this is Naomi’s biggest, most complex role to date.
Naomi says: "نعم, she had one of the most amazing voices in the world. Still to this day. But she was just as human as I am.
“She had many conflicts as I do, as many arguments with herself, as many problems as anyone else.”
Naomi spent months researching videos of Whitney performing before she began filming the biopic in August last year.
هي تقول: “I think I’ve seen every single one on YouTube countless times — and it became like a prison.
“And funnily enough, that’s not usually the way I roll.
“Like I’m pretty kind of relaxed when it comes to prep for work.”
The long hours and determination to put in a “perfect” performance inevitably wore her down.
She confessed: “My ego is a big one.
“This was one of the first times where something wasn’t easy. It was a daily grind. This was maybe the first time that I felt my anxiety.”
Naomi feared her on-screen interpretation of Whitney would not live up to audience expectations and be panned by critics.
هي تقول: “I constantly had to remind myself to ‘tell the truth of the story’.”
‘I’ve always had a bit of stage fright’
Just two weeks before they wrapped the shoot, Naomi came to the conclusion that “it shouldn’t be perfect”.
She laughs: “It’s hilarious to me, sometimes I’m like, ‘God, I wish I knew that right at the top’.”
While Naomi can carry a tune, the film’s producers decided it would be better to rely on Whitney’s original vocals for most of the scenes of her performing.
Naomi admits: “I’ve always had a bit of stage fright when it comes to singing. It’s something that I still dealt with Whitney because I did have to sing at some points.”
Written by Anthony McCarten, whose previous scripts include Oscar-nominated Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody and The Theory Of Everything, about astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, the movie is set to be a hit.
But it has already ruffled a few feathers. Bobby, 53 — played in the film by Ashton Sanders — has complained that the film should not focus on the dark moments of his relationship with Whitney.
Even he admits he will still watch it, رغم ذلك.