I Wanna Dance With Somebody’s Director on Telling Whitney Houston’s Story

Dec 22, 2022

The new Whitney Houston biopic, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, stars Naomi Ackie, and will attempt to capture the extraordinary spirit of the multi-award-winning powerhouse. With a screenplay by Anthony McCarten (Bohemian Rhapsody), and the involvement of those close to Houston, including collaborator and manager, Clive Davis, who serves as a producer for the film, the movie is expected to be an empathetic glimpse into the singer’s intimate life, and her skyrocket to stardom.

The woman tackling this feat is director Kasi Lemmons (Harriet), a filmmaker with experience both on and off-camera. Along with the support of Houston’s estate, and sister-in-law Pat Houston, Lemmons’ production is said to dig deeper into Houston’s private affairs with respect and reverence, and spans the length of the singer’s life from childhood to her tragic death. Alongside Ackie, I Wanna Dance With Somebody features Stanely Tucci as Davis, Tamara Tunie as Houston’s mother, Cissy Houston, Clarke Peters as her father John Houston, Nafessa Williams as Robyn Crawford, and Ashton Sanders as Bobby Brown.

Before I Wanna Dance With Somebody debuts on December 23, Collider’s Steve Weintraub sat down with the director to discuss the making of the film. During their 1-on-1, Lemmons discusses Houston’s estate and their hand in the movie, and shares the original runtime of the film before cuts. She also has high praise for the actors, revealing a few of the scenes that took place over decades, but were filmed in one day. You can watch the interview in the video above, or read the full transcript below.

COLLIDER: You obviously got permission from the estate to show so many things that I was surprised you got to include but was there a limit where they said, “You can’t do that.”

KASI LEMMONS: It was a push and pull. Anthony McCarten wrote the script with the permission of the estate, and he had a lot of stuff in there. There was a little bit of a difference between them reading it in print and seeing it fleshed out, and there were emotional reactions that had to be navigated, and there was a balance that had to be struck. But I really commend them for their commitment to telling a truthful story and including things that they were, perhaps, uncomfortable with. But yeah, it was a negotiation. It was a balancing act.

Image via TriStar Pictures

And I’m sure the negotiation possibly also went into the editing room, which is where I wanted to talk about because that’s ultimately where it all comes together. So, did you have a much longer cut?

LEMMONS: Yeah. We started off at four hours and 16 minutes, it was the first editor’s cut. And so yeah, there was a lot of material. Just a lot of material. And honestly, balancing the tone of the film went all the way until the last minute of the edit. Balancing the music in the film, what songs were going to be included almost in totality, and which we were going to hear in snippets. That was a balancing act and how much of which relationship we’re seeing. It was a big process to kind of get it to the runtime that it is, and then we refined that run time up until the last minute.

For people that just heard you say four hours, 16 minutes, we need to clarify that. That’s literally everything and not a movie meant to be watched.

LEMMONS: No. That’s right. Exactly.

What was the cut that you were really happy with, the length of the cut that you’re like, “Oh, this is pretty good.” Was it like two and a half hours? Was it three hours?

LEMMONS: Yeah, there was a two-hour and 27-minute cut that I loved a lot, and there was a two-hour and 36-minute cut that I loved a lot.

Image via Sony Pictures

For fans of Whitney [Houston], eventually, on Blu-ray home video, is there any chance of you releasing the deleted scenes or doing an extended cut?

LEMMONS: Absolutely. The deleted scenes will be released. 100%.

So one of the things that I found when I was reading about the making of the movie is that you obviously had to film multiple different time periods on the same day just due to budget and filming schedule. And what is that like trying to depict three different periods of Whitney’s life on the same day? Because it’s a challenge for any actor to deliver a performance for one time period.

LEMMONS: Let me tell you about Naomi Ackie. She’s a phenomenal actor. But this is actually one of my favorite things because it’s really working with the actor on the continuity, and reminding ourselves where we are in the film. But let me tell you two things that she did. She did, very, very early in her career, a scene with Robyn [Crawford] (Nafessa Williams), where they’re kids and at the rec center, and entering rehab on the same day.

But here’s my favorite, and it’s really stayed with me: when Clive says, “You need rehab,” that beautiful scene? That was Stanley Tucci’s first day of work. Can you imagine? That was their first scene together. But when you have truly gifted actors, really great artists, they’re able to create and to find a relationship that feels lived in, and being present for that and participating in that, it’s one of my favorite things.

I Wanna Dance With Somebody hits theaters December 23.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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