Amy Winehouse Biopic Director Fought Off Real British Tabloid Paparazzi While Filming in Camden

Sam Taylor-Johnson says paparazzi snuck onto set and posed as actors hounding Marisa Abela in “Back to Black”

Back to Black paparzzi
Marisa Abela as Amy Winehouse in "Back to Black" (Credit: Focus Features)

According to “Back to Black” director Sam Taylor-Johnson, filming the Amy Winehouse biopic had moments that were akin to the tragic British songstress’ real-life experience with paparazzi.

Interviewing on SiriusXM’s “The Spotlight With Jessica Shaw” alongside Marisa Abela, who stars as Winehouse in the Focus Features biopic, Taylor-Johnson said that the British media’s interest in her latest project “was pretty extreme.”

Recounting an instance where a real tabloid paparazzo snuck onto set and posed as a background actor to snap pictures of Abela in while filming in Camden, the director said it taught her “how toxic” Winehouse’s experience must have been.

“We had one scene just outside The Chemist, and there’s a big sort of hoard of paparazzi. And when we were filming that, I said to the actors, you know, ‘Look to your left and right just so you know who your –‘ you know. I just had this instinct,” Taylor-Johnson said of the moment. “And then one of the actors said, ‘Actually, I don’t know this guy,’ and I looked, and he had a 2022 Nikon camera, and I realized he was a real paparazzi who’d infiltrated our actor paparazzi.”

The director then recalled approaching the trespassing photographer and saying, “Kindly, could you leave set because we’re making a movie.”

“And he said, ‘I’ve got every right to take that picture like they do.’ I’m like, ‘These are actors. This isn’t real. She is not Amy Winehouse,’ but he was really intense and quite aggressive,” Taylor-Johnson said. “And so as you sort of see, you know, in our movie, more vulnerable she becomes and the presence becomes bigger and it just becomes sort of second nature to her that she’s always followed by 10, 15 men with cameras.

“I think that’s one of the things I learned mostly was just, you know, how that must have felt and the connection to understanding how toxic that is, and then thinking again when I sort of, you know, look at those kinds of pictures, what that must have felt like.”

“Back to Black” charts the meteoric rise and fall of the late Grammy winner Winehouse through the lens of her sordid love affair with Blake Fielder-Civil. It hits theaters Friday.

Watch Taylor-Johnson’s “The Spotlight” interview segment here.

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