Andra Day is giving it all she’s got for her big screen debut. The soul singer has transformed for her leading role in “United States vs. Billie Holiday” and even adopted a few unhealthy habits in the process.
Day as Holiday is a casting dream. Not just aesthetically and sonically, but because Andra was ready to put the work in to become Billie, not just “act” like her. The 36-year-old decided to shed weight to look the part, but also began drinking and smoking in order to live just like the singing legend.
“I put my family through it; I put myself through it,” Day recently told Variety. “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.”
But, she didn’t stop there. Andra wanted to take in all of Billie — the good, the bad, and the ugly. Knowing that Holiday experienced rape, domestic abuse, and struggled with addiction much of her adult life, Andra, “asked God to give me her pain and give me her trauma.” Not surprisingly, the transformation took a toll on Day, but it didn’t stop her insatiable appetite to portray this role the very best she could.
“I basically abused my body for a long time. 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.”
The “Rise Up” singer is known for her powerful voice, but, in becoming Billie Holiday, Andra decided she wanted to change her signature sound to in order to do the film justice.
“That was an early decision that we made right away to do the singing,” Day said. “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.”
You can see Andra’s hard work pay off when “United States vs. Billie Holiday” is released on Hulu in February.