Naomi Ackie Recalls Having Panic Attacks Playing Whitney Houston: “I Was Feeling the Pressure”

Getty / Eugene Gologursky

We’ve been given our fair share of biopics over the years, from Austin Butler as “Elvis” to Taron Egerton as Elton John in “Rocket Man”. And we are about to welcome a new addition to our watch list as Naomi Ackie takes on the role of a lifetime, playing Whitney Houston in “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”. While the British actor has been receiving rave reviews for her performance, she suffered imposter syndrome after winning the role.

“Oh my God, I cannot explain the amount of panic attacks. My poor family, I feel so bad for them,” Ackie told Sunday Times Style magazine. “You know in Peter Pan , Tinker Bell can only have one feeling at a time? I’m like that. I could only fill myself up with one feeling, so it would be absolute horror – ‘How am I going to do this?’ Or it would be like, ‘I can do it, I can take over the world.'”

When auditioning for the role, Ackie herself thought it was “insane” as she doesn’t look, talk, or sing like Houston. Yet, the Walthamstow-born actor wowed the casting team, and discovered she’d landed the lead role in 2020 when her agents arrived on her doorstep blasting the song “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” from a stereo and popping champagne. But it was then the hard work to emulate the iconic singer began. “There were boundaries for me to work through about my own confidence levels and what I felt I was capable of,” she says. “And transforming that pressure I was feeling into the pressure Whitney felt all the time.”

Despite Ackie having a great singing voice, hers is mixed with Houston’s so that the voice is as authentic as possible in the film. She works alongside Stanley Tucci, who plays Houston’s producer Clive Davis, who she reveals would send whiskey to her dressing room after a long day filming. Ackie also hints that Houston may have been pansexual as the biopic shows a romance with her assistant, Robyn Crawford. Despite Houston never addressing rumours of a relationship between them, Crawford wrote of their close bond in her memoir. “There’s something about her that was very free in that and quite modern, given the time she was in,” Ackie says. “That’s something I feel. I don’t know who I’ll end up with. I think that [part of Houston’s life] was actually probably easier for me to understand than some of the other things that she was going through because, you know, love is love.”

While Ackie had found a certain level of fame after winning a BAFTA for the Netflix series “The End of the F***ing World”, there’s no denying she is about to become a household name. “I’m very comfortable where I am, so the thought of people knowing who I am, or the idea of fame, makes me go, ‘Oh, but that means my life is going to change.'” But she is determined to embrace it. “I’m trying to make things more fun in my life because I get very serious.” Here’s to bringing the fun to fame, Ackie, as it’s about to be a wild ride.

“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” is out in cinemas on 23 Dec.

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