Until recently, Andra Day was best known as a singer and especially for her ubiquitous Grammy nominated track, Rise Up.
The song appeared everywhere, from the McDonald’s drink promotion, which had its lyrics printed on mugs, to recent UK TV hit The Masked Singer – with eventual winner Joss Stone performing a cover, all dressed up as a sausage. .
Now, Day’s debut performance as Billie Holiday in the new movie United States vs. Billie Holiday has thrown her into the Hollywood awards conversation. She’s heading for this weekend Golden globes with not one, but two nominations – for Best Actress in a Motion Picture (Drama) and Best Original Song.
However, the star revealed to Sky News’ Backstage podcast that she was on the verge of turning down the role, even going so far as to pray that it didn’t happen, as with little acting experience she was afraid of play such an important role.
“I consider myself to be a deeply spiritual person and so I would – it’s funny – I was doing devotion, I was praying to get out of it, I was like, ‘yes, make it go away,'” she said.
“I was like, one eye open, and the Scripture literally spoke of being caught trusting and being made to take a leap of great faith, and I was like, ‘noooo.’
“It was just that moment, you know, when it clicks and you have that peace, and I was like, ‘yeah, I think I’m terrified, but I think I’m supposed to do that.’
Day, who is a huge Holiday fan, says she was also motivated to make the film as it tells the story of the star’s activism and how she was sued by the US government for singing her anti song. -lynching, Strange Fruit.
The actress says she likes the vision of director Lee Daniels.
“For Lee, the incredible Suzan-Lori Parks script, this idea of defending the legacy of Billie Holiday, he was going to honor her and show her as a beautiful human being on many levels,” she said.
“And that the world would now come to know her as the civil rights backmother who sang the song, our first protest song, Strange Fruit, in defiance of the government and was ultimately martyred for it.”
“So the fact that the world can see her in this new light, as a fan of hers, has been wonderfully empowering for me.”
Once Day accepted the role, she was totally committed and made huge changes in her own life in order to inhabit the role.
“I don’t typically swear, I’ve vowed to be sober for six, seven years now, so I don’t commit that way, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I did. have long hair up to the buttocks, ”she says.
“I lost almost 40 kilos, I cut all my hair, I started drinking a lot of gin and smoking a lot of cigarettes and generally being more sexual in my behavior, more simply blatant.
“I wanted to feel these mannerisms, I wanted them to be natural, not a thing, you know what I mean?”
While the film will show Billie Holiday in a new light to many, it is not unaware of the demons she has fought and portrays her struggle with addiction as well as some toxic personal relationships.
:: Subscribe to the Backstage podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker
Day says the method style of comedy really helped her get into character, especially during the graphic drug-taking scenes.
“I’m super fast: boom, boom, boom, boom, boom; Billie Holiday is molasses slow,” she said.
“The cigarettes really slowed me down. In the heroin scenes, because my body isn’t used to it, [they] would slow me down and kind of make me nod in certain ways, and I could just focus on the emotional part of the scene.
“And then too, the gravel in my voice, I had to earn that shit because it’s years of experience and stuff on her voice, so [the method acting] helped set up a few things. “
Day says it wasn’t easy to reverse the singer’s housing process after filming was finished.
“There are parts of her … once she’s in there, you know, those parts won’t go away, she won’t let go, and it’s an experience, it’s a lifelong commitment.” towards this woman.
“Getting out of her was, and I’ll say – it’s not that much anymore – but it was like losing a major organ or losing an adult loved one, like a child, you know.
“Everyone was like, ‘Ok, now you have to be Andra again’, and it wasn’t until I started trying that I realized I had no idea who it was – I didn’t. had no idea. “
The United States vs. Billie Holiday is now available on Sky Cinema. Listen to our review of the film on this week’s Backstage podcast