Jack O’Connell says Marisa Abela ‘knuckled down so hard’ to play Amy Winehouse

Jack O’Connell said his Back To Black co-star Marisa Abela worked very hard in her portrayal of Amy Winehouse because “no one wanted to do a basic imitation”.

The stars of the new film from British director Sam Taylor-Johnson appeared at the world premiere on Monday at the Odeon Luxe in London including O’Connell, Abela, and Eddie Marsan, who plays the late singer’s dad Mitch Winehouse.

The film follows the tumultuous relationship between Winehouse (Abela) and Blake Fielder-Civil (O’Connell), which inspired her to write and record the Grammy-winning album Back To Black in 2006.

Back to Black world premiere
Eddie Marsan, Sam Taylor-Johnson, Marisa Abela and Jack O’Connell attending the world premiere of Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Back To Black (Ian West/PA)

“So she worked hard, I worked hard, and made sure that when we were on set, we could just be free, spontaneous, instinctive, and it was just a great environment to work in.”

Abela, who was wearing black in a nod to the film’s title, said she took the music from Winehouse as a “gospel for all of her relationships”.

She told PA: “After a breakup and you go to write songs like Love Is A Losing Game, or Some Unholy War, or Wake Up Alone.

“What is that feeling to be able to have the emotional intensity to go and write songs like those that are so full of vulnerability and pain, but also emotional intelligence?

“And I think it was just about really writing those things down for me and exploring those feelings and always working backwards … there was no doubt in my mind that I had to be completely and utterly in love, because you can hear it in the music.”

Back to Black world premiere
Marisa Abela attending the world premiere of Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Back To Black (Ian West/PA)

“It’s a great way to work,” the 33-year-old added.

Taylor-Johnson said that she “first and foremost” immersed herself in the music from Winehouse, describing the film as a “celebration of the music”.

“We lived in the same neighbourhood so I had an awareness of her around, seen her at Ronnie Scott’s way back in the early days when she was part of the up and coming voices of jazz,” the Fifty Shades Of Grey filmmaker told PA.

“The music was everything when I was working on the script because we went through all her journals and lyrics and everything to do with music as our path in and that felt like the best way to celebrate her, to bring back her voice, almost gift it back to her for us all to hear within the narrative of her life rather than the sort of overview.”

Back to Black world premiere
Sam Taylor-Johnson (left) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson attending the world premiere of Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Back To Black (Ian West/PA)

Winehouse, who was known for hits including Valerie, Rehab and Tears Dry On Their Own, died aged 27 on July 23 2011 from alcohol poisoning.

Marsan, 55, told PA: “I think Amy in the tradition of great jazz singers, she was going through her own personal problems, her own mental health issues her own trauma, just like Billie Holiday did someone on that vein or Miles Davis, and the music, the jazz was a means by which they could deal with their trauma.

“So it wasn’t in order to sell records to you or me, it was a necessity, what they needed to do in order to survive. But because of the authenticity that was involved, it appeals to us.”

Back To Black will be released in UK cinemas on April 12.

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