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Amy Winehouse, interview with Marisa Abela, the actress of Back To Black

This article is published in issue 17 of Vanity Fair on newsstands until 23 April 2024.

The scene was more or less this: about ten English twenty-year-olds with very high crowns of black hair, bold eyeliner on their eyes, short, low-cut dresses and ballet flats on their feet. As in some sort of cosplay gathering, here are a slew of people grouped together in one room Amy Winehousequeuing for the audition, and among them a girl without make-up and without a Sixties hairstyle: Marisa Abela. We already know the end of the story: director Sam Taylor-Johnson chooses her, the only one without a disguise, to play the protagonist. To understand the spirit of this film about the rise and fall of Amy Winehouse, Back to Black, and the interpretation of the protagonist, Marisa Abela, we should start from here, from this audition. «I showed up without a hood and without make-up because I didn't want to be an imitation of Amy: I wanted to embody her. And the essence of a person is in the eyes, in the way he occupies space, in the connection with others, in something impalpable”, she explains. Marisa Abela has, in fact, managed to transform herself into Amy Winehouse, avoiding the risk of the caricature, the cliché, the imitative performance, but at the same time on the screen she creates the perfect illusion of being her, in her voice, in her gestures, in her way of acting. . She is Amy Winehouse in spirit and appearance when she performs in her first pub concerts, when she falls wildly in love with Blake Fielder-Civil, when she becomes the rebellious star of music, when she falls into addictions before the eyes of the world, when she starts a fight in Camden Town and when on stage he sings his whole story, without ever pretending.

Marisa Abela is 27 years old, English with a father of Maltese and Libyan origins and a Jewish mother, and she has become very famous in her homeland thanks to a series of prestige tvBBC and HBO together, which is titled Industry and in which she plays an intern from a good family in the toxic environment of an investment bank.

Today we are in a hotel room in central London, several kilometers and eight subway stops from Camden Town, the physical and spiritual place where Amy Winehouse lived her short life, crushed by a heart attack caused by a potent mix of alcohol at 27 in 2011. Marisa moved to this North London neighborhood for four months, the move was part of what she calls the «bootcamp Amy»: ten hours a day with a personal trainer, singing lessons and study on gestures. And then the weight loss followed by a dietician to get to the physical shape of the last few years, marked by food disordersand from alcohol and heroin addiction: «I had to lose weight and I did it safely. I didn't know it before, but feeling more fragile and smaller helped me follow her transformation: when you're so thin you can't make many movements, because you're tired and you feel more exposed. And you can see the difference by looking at Amy over the years: in the end she is no longer the girl who messes up, simply because she physically can't handle it”, explains Marisa.

Telling who Amy Winehouse was is an undertaking full of risks, because everyone has their own idea of ​​who the greatest English talent of her generation really was, everyone has their own theory on the reasons for her self-destructive spiral , and perhaps each of us feels a little guilty, because after all, faced with the tragic yet predictable death of a fragile 27-year-old girl, we wonder why no one protected her, why we witnessed the spectacle of her destruction live, even with a hint of morbidity. So where do we start? How do you describe Amy Winehouse, for example, to those who have never met her? «Amy was an incredible artist, she wrote beautiful songs that changed the musical landscape of her time because she sang and wrote them without being afraid of being so vulnerable». There vulnerabilityit is one of the traits that Marisa expresses best in her interpretation. Was that the key to getting into character? «It was one of the keys. Certainly her vulnerability was profound: one important thing I understood about Amy is that she never hid. What is this feeling like of constantly being naked in front of the world, of others? This was part of the process. But then there are also the masks with which she covered her vulnerable being: anger and rebellion, but also humour. She was always sincere and frank, and perhaps we have forgotten this side of her personality, we remember her fragility more.”

Marisa Abela, 27, plays Amy Winehouse in the arthouse biopic Back to Blackin theaters April 18 with Universal Pictures.

©Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection

Amy Winehouse 2008 VFestival Hylands Park

Amy Winehouse in 2008.

Carsten Windhorst/Retna Ltd

Marisa Abela Amy Winehouse Jack O'Connell Blake FielderCivil Back to Black

Marisa Abela in the role of Amy Winehouse with Josh O'Connell, 33, who plays her husband Blake Fielder-Civil: the scene reconstructs some famous shots published in the tabloids.

Courtesy of Dean Rogers/Focus Features

The most successful part of Back to Black it is perhaps the story of romance with Blake Fielder-Civil , which begins with a sequence that is difficult to forget: the chance meeting at The Good Mixer pub, a game of pool, the jukebox and the chatter, the instant falling in love. Blake, the boyfriend and then husband who was always remembered as the one who brought heroin into Amy's life. The villain of the storyhere, however, it is not: we witness the birth and end of an all-encompassing, sick and fatally inevitable love story, without judgements. «As an actress, I don't think it's my job to have an opinion on Blake. I had to play Amy, and we know that Amy was madly in love with him and that love inspired the beautiful album Back to Black which we can still enjoy today.” Is this a type of love you have ever experienced? «Yes, I tried it and luckily it was a pleasant experience. When the other person has so much power over you and your happiness it's always risky.” Also on his father Mitch, accused in a 2015 documentary, Amy by Asif Kapadiaof having exploited his daughter as a money machine without caring about her health, judgment is suspended: “She loved her dad so much and only this is what matters for the interpretation.”

The real antagonists here are the media, and in particular the paparazzi: «It was a persecution, in the film you can clearly see how many people were stationed outside her house, how many photographers followed her on the street and hoped that she would stumble or that she wasn't well. Violence in all respects.” Before saying goodbye, Marisa Abela reflects on a number: 27. It is the age at which Amy left, it is the age she is today. «It's a very strange feeling: she reminds me of how much she had already achieved, because she was gifted with great talent. And at the same time I realize how young she was, like me, too young to leave.”

Source: Vanity Fair

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