After winning a worldwide audition with producers looking for the ideal performer to embody the late Whitney Houston, Walthamstow born actress Naomi Ackie left the late diva’s family taken aback after a screening of the late singer’s biopic I Wanna Dance With Somebody, scheduled for release in the UK Boxing day.
The BAFTA-winning actress managed to capture the “spirit of Whitney”, director Kasi Lemmon said, adding Houston’s former band leader and music director Rickey Minor was “shaking” saying “she’s too good, she’s so much like her”. “There was this feeling from the first screen-test, but also with the finished production, that she had really nailed it,” the director confirmed.
Reports from The Telegraph also stated that upon viewing the film, the singer’s surviving family members were overcome with emotion after seeing her brought to life in a major new film, according to Lemmon. “She had to sing like Whitney, breathe like Whitney, and pull it off, point perfect, take after take,” Lemmon explained, commenting the pair watched hours and hours of archive footage to ensure every small detail was captured in Ackie’s performance.
Such was the surprise of winning the role in the Oscar-tipped film that Ackie was said to be overwhelmed with emotion, finding the prospect of portraying the I Will Always Love You and Greatest Love of All singer “extremely daunting” wanting to do Houston’s legacy justice. “There’s a regality to Naomi,” Lemmons commented on the casting decision. “And also an earthiness, regular girl, that is also very Whitney. She has a natural beauty and grace and poise that was also true to Whitney.”
One of the best selling musicians of all time, with record sales well into 200 million, Houston died on February 11, 2012 at her home in Beverly Hills. The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office reported that Houston’s death was caused by drowning and the "effects of atherosclerotic heart disease" and drug use.