On Sunday night, the marvelous Andra Day became just the second Black woman to win the Golden Globe for Best Drama Film Actress through her exceptional role in The United States vs. Billie Holiday.
What makes this victory even more outstanding is that The United States vs. Billie Holiday marks the Grammy-nominated artist’s first starring role. The Hulu biopic, directed by Lee Daniels, shows a new perspective on Holiday’s legacy and details the conspiracies that attempted to stop her from singing her protest song “Strange Fruit.”
During her emotional acceptance speech, Day said, “I’m in the presence of giants with Viola Davis, Frances McDormand, Vanessa Kirby and Carey Mulligan. You inspire me so much.” Honoring Holiday, she said, “To the amazing, transformative, dynamic Billie Holiday, who just transformed me with this role, and with her presence and her spirit.”
In conversation with EW, Day detailed exactly how playing Billie Holiday changed her forever. “It was a really paradigm shifting moment for me, ushering a new season in my life, a new season of me,” she said. Getting in tune with the spirit of Holiday was a three year continuous journey, and her own identity became muddled in the process. “I don’t think anyone would be the same after three years, but I think when the person you’re playing is so big and their impact is so important … When there’s so much victory and so much trauma at the same time, you’re changed at a more rapid, dramatic pace.”
Initially, Day was completely against taking on the massive role. Because she wasn’t an actress, it was far too intimidating. Yet, there was a deep, powerful connection made as she became familiar with the script, written by Suzan-Lori Parks. She was also motivated by how the film would bring to light the FBI’s deceptive actions against Holiday due to “Strange Fruit,” which speaks of racial terror in America. From a spiritual perspective, she felt a sense of peace and guided to do the role, ignoring the egoic mind which filled her with fear and hesitation.
As she prepared with acting coaching, diving into the depths of complex emotions and trauma is how she was able to connect with Holiday. It required extensive research about the legendary singer, from books to interviews and, of course, the music. To achieve the signature voice, Day began smoking cigarettes and drinking hard liquor––two substances she doesn’t partake in, but found the sacrifice necessary to truly merge with the role. No tea, only cold water. “Anything I would do to take care of my voice as a singer, I did the opposite. The gravel and grit in her voice is so much a part of her character, and we would be remiss to not go after that,” she said.
While performing as Holiday, one word comes to mind for Day: Terrifying. “I was terrified the entire time, and every day was the day I’d be awful and they’d realize it, and then I’d be sent home. I was terrified, but also it felt really good. I enjoyed having her in there, I enjoyed our comingling of spirits.”
The United States vs. Billie Holiday stars Andra Day, Leslie Jordan, Natasha Lyonne, Trevante Rhodes, Miss Lawrence, and more. Watch and listen to the full interview with Andra Day by heading over to EW.