‘Back to Black’ Backlash: Eddie Marsan Says Marisa Abela Was ‘Attacked’ Over Casting for the Sake of ‘Clickbait’

“Back to Black” will mark a star-making breakout turn for lead actress Marisa Abela, but portraying late Grammy winner Amy Winehouse came with a symphony of vitriol during production — including critics calling out Abela’s casting.

Abela’s co-star Eddie Marsan, who portrays Winehouse’s father Mitch in the film, told IndieWire that Abela had to endure “terrible” hate from naysayers while filming in the U.K. The real-life Mitch Winehouse even had to defend Abela’s casting when the film was first announced, despite Abela being the first actor formally attached to the project.

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“I could tell she was nervous. She’s only a young actor, and it was a massive part,” Marsan told IndieWire during a recent interview. “We had a bond straight away, and so it was terrible when we had to film scenes in London on location in Camden and Soho because even though we had a load of supporting artists playing playing paparazzi, the real paparazzi would sneak in. They would take actual photographs of me and Marisa as Mitch and Amy. And then … within half an hour, it would be on social media and people would put up all these comments about the film about us and saying, ‘God, this is disgusting that they’re doing this.’ They hadn’t even seen the film.”

Marsan continued, “I’m amazed at the amount of people who commented on this film without seeing it. People just attacked Marisa and attacked the film. I knew how hard she was working, how hard I was working, how hard [director] Sam [Taylor-Johnson] was working, how hard [actor] Jack [O’Connell] was working. And I just thought, ‘You haven’t even seen the film.'”

But perhaps some of that backlash made the onscreen performances even stronger, at least for Marsan. “When you see me say ‘Fuck off’ onscreen, that was me telling the real paparazzi [who were on set],” Marsan said, citing the media circus that surrounded Winehouse when she was alive as part of his inspiration. “I mean, we know they’ve got it in for Mitch, they’ve got it in for the family.”

The controversial decision to have Abela sing as Winehouse onscreen was part of the actress’ process to get into the mindset of the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter. While early clips of Abela singing in character as Winehosue went viral with fans criticizing Abela’s voice, actor Marsan called it the “right decision” to have Abela fully embody Winehouse onscreen.

“She felt that she was bringing so much to this character. And Amy’s music was a means by which for her to deal with her own psychology, and Marisa couldn’t switch off when she was singing,” Marsan said. “She couldn’t just start singing. She had to use all the work that she had done with the songs. I thought the performance was amazing.”

While “Back to Black” opened internationally before debuting stateside May 17, Marsan pointed to the box office success found in the UK, calling it a “fuck you” to the early snap judgments of the film.

“What’s wonderful is the film box office has gone through the roof. It’s number one in seven territories. It’s been a big hit, and I feel that it’s a really good fuck you to those critics who slagged off the film before it happened,” Marsan said. “I think critics now are not being informative. They’re not trying to inform people, they’re trying to get clickbait. So what they’re doing is they’re writing reviews because they want to get it on social media and what they don’t realize is the audiences aren’t listening to them anymore because they just sound like people on social media, they don’t sound like logical film critics.”

Marsan concluded that perhaps all of “Back to Black” is really a punk response to the “prevailing narrative” of the lore surrounding Winehouse’s legacy. “In order to make this film, you’ve got to kind of have a ‘fuck it’ attitude, to be honest,” Marsan said, “or you’d never get anything made.”

Focus Features will release “Back to Black” in U.S. theaters on Friday, May 17.

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