Not much has been done to portray the relationship between the late, great Whitney Houston and her forever confidante Robyn Crawford—until now. I Wanna Dance With Somebody, the Houston biopic opening December 23, focuses heavily on the relationship between the two women. Black Lightning alum Nafessa Williams stars as Robyn as the film dives deep into their friendship and love affair that started in the late ‘80s.
Williams' main goal in portraying Crawford was to show her undying commitment. “She led with her love and adoration for Whitney,” Williams declares to EBONY. “It was about even if I can't be with you, I'm still gonna be here for you, and I'm going to protect you and be your confidant.”
Williams talks more about bringing Robyn’s story to the screen and, of course, her favorite Whitney Houston song.
EBONY: What research did you do to capture Robyn’s essence?
Nafessa Williams: I just pulled as much as I possibly could, and there wasn't a lot of footage because she played her part; Robyn was not trying to be in the camera. You really didn't see too much of her back in their early days. I was a really little girl in the early 1990s when things were just taking off for them, so her book, A Song for You: My Life with Whitney Houston, really saved my life, because it was everything that I felt I needed to know about her.
What was one of the most interesting things you learned about Robyn from her book?
I learned of her loyalty. I think Robyn had the purest intentions. She didn't really want anything from Whitney but love and friendship, and even when she wasn't able to have the romantic side of it, she was still there. I don't know if I would have had the strength to work alongside, what I like to believe, the love of her life and soulmate. It just speaks to her character and the responsibility of friendship. I want people to take that away, the level of love and friendship they had.
There’s an emotional scene in the movie between Robyn and Whitney about their relationship.
My heart broke for Robyn every time because I just would think of the place that she was in when Whitney told her that they couldn't be together. Whitney had in her mind a really good reason why they couldn’t: she was very religious, she grew up as a church girl. I'm sure we've all been through a breakup. I had to tap into some dark moments in my life and lend them over to Robyn. It was very difficult to film and to watch.
You and Naomi Ackie, who plays Whitney, have some wonderful chemistry on screen.
I'm just grateful that we have the chemistry that actors pray for. We felt it instantly over our Zoom chemistry read and later found out why it all made sense. She's the same sign as Whitney and I'm the same sound as Robyn so the way we are together, it's two fire signs creating this big beautiful mess. We had so much fun on set, we're like two kids together. My hope was that it translated on camera so that people feel the love that they shared for each other.
What do you think of Naomi’s portrayal of Whitney?
Just imagine being there filming and Naomi's embodying Whitney, and there were a couple of moments where I was like, “Oh my God, wait, that was Whitney?” I would be on set crying and almost breaking character, and you could feel Whitney Houston's energy in the room, almost like she was guiding us to be there. To see how Naomi carried that and honored the real Whitney Houston speaks to her professionalism and hard work.
So, what is your favorite Whitney Houston song?
“I'm Every Woman.” I remember being really little and seeing the video and they looked like me, all the little brown girls in the video and Chaka Khan. It was just fun and felt empowering.
What do you want Robyn to take away from your performance of her?
I hope she feels that this is authentic. And I hope that she sees the love that Naomi and I created and how we feel blessed to pay respect to her and Whitney's relationship.
I Wanna Dance with Somebody opens in theaters on December 23.