Marisa Abela says ‘feeling frailer and smaller’ helped her portray Amy Winehouse

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Marisa Abela says ‘feeling frailer and smaller’ helped her portray Amy Winehouse

British actress speaks to Harper's Bazaar UK magazine about her preparation for iconic film role in Back to Black

Courtesy of Harper's Bazaar UK/Jem Mitchell.
Courtesy of Harper's Bazaar UK/Jem Mitchell.

British actress Marisa Abela has said that being “frailer and smaller” helped her portray Amy Winehouse in the upcoming biopic about her life.

The 27-year-old Industry star from Brighton said she consulted a dietician to play the late Jewish singer in Back To Black, who suffered from bulimia and publicly battled with drug addiction before her death in 2011.

Speaking to Harper’s Bazaar UK about how she prepared for the role, Abela said: “I had help to do it safely; I consulted a dietician and was being monitored.

“Feeling frailer and smaller helped – I hadn’t understood, before, how much that affects your tempo.

“During her Frank era (her debut album released in 2003), Amy is fast and loud and boisterous with her arms, her movements are big.

“Once I started to change, I realised that you can’t physically make those same movements.

“It’s uncomfortable to sit. You’re tired, you’re hungry, you’re more exposed.”

Abela said she felt a connection to the singer, who also grew up in a Jewish household.

“The more I got to know her, the more I felt a major connection to this spiky Jewish girl from London who had a lot to say and was really quite unafraid.

“I remembered how I felt when I was young, seeing that woman who was proud and cool, wearing a big Star of David in between a cleavage and a nice bra.

“I understood what a Friday-night dinner would look like in her home, the humour in her family.

“I loved how effervescent she was, how huge a soul, how she just permeated any room she was in. But also, her relationship to her art form, and wanting to be good. That was the most important thing.”

Abela discussed what it was like to grow up in a single-parent household and how she related to Winehouse, whose parents separated when she was a child.

“I did relate to Amy’s situation,” she said. “Two things happen at the same time: you crave the attention of the parent who isn’t there, and you really test the boundaries of the one who is.

“I was vicious to my mum when I was younger. I know it’s awful to say – you think their entire existence is about making you happy, so if they’re failing at that, you’re cruel to them.”

Reflecting on her mindset when playing Winehouse, she said: “As an actor, I think you’re making a terrible mistake when you judge a character and a character’s decisions.

“Of course – these are not just characters, they are real people.

“My job was to get into Amy’s shoes and her soul, and understand why she did the things she did. Amy loved her father very deeply.

“Nothing else mattered to me: I had to love him like Amy loved him. Amy loved Blake, so I was going to do nothing but that.

“If other people who watch the film decide she shouldn’t have loved a certain person, or shouldn’t have trusted someone, that’s fine.

“The only villains in our story are addiction and the relentless paparazzi. I’m not telling people how to feel about it.”

Back To Black arrives to UK cinemas on April 12 and has been directed by 50 Shades Of Grey filmmaker Sam Taylor-Johnson.

The biopic explores the Rehab singer’s whirlwind years living in London and her journey to fame.

Winehouse, who was known for hits including Valerie and Tears Dry On Their Own, died on July 23 in 2011 from alcohol poising.

In an interview with the Observer Magazine her older brother Alex said that his sister’s long battle with bulimia “left her weaker, and more susceptible” and added: “She would have died eventually, the way she was going, but what really killed her was the bulimia.”

Abela stars on Harper’s Bazaar’s UK digital cover.

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