Even though this is her first acting gig, Andra Day recently discussed how seriously she prepared for her lead role in Hulu’s The United States Vs. Billie Holiday, a biopic on the late jazz icon during the last years of her life. Set to be released on Feb. 26, the Lee Daniels-directed film will reportedly focus on Holiday as she was under federal investigation for her song Strange Fruit. While in conversation with Leslie Odom Jr. for Variety, Day opened up about the “method” approach she took towards preparing for the role.
In addition to doing extensive research, Day said her transformation into Holiday included losing almost 40 pounds and picking up some of the jazz musician’s habits, like drinking and smoking. Even though the preparation took a toll on her family and her body, Day emphasized wanting to be as thorough as possible during her process of depicting the legendary songstress.
“I basically abused my body for a long time,” Day told Odom during Variety’s Actors on Actors video series. “I’m joking and not really joking. I got the role at the very top of 2018. Reading everything I could get my hands on. Listening to every interview. Apparently, I exhausted the internet of Billie Holiday photos. Apparently, the internet will tell you that you’ve reached the end.”
“I put my family through it; I put myself through it,” she continued. “I went from 163 pounds to 124 pounds. I would talk like her and I don’t drink or smoke, but I started smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. Not that I recommend people do this; I just was desperate because this is my first role. I just asked God to give me all of the pain and trauma. I asked him to give me her pain and give me her trauma.”
Speaking on her desire to capture the emotion of the jazz icon’s sound, Day went into more detail about her artistic choice to change her voice and play the role giving her best interpretation of Holiday.
“That was an early decision that we made right away to do the singing,” she shared. “Every time I would sing a song I’d go, OK, Lee’s going to hear this and he’s going to fire me. But I wouldn’t have done it if they’d been, ‘Do it in your voice.’ That for me would have probably been a no. There’s victory and there is pain in her voice. So to me, it was just like we’ve got to get it, we have to get it, you know what I mean? It’ll have to be my interpretation of it, but it has to be there.”
With all the preparation Day put into bringing Holiday’s music and character to life, The United States Vs. Billie Holiday seems like it might be a really good watch, despite it being her first acting role. Since Day is a Grammy-nominated singer in her own right, at least we know her vocals will be something to look forward to.