Naomi Ackie Transformed Into Whitney Houston With the Help of MAC Products

Naomi Ackie as Whitney Houston in I Wanna Dance With Somebody

Sony Pictures

Whitney Houston's official biopic, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, is finally hitting theaters on December 23. The late singer's longtime mentor Clive Davis announced plans for the film in early 2020, describing the project as a "joyous, emotional, and heart-breaking celebration of the life and music of the greatest female R&B pop vocalist of all time." 

While the news was met with much excitement, one question remained: Who would play Houston? Emulating the legendary entertainer's mannerisms, iconic fashion sense, and glamorous approach to beauty is no small task. However, Naomi Ackie (who previously starred in The End of the F***ing World and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) was up for the challenge. And from the trailers and images we've seen thus far, she's nailed it. 

Of course, Ackie's transformation into Houston couldn't have been possible without the help of the hair and makeup department. The latter was especially important, considering Houston was a true beauty girl. "Whitney grew up around beauty, with her mother being in the entertainment industry, as well as several aunts and her mother's friends who were also very glamorous—like Dionne Warwick, Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson, and Whitney's favorite Lena Horne," the film's executive producer and executor of Houston's estate Pat Houston says. "Whitney would be practicing doing her makeup in front of mirrors with a broomstick in her hand."

Ahead, the movie's makeup department head Tisa Howard and key makeup artist Ja Nina Lee share how they recreated some of Houston's most notable beauty looks.

The Inspiration

Naomi Ackie as Whitney Houston in I Wanna Dance With Somebody

Sony Pictures

All of Whitney Houston's performances, appearances, and magazine covers provided the MUAs with ample sources of inspiration. "I sat in my dining room for a month researching, looking at videos, taking screenshots, and going back to my knowledge of what [Whitney's makeup artist and my mentor] Roxanna Floyd did," Howard shares. "I wanted to be as close as possible to things that were historically documented."

Perfecting elements like eyeshadow and blush were important, but lips were one of the main focuses on set as Houston was known to have an affinity for bold lips. Lee, who previously worked with the singer, says Houston was adamant about wearing a red lip as often as possible. "I would start the day by showing her a bag of reds, and she'd pick her red for the day and put it immediately on, even if the look didn't call for a red lip."

"You will be satisfied with the color choices in the lips," Howard adds. "They were chosen based on what we researched, and we made sure to get as close as possible to the original colors.

The Transformation

Naomi Ackie as Whitney Houston in I Wanna Dance With Somebody

Sony Pictures

For Howard and Lee, it wasn't about making Ackie look exactly like Houston. Instead, they aimed to capture her aura by accentuating some of Ackie's features. "No one can look like Whitney," Howard says. "She was a true trendsetter and had her own look. However, Naomi really did become her in the film. Naomi is beautiful and has her own features, so I captured Whitney through her eyes in terms of the shaping."

The makeup team relied on several MAC products for Ackie's glam in the film. Howard says the brand's products have been a staple in her kit for a long time. "I have to have them in my kit, especially certain products, to make sure I get the right look and color," she explains. "MAC's powders, eyeshadows, and lip liners are my go-to."

Once filming began, Howard quickly found her staple products to recreate Houston's everyday and going-out look. "We used products like the Powder Blush in Burnt Pepper a lot," she says. "I didn't realize how much I used it until I checked our continuity. It's a good color, especially for Naomi's complexion. I [also loved] the Lip Pencil in Soar."

Naturally, many of the standout makeup moments happened during the performance scenes. When Ackie sang "How Will I Know," she hit the stage with a beautiful fuschia lip (it was the Retro Matte Lipstick in Flat Out Fabulous). Howard says doing the glam for the song "It's Not Right, But It's Okay" was her favorite look. "That was a look that Roxanna established, so it was a huge challenge for me to step into those shoes," she notes. "In that look, I got to use hero products like the Pro Longwear Fluidline Eye Liner Gel in Black Track and Lip Pencil in Nightmoth."

Bottom line: With the movie debuting on December 23, we're excited to see all of these looks come to life on the big screen (and recreate them at home).

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