Who Is Marisa Abela? Get to Know the Actress Playing Amy Winehouse

Marisa Abela as Amy Winehouse in 'Back to Black'

Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Amy Winehouse biopic, Back to Black, has faced skepticism since it was announced—including from leading lady Marisa Abela, who plays Winehouse in the film.

Abela, who herself is a fan of the late singer, wasn’t sure she was ready for the challenge of playing Winehouse when she first heard about the project. “My first instinct was, ‘I don’t know, this feels insane, like, huge and crazy. And I’m not sure that I could do that,’” she recalled to Interview in April 2024. “My agent was like, ‘Listen, the meeting’s in two weeks, so let’s say yes and then take a week to really look into it. And if you still feel at the end that this is too much, then we’ll pull you out of it in enough time.’ So in that week I watched loads of interviews with her, watched the Amy documentary again, and the documentary that her family had made, and read lots of stuff. And then I was like, ‘I don’t know, I feel like maybe I could do this.’”

Abela kept her focus on Winehouse the person rather than the larger-than-life icon she became. “For the audition I specifically was like, ‘I’m going to go with my hair up, no makeup on.’ I think all of the other girls went in with at least a nod to a beehive and an eyeliner,” she recalled. “Because I never wanted this to feel like an impersonation. And there were things, as I started to learn more about her in my research, where I was just, like, ‘I know this, I’ve felt this.’ Her energy, what she wanted out of being an artist. Yes, she wanted people to love her music, but the goal was to create something truthful and be respected for being good at what she did. And that made so much sense to me.”

While Abela has been tearing up TV screens on HBO’s Industry, Back to Black marks her first leading role on the big screen. Keep reading for a complete guide to Abela.

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Who plays Amy Winehouse in Back to Black?

<p>IMAGO / ZUMA Press Wire</p>

IMAGO / ZUMA Press Wire

Marisa Abela stars as the late Amy Winehouse in Sam Taylor-Johnson’s new movie, Back to Black. Ahead of the movie’s release, Taylor-Johnson said that she was intrigued by Abela’s audition because she was one of the few actors who didn’t arrive wearing some sort of nod to Winehouse.

“Marisa came in as Marisa—absolutely no cat-eye makeup or anything,” Taylor-Johnson told Empire in January 2024. “She was very sweet and very quiet. And then I turned on the camera, and she looks down the lens, and literally, we all just went, ‘What?!’”

The director went on to note that Abela’s performance wasn’t a mere imitation of the late pop star. “We'd seen some brilliant impersonations,” Taylor-Johnson explained. “But [Marisa] managed to just bring every fiber of her being in alignment with who Amy Winehouse was, and is, to many people. She inhabited her.”

When Abela learned that she’d landed the role, she was on her way to Ibiza with friends. “I got a call from Sam, and she was like, ‘You are our Amy.’ I was so excited,” Abela recalled to Interview in April 2024. “And then as soon as I sat down on the plane and buckled my seat belt, I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ And the whole flight I couldn’t speak. I remember I was like, ‘Listen, I’m going to have these few days to celebrate. Then as soon as we land back in London, I’m in.’ And I was. From that point on I was in full boot camp mode.”

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What else has Marisa Abela been in?

Prior to landing the lead role in Back to Black, Abela became famous in the U.S. for her role as Yasmin Kara-Hanani in HBO’s Industry, which follows a group of recent graduates competing for jobs at a prestigious investment bank. She also starred as Ellie Sutherland in the first season of the British political thriller COBRA.

On the big screen, Abela has appeared in Man in a Box, Rogue Agent and She Is Love. She also had a cameo as Teen Talk Barbie in Greta Gerwig’s 2023 movie, Barbie. Back to Black marks her first lead film role.

Prior to starring in COBRA, Abela attended London’s famous Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She graduated in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in acting.

How old is Marisa Abela?

Born on Dec. 7, 1996, Abela is 27—the same age that Winehouse was when she died in 2011. She was only 11 when she made her screen debut in the 2008 film Man in a Box.

Unlike some biopics, Back to Black doesn’t cover Winehouse’s entire life, instead focusing on the period before she became globally famous thanks to her hit “Rehab.” Early in the film, she releases her first album, Frank, which debuted in 2003 when she was just 20 years old—meaning Abela plays Winehouse from her late teens through her death in her mid-20s.

What has Marisa Abela said about playing Amy Winehouse?

<p>IMAGO / Capital Pictures</p>

IMAGO / Capital Pictures

Since Back to Black was announced, there’s been considerable backlash to the film given the relatively recent death of Winehouse, but Abela isn’t letting it bother her.

“It's a big deal,” she told Entertainment Tonight in May 2024, referring to the process of playing an “icon” like Winehouse. “She really means so much to so many people and she's so—she's such an important artist so I get it, I completely respect it.”

Abela added that no one wants to do Winehouse justice more than she does. “I feel exactly the same way but I just sort of, for me, that's just about throwing myself into the work harder and faster and more intensely and, you know, there was—there just needed to be no stone unturned when it came to, like, my preparation,” she explained. “I work from a place of, you know, intentionality and human perspective and it just meant immersing myself in that place.”

In another interview, Abela said that she poured “blood, sweat, and tears” into Back to Black because she knew firsthand how important Winehouse is to so many fans. “I didn’t see any cool women out there rocking the Star of David,” Abela, who is Jewish, told the Associated Press in May 2024. “And then, like, Amy Winehouse is out and about. And that was just so cool to me.”

How to follow Marisa Abela on Instagram

Abela posts on the platform under the handle @marisaabela_, sharing photos from her various red carpet appearances and press commitments. Despite the whirlwind tour she’s been on to promote Back to Black, she’s still found time for some fun. In one April 2024 post, she posed on the Spanish Steps in Rome with Sam Taylor-Johnson in between work events. “Couple a’ tourists but I LOVE SAM I LOVE ROME!” she captioned the snaps.

Will Marisa Abela be in Industry Season 3?

Yes. Industry fans have been waiting a long time for Season 3, but production is finished and the first new episode is set to premiere at the ATX TV Festival, which kicks off May 30, 2024. HBO hasn’t announced a release date for the new season, but it’s expected to premiere sometime in 2024.

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