Andra Day Talks Her Extreme Transformation For ‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday’

Andra Day was prepared to suffer for her art when assuming the role of legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday.

“I did some pretty extreme things for the character,” she tells W Magazine in a video interview about her Golden Globe-nominated role in “The United States Vs. Billie Holiday”.

“There was the drastic weight loss — I wanted to have a body that looked like that period in time. It made me very weak on set and slowed me down in a way that really helped with the scenes with heroin,” she explains. “Then I started smoking cigarettes, which I don’t do…. It makes me feel like her. I’m very fast, and she’s like molasses.

“Smoking helped to drop me into those dark places,” Day explains, adding the weight loss and resulting weakness allowed her to “focus on the emotion” the story required.

Takashi Seida/Paramount Pictures
Takashi Seida/Paramount Pictures

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Directed by Lee Daniels, the film follows Holiday during the point in her career in which she was targeted by the U.S. Federal Department Of Narcotics through an undercover sting operation led by Jimmy Fletcher (played by “Moonlight”‘s Trevante Rhodes), a federal agent with whom she had a tumultuous affair.

“I was originally 163 [pounds] when I started. I got down to 124,” Day says. “I don’t necessarily recommend, but to me, I didn’t want my body to look like a gym body of 2020 or 2019 at the time. For me, it was important having a period body.”

Drinking also became part of her regimen for the film.

“I don’t drink alcohol but I did drink a lot of gin and bourbon,” Day says. “Cut off all my hair,” she says with a laugh.

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