Andra Day takes her first acting role very seriously. The Grammy-nominated singer did everything it took to resemble and sound like Billie Holiday in Hulu’s new biopic, The United States Vs. Billie Holiday. During her interaction with Leslie Odom Jr. in Variety’s Actors on Actors, Day revealed how she prepared to channel the Civil Rights movement leader.
“I basically abused my body for a long time,” Day says. “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.”
According to Day, she did not only lost almost 40 pounds, but she also started smoking and drinking. “I put my family through it; I put myself through it,” she said. “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.”
The California native star, said it was imperative that her singing voice sounded just like Holiday’s voice — or at least as close as possible. “That was an early decision that we made right away to do the singing,” Day says. “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,” she continued referring to “Strange Fruit.” A protest song associated with “the beginning of the civil rights movement” and “a declaration of war” for all the torture and lynching Black Americans suffered predominantly in the South during the 20th century.
“When you think of Civil Rights leaders, you think of men,” film director Lee Daniels says, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “When you think of Billie Holiday, you think of this brilliant tortured jazz singer that happened to have been a drug addict. I didn’t know that she kicked off the Civil Rights movement. Before there was a Civil Rights movement, there was Billie Holiday and ‘Strange Fruit.’ The government saw that song as a threat, and she was a target. That’s history, and they keep it from us.”
The United States vs. Billie Holiday is scheduled to be released on February 26, 2021, by Hulu. Watch the official trailer here.