Whitney Houston Biopic Finds Its Star in Naomi Ackie (Exclusive)

Naomi-Ackie-and-Whitney-Houston
Dave Benett/Getty Images; Photofest

Stella Meghie will direct 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody' for Sony's TriStar label, with backing from the Whitney Houston estate and music producer Clive Davis.

After a worldwide search, Naomi Ackie has been chosen to play iconic performer Whitney Houston in the biopic I Wanna Dance With Somebody.

The British actress, who had a pivotal role in Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker, is in negotiations for the feature from Sony and its TriStar division, which has set the movie for a Thanksgiving 2022 release.

Anthony McCarten, who wrote Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, penned the screenplay, while Stella Meghie, who was behind the Issa Rae romance The Photograph, is set to direct.

“We spent the better part of the last year in an exhaustive search for an actress who could embody Whitney Houston," said Meghie. "Naomi Ackie impressed us at every stage of the process. I was moved by her ability to capture the stage presence of a global icon while bringing humanity to her interior life."

Houston, who earned six Grammys over her expansive career, is one of the best-known recording artists of all time, selling more than 200 million records worldwide, with hit songs that include "Saving All My Love for You," "How Will I Know" and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody." She made her acting debut in the 1992 blockbuster hit The Bodyguard, recording six songs for the film’s soundtrack, including “I Will Always Love You." She died in 2012 at 48.

Pat Houston will produce the movie on behalf of the Whitney Houston estate, along with music producer Clive Davis, McCarten via his Muse of Fire Productions and Larry Mestel for Primary Wave Music, which is a partner of the Whitney Houston estate. Denis O’Sullivan and Jeff Kalligheri will produce and finance for Compelling Pictures.

Nicole Brown, Shary Shirazi, and Brittany Morrissey will oversee the project for TriStar Pictures.

With the backing of Houston’s estate and Davis, the movie will use the singer's catalog, including her vocals.

Said Davis: “Naomi Ackie’s screen test was so powerful, it sent shivers up my spine. Although Whitney’s incomparable vocals are used for all the songs, Naomi's extraordinary acting range enables her to masterfully capture Whitney’s unique charm, star power, and, of course, her personal struggles. Naomi is the real deal and I can’t imagine a better choice for this iconic role.”

"All Whitney fans have an appetite for perfection when it comes to Whitney and her legacy," added Houston. "To transform someone into a matchless icon is virtually impossible. But with careful consideration, Naomi Ackie was selected based on her quality performances and her deep commitment to emerging into the woman that we all loved. We look forward to taking this journey with her."

This is by far the biggest role to date for Ackie, who was introduced to worldwide audiences in the last Star Wars feature, The Rise of Skywalker. She can currently be seen in Steve McQueen's Amazon anthology film series Small Axe, with previous credits including indie stand-out Lady Macbeth and Netflix series The End of the F***ing World, the latter of which earned the actress a BAFTA Award.

Ackie, who will next lead heist musical The Score, is repped by CAA, the U.K.'s Hamilton Hodell, Range Media and Peikoff Mahan.