Naomi Ackie on Filming a World Tour in a Day

Dec 23, 2022

In Sony’s biopic, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, actress Naomi Ackie (Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker) portrays 6-time Grammy Award-winning singer Whitney Houston in an emotional account of the bestselling artist’s rise to stardom. Written by Bohemian Rhapsody’s Anthony McCarten, the film will take fans through the ups and downs of Houston’s life, from the beginning to the painful end, and will feature a number of her chart-topping tracks.

Director Kasi Lemmons enlisted the aid of Houston’s estate, involving her former collaborator and manager, Clive Davis (played by Stanely Tucci), and Houston’s sister-in-law, Pat Houston, to produce, in order to tell her story with honesty and respect. In addition to Ackie and Tucci, I Wanna Dance With Somebody also stars Nafessa Williams, Tamara Tunie, Clarke Peters, and Ashton Sanders.
Before I Wanna Dance With Somebody hits theaters, Collider’s Steve Weintraub spoke with the leading lady, Naomi Ackie, about how she prepared for this massive role. Ackie tells us how she approached the tougher scenes, what helped her adjust her vocals for different decades, and what it was like to play Whitney Houston at three different points in her life, all in one day. She also reveals how they filmed a particularly difficult world tour. You can watch the interview in the video above, or read the full transcript below.

COLLIDER: I am just going to start with congratulations on the movie. Ton of questions for you. The first being, I can’t imagine what it was like; I read that you got to listen to the original recordings of Whitney [Houston] and hear the vocal tracks isolated. Hearing her breaths.

NAOMI ACKIE: Yes. I just got shivers as you said that. Yeah, I did.

Image via Sony Pictures

Most of us are never going to hear that, what was it like listening to those tracks and hearing her voice so alone, and hearing how incredible it was?

ACKIE: It’s very intimate. You feel like she’s in the room. It’s something different to when the music is going and you [think], “Oh gosh, that’s the hook I remember, and [there are] the trumpets over there.” It’s just her; it feels like she’s kind of just talking to you in a way. It was crazy.

It made me feel closer to her in a way. You could almost just track back and be like, “Oh my gosh, it’s ’82, and I’m just on the other side of the glass, and she’s just singing over there, and she’s going to come through the door and just be like, ‘How was that?'” Do you know what I mean?

One of the things about this movie is you have to portray Whitney at different periods of her life. And I know the way filmmaking works, and how sometimes you have to film things possibly on the same day, or very close to one another. So did you ever have to play her as a teenager and then much older on the same day, and what is that like?

ACKIE: Yeah, there was a few of those days where, and it can’t be helped, it just happens with scheduling sometimes, I would play 19 and then probably 35 midday, and then hop over to 42. I kind of knew that was going to happen, so I was trying to prepare myself beforehand. Because I know that costume sorted hair and makeup – they’re amazing – my job was to make sure that I had a different feel for the different decades of Whitney’s life, vocally, especially.

So I went into my zone. On YouTube, I’ve still got on my phone where it’s three sections of Whitney’s vocal tone during her life and trying to pinpoint. I would talk to my vocal coach who was on set, Bridget Jackson, and be like, “Are we one or two or three on this one?” And she’d be like, “You’re number two.” So then I’d remember, what [the notes are] for. Very technical, but it helped me stay as calm as I possibly could on those busy days.

When you were looking at the schedule of filming, I’m sure there was a day or two that you had circled like, “These are going to be really tough days.”


Image via Sony Pictures

What were those days for you before filming began?

ACKIE: Yeah, in terms of the acting scenes, there [were] just things that I was nervous about doing, some of the more emotional scenes, which you just never know what your body’s going to do on the day. You’re like, “God, I hope I can conjure up that emotion.”

In terms of performances, there is that sequence where we do about four different songs on the same stage, and it’s meant to represent one of her world tours. And we did that in one day. Also, it was trying to track how exhausting a world tour is, so each performance had a different feeling to it where she’s getting more and more tired. So it was like one day in this studio space where we went through four songs, four different looks, and four different choreography, movement, acting stuff. It was a day. It was a day, my dude. It was a day. But it was actually one of my favorite days, and it’s actually one of my favorite sequences now.

I already have to go. I’m just going to say I wish more people knew how difficult it is sometimes making a movie.

ACKIE: Yeah, yeah. But that’s part of the magic, too.

I Wanna Dance With Somebody debuts in theaters on December 23. Check out Collider’s interview with director Kasi Lemmons below:

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