Why Naomi Ackie Is Adding “Writer” to Her Résumé: “I Don’t Like Waiting Patiently”

Why Naomi Ackie Is Adding “Writer” to Her Résumé: “I Don’t Like Waiting Patiently”

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The lights were already low inside the Carlton Beach Club tent in Cannes after 11 p.m. on May 19 when a pair of screens lit up and reflected a dazzling sizzle reel featuring the work of Naomi Ackie. The 31-year-old, who started acting in school plays as a pre-teenager, has professional credits that stretch back to 2015, right after she graduated from London’s Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

Ackie’s been working steadily ever since, and the reel featured such projects as her breakout role in Lady Macbeth, The End of the F***ing World, Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker, Master of None, The Score and the most recent IMDb entry, Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody. It’s that résumé that prompted Chopard to invite Ackie onstage that night during the film festival to accept a Trophée Chopard alongside Daryl McCormack as the luxury jeweler singled them out as next generation talents in a room filled with established stars like Chopard godmother Natalie Portman, Brie Larson, filmmaker Ruben Östlund, John C. Reilly, Paul Dano and more.

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And the thing about being pegged as a “star on the rise” is that most relative newcomers have never had the opportunity to walk through what Ackie did that night. “I’ve never had a sizzle reel,” explained the actress the next afternoon during a sit-down with The Hollywood Reporter from the rooftop of Hotel Martinez which also doubles as Chopard headquarters during the Cannes Film Festival. She’s smiling and still glowing after receiving the shine even as she admits that high-profile events are still a new (and daunting) experience for her. Over the next 20 minutes, Ackie opens up about navigating new spaces, learning to let go of expectations and why the next phase of her career will definitely include the credit “written by Naomi Ackie.”

Naomie Ackie Chopard

Naomi Ackie wearing Valentino and Chopard jewelry.

Courtesy of Chopard/Greg Williams

What was last night like for you?

Ah, it was gorgeous and really beautiful. I tend to get quite nervous at big events, and it’s been a few months of doing quite big events that are intimidating. I went to both the Met Gala and the Vanity Fair Oscar party for the first time. Those were very jarring experiences for me, so I was maybe anticipating a similar thing. But this was actually so welcoming, and I strangely felt very comfortable — more comfortable than usual. I think that’s because I knew I was here for a specific reason, and that made me feel part of the community. This job can be quite lonely and quite solitary, so I always want community and people to talk to about the craft, or even how to handle and negotiate all of this in the industry.

Those are big moments, too, the Met Gala and Vanity Fair. What were the highlights of those events for you?

Vanity Fair was great for meeting loads of people, people I really admire. Remember, when you’re invited to these parties, you have to go alone, and so once I got in, I was standing there by myself next to a tree. The one thing I kept reminding myself was to not take out my phone, so I kept saying, “Naomi, don’t take your phone out, don’t take your phone out. Just stand there and just be.” Immediately, I met Nia DaCosta, who is wonderful and happened to be hanging out with Tessa Thompson. I had not met either of them before, and when I told them I was on my own, they were like, “Come with us!” I followed them around for a bit, and, suddenly, we were bumping into loads of people, and everyone was so kind and lovely. That was a big highlight.

The Met Gala, I mean, oh my god. Just the fascination of finally going to see how it all works on the inside was huge. To get an invite is a big deal, of course, but then to be able to see everyone and talk to designers, it was incredible.

Everyone knows what it looks like from the red carpet but only those who get invited in really understand what goes on in the room because there are only official photos to emerge typically…

Yeah, and I followed the rules. I was like, “You want my phone away? Definitely. I want to get invited back. I am not breaking any rules.” (Laughs) It was crazy because suddenly, you are inside, and there can be so much mystery around events like that. I was very deer-in-the-headlights. I also cannot keep my mouth shut when I feel strange, so I kept saying, “This is weird. How are you feeling? This is weird, yeah? This is crazy.” I was not having a good conversation because I just kept looking around, and this community of people who love a specific thing, and I really respect that.

Zone of Interest

Chopard family: Trophée Chopard honorees Naomi Ackie and Daryl McCormack pose with Caroline Scheufele and Natalie Portman.

Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Let’s go back to last night. It was such a special evening to see you and Daryl McCormack honored by Chopard. I’m such a sucker for a good sizzle reel and  yours was particularly amazing.

I’ve never had a sizzle reel before! So, to even have a sizzle reel means that you have to have made a certain amount of work, and that made me quite emotional because the thing that I’ve wanted to do I am doing. That means the world to me. You sacrifice a lot for a job like this. You make a deal with yourself that you will jump in and see how it all works out. I know that there are people who aren’t as lucky as I have been to be able to collect these beautiful projects and have them under my belt. There was this huge sense of pride but also gratitude at the same time.

Now that you have some distance from the release of Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody, how are you feeling about that experience? What did you learn not only from watching that film being launched into the world but also how it played to her fans?

You know, the biggest thing that I learned is that you have no control. The outcome of a thing really isn’t your business. I have seen so many people who loved it and felt really touched by it. I’ve also seen people who are not fans of it, and that’s OK.

Is that something people are saying to your face?

No one tells it to your face. They write it or post it. That’s what storytelling is all about. The biggest thing for me is that I had an illusion before I started that I could plan everything and because I planned meticulously, I could predict the outcomes, and it would be exactly the same. That’s just not how it works. That’s been healthy for me to know.

All you can do is show up and give the best performance you can every single day and then show up and do the press and promotional appearances. The rest is out of your control. I ran into someone involved with the film, and they mentioned how they wished the movie performed better at the box office but that the streaming numbers had been great. It feels like we’re still in this transitional period with the box office.

Yeah, there is a lot that is still changing. I was an executive producer on the movie. I’m not the producer, so I don’t know about all the details, and I still don’t really understand it all, but I did have to sit back for a second. I felt like a failure, almost, you know? But that’s not true. I’m still able to look at that piece of work and know that it’s still being watched, and it was No. 1 on Netflix in the U.S. and people are still watching and loving it.

I was able to gain so much from the experience through performing and gaining confidence in myself as a performer. I’ve learned so much. The rest is neither here nor there for me. Of course, I had that initial response from when you make something you want to know how successful it is in that regard. But when you look at stories in original form, it’s all word of mouth. People share that over time. There’s a part of me now that wants to humble myself and get back to the roots of what storytelling is, which is not about money or how many people say, “Well done.” It’s about how stories can change an individual on a personal basis. Sometimes you’ll never hear about that, and it isn’t reflected in the box office. Therefore, it doesn’t belong to me anymore. That’s the only way I can wrap my head around it because the rest of it is too large with too many variables. How can anyone control that?

'Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody'

Naomi Ackie is seen in a scene from Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Going back to the sizzle reel and seeing the diverse body of your work, did it inspire you to think about where you want to go next or who you want to work with?

Yeah. Can I say one funny thing? As I was watching that sizzle reel, I was still giving myself notes and saying, “You should have paused there when you said that line.” (Laughs) What’s amazing about this space that I’m in now after Whitney Houston, Pussy Island and Mickey 17, I now have the time and space to figure out what I want to do and the filmmakers I want to work with. There’s a beauty in working with filmmakers who are specific about tone, language, writing and the way they look at the world. I know where my strengths lie in inhabiting a world and world-building with filmmakers. I’m really passionate about that.

I feel like the entire world wants to know what it was like to work with Bong Joon-Ho on Mickey 17. What can you tell me?

I can tell you the name and not anything else. (Laughs) No, I can say that the way he works is incredible, and I was very happy. I think a lot of people already know this, but he storyboards his films, so you film in a way where you shoot scene by scene, frame by frame. We never shot a scene all the way through. We never had to learn our lines. There’s such beauty in how specific he is, and it gives actors so much freedom. What he asks of you in terms of what he needs is usually one note. It’s usually one note that opens up a world of other things. It’s genuinely incredible to watch a filmmaker like him do his thing because he’s so good at it, and, yet, he’s so relaxed that he makes it look easy.

Has there been a lot of secrecy around the script or changes to the plot?

The normal amount of secrecy I would say, like, we don’t want to give anything away. I remember my first meeting with him because I was in Boston shooting Whitney, and I eagerly said that I would jump straight in and read the book that it is based on, but he told me not to read it. He said, “I want you to read the script.” It’s obviously based on the book but the script is its own thing, and he didn’t want me to be informed by the book. But he made it so that we were all pretty open to explore and just be playful. It was all so playful and fun. He creates an atmosphere where everyone felt like they could be silly and really explore what they wanted to without anyone saying, “You’re doing it wrong” kind of thing.

Then, you also worked with an up-and-coming filmmaker in Zoë Kravitz. How was that experience?

Last year was a weird amount of really beautiful work. Zoë, in the same way, has this amazing ability to give notes, which I think as a director must be actually really hard. You want to hold space for your actors and let them do their thing, but at the same time, you’re trying to guide them. She was amazing at being very specific. Her eye is as sharp as a knife. When it comes to language and how things sound and how things look aesthetically, it all just came together. I really believe she has created her own genre. This is a film that she’s written and has directed, and it is its own thing. I’m so excited for people to see it, to see how they respond because it doesn’t follow any of the rules. It feels rebellious, and I love work that feels rebellious and a little bit naught. And she’s naughty.

Naomie Ackie Daryl McCormack Chopard

Honorees Naomi Ackie and Daryl McCormack, in Chopard

Courtesy of Chopard

I wanted to ask about Chopard. I’ve noticed that you never go crazy with accessories in general and even last night in the white Valentino, you picked a couple of pieces of jewelry. What is your relationship to jewelry and diamonds?

My relationship and appreciation for fine jewelry is growing. As I try and earn more money, I’m maturing in that way when it comes to diamonds. I love simplicity. I love simple, beautiful pieces that you can wear with anything. Yesterday’s earrings in particular were so gorgeous, modern, classic and kind of timeless. I feel like that’s what diamonds are, to be honest, because they last so long.

Why did you pick the white Valentino?

I loved it against my skin tone. My stylist Nikki Yates brought it, and I love wearing white. There’s something so cool and classic about it, and the bottom of that dress felt very Cannes to me, and, yet, the top was quite modern, cool, a little bit funky and sexy. That’s where I find style the most interesting. I’m a streetwear girl, and I love designs that bring touches of casualness to the red carpet somehow, when it’s appropriate.

Where do you go from here?

I’m going back to London and back to normal life stuff. I’m a writer, too, so I will be spending this summer writing my first feature.

Oh wow, can you tell me about it? How far along are you?

I’m pretty far along. It’s an idea that’s been brewing for about three years, but now I have the time. I keep on calling it body horror with heart. It’s a genre that can sometimes be a little bit cold, so I’m trying to take some of the stuff that I’ve been through in my life and play with that but give it humor and texture.

Would you star in it, too?

I would. I’ve been writing for a while, and I’ve written a TV show that I’m nearly finished with, and I’m producing a few other things. I’m ready to start finding my own projects because I think as much as I love this industry, I still don’t think there’s enough parts for women of color, and if they’re not there, I’m going to write them myself, and then I’ll write for other people, too. I don’t like waiting patiently. When opportunities come, I’m so grateful, but I also want to claim my power, and my power is creating stories. I know I need to get better at writing, but you have to start somewhere. I’m really excited about that because I’m in love with being a performer, but I also want to become a facilitator for other people, too. There’s something beautiful about creating work for other people, and I’m ready. I can’t sit still anymore.

Naomie Ackie Natalie Portman Daryl McCormack

Natalie Portman is flanked by the Trophée Chopard honorees Naomi Ackie and Daryl McCormack.

Courtesy of Chopard

This story first appeared in the June 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.