I Wanna Dance With Somebody’s Naomi Ackie On Interactions With Those Who Actually Knew Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston (Naomi Ackie) in I Wanna Dance With Somebody
(Image credit: Sony Pictures)

Upon landing the role of legendary singer Whitney Houston, Naomi Ackie knew she had work to do to become the late star. Not having Houston as a resource could’ve served as quite the hurdle for the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker star. However, the actress found alternative means to learn more about the “How Will I Know” singer, including speaking with those who were close to the singer.

Playing the late pop music icon was a massive undertaking for The Score star. Given Houston passed away in 2012, Ackie couldn’t speak with the entertainer. She opened up about getting closer to understanding the late singer’s personality while being interviewed on the Jemele Hill is Unbothered podcast. She recalled reading memoirs from Houston’s close friend Robyn Crawford and mother Cissy Houston to understand the popstar better. Despite reading both books, she admitted to not speaking with either woman during her preparation process. Although, things were different once she started filming the musical biopic as Ackie came across numerous individuals who knew the “I Will Always Love You” singer personally.

To be honest with you, I was pretty privileged when it came to access to people and what took me by surprise the most really was that I guess it’s because it’s the entertainment industry and I’m filming in Boston there was and this is a, you know, a big film. A lot of people are involved. I was able to meet so many people who crossed paths with her just on set, and it’s really lovely like when you get to a place where because [you’re] playing Whitney, people are eager to get that connection back. You know, that they came up to me, saying ‘I met Whitney at this point, and I remember that she did x, y, and z. and she said this, this made me laugh so much.’ You know that kind of stuff.

Hearing firsthand accounts from those who encountered Houston was a perfect resource for the Master of None star. She got to know Houston personally despite not being able to speak with the late entertainer. Ackie was handling her portrayal of Houston with care, just like the movie’s depiction of her relationship with Crawford in the musical biopic. That seemed important to the up-and-coming star after landing the high-profile role.

Boston locals weren’t the only ones Ackie connected with as she crossed paths with those who played a role in Houston’s decades-long career. The 33-year-old actress mentioned interacting with key figures like Houston's mentor Clive Davis and musical director Rickey Minor, on and off set, saying:

Janine Ali, who worked in makeup, actually worked with Whitney on her last tour, and she was there every single day. There was Howard as well. He was the head of makeup and someone who was around Whitney and intimately connected with Whitney… I was really lucky, man. Clive Davis, Rickey Minor, I love that man. I love me some Rickey Minor.

Speaking with instrumental players in Houston’s legacy helped the film and TV actress understand the human behind the star. Doing so seemed to calm her concern over playing the singer-actress throughout her short lifetime.

Fans will finally get to see Naomi Ackie’s take on Whitney Houston when I Wanna Dance With Somebody arrives in theaters on December 23. Before watching the musical biopic, check out some notable biopics about iconic Black musicians, including What’s Love Got to Do With It and Ray. You can also watch some of Houston's movies in the meantime. 

Adreon Patterson
News Writer

A boy from Greenwood, South Carolina. CinemaBlend Contributor. An animation enthusiast (anime, US and international films, television). Freelance writer, designer and artist. Lover of music (US and international).