Andra Day on ‘trauma’ of portraying Billie Holiday: “I hated myself in that moment”
The Grammy-nominated singer talks about her leading role in "The United States vs. Billie Holiday".
The US vs Billie Holiday has finally hit Hulu and the movie is sure to get Andra Day on everyone's radar. The Grammy-nominated singer, who appears as Lady Day in the Lee Daniels-directed film, delivers a formidable performance as the late jazz singer and icon who struggled with sobriety and spent much of her career being vigorously pursued by the FBI .
Read more: Ruth E. Carter helps Hollywood make our story stand out like no other
theGrio sat down with the eclectic beauty to find out how she handled such a big task so remarkably.
“It was prayer and faith. It was overcoming fear. I mean it was a leap and confidence in the process and confidence that I was there for a reason and for a reason, ”she says.
Andra Day as Billie Holiday (Hulu)
“It was a tremendous team effort by people with incredible integrity and even greater talent. My cast really flowed into me in such a special way. Tasha Smith is my acting teacher and a great director and has really given me so much and just really prepared me for it. Tom Jones, also my dialect coach. Suzan-Lori Parks wrote a great script. So I can't say enough about the entire ecosystem and the whole family, which really, really gave me space to perform that achievement that people love so much. "
Though critics already hail her work, Day reveals that she turned down the role when it was first offered to her.
"My manager pointed this out to me first, and my first, not just thought, but first reaction was really just 'no'. It was also like a simple 'no'. And I assumed it was just 'no' and it would "No," and we wouldn't, because it was a terrible idea, "she admits.
"At first I was just scared because I'd never acted before. I did it in high school and I did music theater in middle school. But you know, that's far from making a big movie and a group leading by people ... I thought it was just ridiculous to even consider myself for the role without that experience, and then I didn't want to retell The Lady Sings the Blues because I'm such a huge fan of that movie Diana [Ross] was. "
Although Day had a few supporting roles in the portrayal of lounge singers, she had to face some pretty dark feelings about her leading role as Holiday.
"The most difficult scene for me, as you can imagine, was making the lynch scene incredibly challenging," says Day. “It was difficult for several reasons, it was difficult because of what we actually talked about. Watching and looking at this actual lynching, even though it is a movie set, looks like a body would look like it. "
Much of the film focuses on the FBI's mission to silence Holiday and prevent her from singing "Strange Fruit," the anti-lynch song written by Abel Meeropol and first sung by Holiday in 1939.
“And worse, as the song says, with bulging eyes and twisted mouth and probably the smell of a body and a burnt body. And so it was just difficult to be in a room to see a black mother hanging on a tree and to be in that place with all of my beautiful black colleagues. And just to think that this might have happened at some point, or, unfortunately, might be hanging in noose in the Capitol [now]. "
The iconic song helped fuel the civil rights movement emerging at the time, and that made Holiday a threat to the powers that be.
“They don't like blacks, much less the idea of black liberation and equality or freedom or autonomy. And so she represented all the things that they hated most, that they were taught to hate most, that they wanted to hate most, and yet they had to stop or silence them. And that has always been a goal, ”says Day.
“But by the abolition of slavery I mean, even with the laws that have been passed and the vagabond laws and all those things, you know, it has always been an attempt to monetize black bodies through the process of criminalization like we do . have seen. So she was a threat to her established and desired way of life. "
Day showed that she had to withdraw from her own traumas in order to get into the right mental space to portray such pain, and that fact is in itself troubling.
Andra Day will perform throughout America during the Virtual Parade on January 20, 2021. (Photo by Handout / Biden Inaugural Committee via Getty Images)
“It was difficult to see that and to live in this room and understand what it would have been like. But the difficult thing was also that I also had to break free from a family trauma in order to fully and emotionally realize what I needed for this moment. Lynching should be enough to get you there. "
Read more: Andra Day started drinking, smoking, and lost 40 pounds for the role of Billie Holiday
She continues: “But we are unfortunately very familiar as a people and as a community with this level of loss and violence that has been orchestrated against us and this type of trauma and an even greater victory in terms of resilience. Still, it's a fire to go through ... I hated myself the moment I was violent enough to have to wear something other than what was in front of me. "
The US versus Billie Holiday is now streaming on Hulu.
Check out the full interview in Episode 4 of How Hollywood Highlights Our Story:
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Andra Day's contribution to the subject of “trauma” in the portrayal of Billie Holiday: “I hated myself at that moment” first appeared on TheGrio.
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