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Chasing Amy: How Marisa Abela Became Amy Winehouse for 'Back to Black'

Chasing Amy: How Marisa Abela Became Amy Winehouse for 'Back to Black'


LONDON (AP) There's no point in asking Marisa Abela sing Amy Winehouse karaoke songs. His friends have already tried and failed.

But you can see her singing and becoming Winehouse in the new film Back to Black, which opens in the United States Friday.

Abela, best known for the sex, drugs and banking TV series Industry, didn't want her performance to seem like a simple imitation of the iconic British singer. She spent four months learning to sing in Winehouse's specific vocal style (two hours a day, five days a week), play guitar (one hour a day, three times a week), and move like her thanks to intense physical training.

Abela immersed herself in Winehouse's life and music until, she says, it became boring. Deciding to give her roommates a break from the sound of her guitar practice (at first it all sounded terrible) or watching performances on repeat (over and over again), she moved to Camden.

It's the area north of London where Winehouse lived and died and where she is still much loved and remembered. His image and his music are everywhere.

She was out and she was in pubs and restaurants and, you know, she was singing when she shouldn't have been sometimes. And also when she should have been, said Abela.

Back to Black, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, follows the experiences that led Winehouse to write the album of the same title. This shows his rise to fame through his debut album Frank to Her. triumph at the 2008 Grammys. Away from the music, we see her Friday night family dinners and the heartbreak of her relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil (played by Jack O'Connell).

Abela is now 27, the same age as Winehouse when she died in 2011. The actor recently sat down with The Associated Press at Camden's traditional pub and music venue, The Dublin Castle, a well-known Winehouse hangout and Back to Black filming location.

It was important to her to still be in Camden, Abela said. Everyone has stories and it's really helpful.

The actress remembers popping in for a pint after booking the job, just to get a feel for the place. Winehouse played gigs there and went behind the bar to pull pints. There are signed photos of owner Peggy Conlon proudly displayed behind the bar (they had to be removed for filming).

Abela describes how the tabletops and sticky floors that Winehouse once trod on infused realism into scenes featuring extras standing with fake drinks in their hands.

“There's just an incredible history to these venues, especially the concert halls that she was a part of and then became part of her legacy,” Abela says.

The only problem with making a Winehouse film in Camden: you can't hide behind the closed doors of a film set.

So Abela what caught by the paparazzi, like Winehouse was, walking around in the rain, sporting red lipstick, frizzy black hair and ballet slippers, essentially barefoot. But when the time came, she adopted the imposing stiletto heels that the singer would wear on stage.

These heels are just crazy, says Abela. She did an amazing job staying straight in those heels, especially with that hair, I mean, it's not clear. It's a heavy piece on the head.

It was even suggested that the actor wore trainers, although his feet were not photographed during a scene recreating Winehouse's 2008 Glastonbury performance, due to safety concerns.

But it changes your physique so much to run in sneakers. So no, I'll stay in heels, thank you very much, Abela decided.

Taylor-Johnson met with Winehouse's family, but said they had no artistic control over the film. It was written by Matt Greenhalgh, who has also written biopics about Joy Division's Ian Curtis (2007's Control) and John Lennon (2009's Nowhere Boy). A huge Winehouse fan, Taylor-Johnson says she knew from the beginning of the audition process that Abela could channel and bring out Amy's feelings.

Abela says she poured blood, sweat and tears into this role because she knew firsthand how much Winehouse was for the people.

Growing up in a Jewish family and living in a small village outside Brighton on the south coast of England, Abela attended a Church of England school and knew no other Jews.

I haven't seen any cool women wearing the Star of David. And then, like, Amy Winehouse is on the move. And it was so cool for me, Abela remembers.

Back to Black topped the box office twice when it opened in the UK and Ireland last month. Abela doesn't read the reviews, but admits the thought of what Winehouse would think of her kept her up at night. Eventually, she came to the conclusion that the singer would at least respect the amount of work she put into her performance.

She insisted on singing for real, if they decided she was good enough, in order to unblock Winehouse. But for now, Abela has no plans to capitalize on her singing lessons.

This is not how I choose to express myself artistically, she says. “I don’t think we’re going to see an album from me anytime soon.

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