Naomi Ackie on her musical role in ‘The Score’: “I had quite intense stage fright”

The BAFTA-winning actress is on fire right now. James Mottram finds out about her eclectic range of upcoming roles

Naomi Ackie is, to put it bluntly, on fire. The rising star actress already played warrior Jannah in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and won a BAFTA for her performance in the brilliant black comedy series The End of the F***ing World. Now she’s Gloria in The Score, a charming musical heist movie based around songs by her co-star Johnny Flynn. If that’s not enough, she’s got films directed by Zoë Kravitz and Parasite‘s Bong Joon-ho on the way. Oh, and the role of a lifetime as Whitney Houston in I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Somebody get me a fire extinguisher…

What did you think when The Score was pitched to you?

“I go off gut feelings, so when I read the script I thought, ‘It feels a bit fairytale-esque.’ I liked the fact it was super-contained and the idea of doing a musical that was super-grounded – or at least as pedestrian as a musical can get – was interesting. On top of that, you’ve got Johnny Flynn’s music which is incredibly poetic. I felt uplifted after I read it and I was just very keen to throw my hat into the ring and give it a try.”

Did you know much of Johnny’s music before you began?

“I didn’t know I did. I had known a few of his songs, and I really liked the style of his music – it’s something I enjoy singing myself: English folk music, really low-key. So I then had to do my research into the songs. The first time I read the script, which had all the songs mentioned, I was putting them on iTunes, listening while I was reading. But Johnny Flynn is such a talented musician and I don’t think there’s any music out there like his. And trying to sing the songs as well – especially in front of him – I was like, ‘Am I butchering your songs?’”

You must’ve felt a bit self-conscious. Did he help you out?

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“Yeah, he did. It was during lockdown, and we had a recording studio session where we had to bite the bullet and all sing in front of each other for the first time. Johnny was super-supportive, super-excited. Me and Will [Poulter] were like deer in the headlights. It was the first time I’d sung on screen. Just holding a tune, it was daunting, but that was part of the reason I wanted to do it. It felt like something so different from anything I’d done before, and it felt quite exciting to try and challenge myself in that way.”

Naomi Ackie and Will Poulter in ‘The Score’ CREDIT: Rob Baker Ashton

Did Johnny bring his guitar to set? Were you all singing songs between takes?

“I was singing on set, with or without a guitar, just to keep my brain buzzing, especially on those long days. I’m just singing anything that came into my head. Did he bring his guitar? I can’t remember. But we felt so comfortable, and I think there was something about shooting it in COVID times – there was a getaway, summer camp feeling. If there wasn’t any campfire singing, there was definitely us shooting the s-h-i-t.”

How different is it making a space epic like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to something like The Score?

“Each kind of film, big or small, has its challenges. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ve got a really small attention span, so if I knew exactly what was going to happen every single day, like ‘Oh, I’m only doing big, blockbuster movies’ or ‘I’m only doing small indie movies for the rest of my life’, I think I’d be a dressmaker instead!”

Was that your ambition, to be a dressmaker, if you weren’t an actress?

“Oh yeah, for sure. Literally a dressmaker. Not even a designer. I would be an atelier or something like that. I’d be in the corner putting sequins on fabric and making beautiful garments for someone else!”

You can make your own dresses for the red carpet from now on!

“Oh my God, dude, I swear when I was a teenager, I used to daydream about that! Like, ‘one day I’m going to be an actress and go on the red carpet wearing something I’d made.’ I don’t have that skill. But I used to customise clothes when I was a kid, that’s where that came from. I just need to learn how to be better and then who knows! Gimme five years and I might just do it.”

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You’re playing Whitney Houston next. Did The Score get you in shape for this?

“I guess so. I remember being told about the audition, around the time we were shooting. I remember being in a trailer with Will and saying ‘That is insane! There is no way that’s going to happen. I’m not even sure if I should try.’ And then lo and behold it happened. I had quite intense stage fright singing in front of people. It always made me nervous to do it when I’m not on a stage where I can’t see anyone. So having to sing a lot in front of the guys half-prepared me for the stuff that I have to do in I Wanna Dance with Somebody. It was a good step towards that.”

You’ve also just been directed by Zoë Kravitz in Pussy Island. How was that?

“Oh, man, she is one of the sharpest minds I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. This is her baby, she’s been working on this project for five years. It’s a crazy, crazy story. It’s very exciting. I can’t believe I did it. I was all the way in Mexico, and then I blinked and now I’m back here doing the next job.”

And that’s the sci-fi film Mickey7, from Parasite director Bong Joon-ho. How’s it going?

“Working with him, I’m like ‘Yep, he’s a genius!’ I’m right at the beginning of shooting. I just hope I don’t disappoint him!”

‘The Score’, starring Naomi Ackie, is in UK cinemas and on digital platforms now. The soundtrack is also available now

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