Amy Winehouse biopic “Back to Black” is close to securing its lead.
Multiple sources tell Variety that Marisa Abela, one of the stars of HBO and BBC drama “Industry,” is a frontrunner to play Winehouse. It’s believed Abela is in discussions, though the role isn’t yet locked in and a small group of other actors are also believed to be in the mix.
As previously reported, the role was always intended to go to a newcomer, and producers have been keen to hire a fresh face rather than go down the pop-star casting route.
The scene-stealing Abela plays the privileged but troubled Yasmin Kara-Hanani in the sexy, London-set financial thriller “Industry,” which returns next month for Season 2. The 25-year-old British actor also starred in Sky TV series “COBRA” and appears alongside James Norton in the crime thriller “Rogue Agent” (previously titled “Freegard”). She also appears in the forthcoming drama “She Is Love,” opposite Haley Bennett and Sam Riley.
A 2019 graduate of London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), Abela recently joined the cast of Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” although, like most things relating to the movie, the specifics of her role are still unclear.
Abela — whose background is Maltese, Libyan, Russian and Polish — is of Jewish heritage, which has been important to the creative team behind the movie, in order to be as authentic as possible to Winehouse’s own background.
The Brighton-born actor hasn’t been known as a singer in any of her film and TV credits so far, but her RADA profile indicates that she can indeed sing, and is an alto — a lower vocal register that’s in line with Winehouse’s own extraordinary range.
“Back to Black” is directed by “Nowhere Boy” helmer Sam Taylor-Johnson. A script for the movie, written by Matt Greenhalgh, has been circulating, and casting has been underway for some time. The film is believed to be a passion project for Taylor-Johnson, who was a close friend of Winehouse’s.
Greenhalgh previously collaborated with Taylor-Johnson on “Nowhere Boy” and also wrote “Control,” the critically acclaimed biopic about the late Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. European studio Studiocanal is producing with Alison Owen and Debra Hayward alongside Tracey Seaward.
Winehouse, best known for hit songs such as “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good,” died at 27 of alcohol poisoning in 2011. She produced two albums, “Frank” and “Back to Black,” the latter of which earned her six Grammy awards.
“Back to Black” has the full support of Mitch Winehouse, the late singer’s father, who was portrayed in a negative light in the Oscar-winning documentary “Amy.” Mitch Winehouse also participated in the 2021 BBC documentary “Reclaiming Amy,” which marked the 10-year anniversary of Amy’s death.
Producers Owen and Hayward have been attached to the Winehouse biopic for a number of years. The Winehouse estate first signed a deal for the movie back in 2018, though an earlier script was originally penned by “Kinky Boots” writer Geoff Deane.
Back in 2018, Mitch Winehouse denied suggestions that Lady Gaga might sign on to play the troubled singer. “I wouldn’t mind betting it would be an unknown, young, English — London, cockney — actress who looks a bit like Amy,” he told British tabloid The Sun at the time.
“What we want is somebody to portray Amy in the way that she was…the funny, brilliant, charming and horrible person that she was. There’s no point really me making the film because I’m her dad. But to get the right people to do it, that’s very important, and we will.”
Abela is represented by WME in the U.S. and The Artists Partnership in the U.K.