Andra Day Recalls Losing 40 Pounds and Starving Herself on Set to Transform Into Billie Holiday

In a recent interview, Andra Day revealed the measures she went through to become jazz singer Billie Holiday for the upcoming film The United States vs. Billie Holiday.

By Mona Thomas Feb 23, 2021 3:21 PMTags
Watch: Andra Day on Honoring Billie Holiday's Legacy: Ones to Watch

Andra Day was willing to go to great lengths for her portrayal of Billie Holiday.

The rising star, who experienced widespread success from her 2015 single "Rise Up," was tapped to play the iconic jazz singer in the upcoming biopic, The United States vs. Billie Holiday

In her W Magazine interview, which published on Feb. 23, the 36-year-old singer revealed what she underwent to physically transform into the late legend. 

"I did some pretty extreme things for the character," she confessed. "There was the drastic weight loss—I wanted to have a body that looked like that period in time. Starving myself made me very weak on set and slowed me down in a way that really helped with the scenes with heroin. Then I started smoking cigarettes; it made me feel like Billie. I'm very fast, and she's like molasses. Smoking helped to drop me into those dark places."

 She also elaborated on the weight loss, noting, "I was originally 163 when I started. I got down to 124. 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."

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According to Andra, the cigarettes and lack of eating allowed her to slow down physically and "focus on the emotion" of each scene.

Gregory Pace/Shutterstock, Leon Bennett/STA 2020/Getty Images for BET

The actress even drank gin and bourbon to immerse herself in the role. "Even though you're really not supposed to do that—apparently that's a cardinal rule to not do that, but look—I was desperate, okay?" she laughed. "I didn't want to be terrible."

Instead, Andra's performance and song, "Tigress and Tweed," earned her not one, but two first-time Golden Globe nominations. With the 2021 ceremony just days away, it's not long now before we may be calling the multi-talented star a Golden Globe winner. 

Until then, see more stars who have lost or gained weight to transform for a role with E!'s gallery below!

Chris Messina

The Mindy Project alum had to gain 40 lbs. for his role in Live by Night.

Anne Hathaway

This dramatic weight loss was one of many reasons the Les Misérables star took home an Oscar.

Chris Pratt

The Parks & Recreation star transformed into a fit superhero for Guardians of the Galaxy and never looked back.

J.K. Simmons

The Spider-Man alum shocked fans when he debuted his bulging biceps, which are probably meant for his role in Justice League.

Jake Gyllenhaal

"I'd say my mother was worried," he admitted to E! News after losing 30 pounds for Nightcrawler. "I would say she just wanted me to be careful. But she also knew and knows how seriously I take what I do and she respects that."

Michael B. Jordan

The Friday Night Lights alum gained nearly 30 pounds of muscle to transform into a rookie-turned-professional boxer in Creed.

Jared Leto

The 30 Seconds to Mars musician nabbed an Oscar for his riveting role in Dallas Buyers Club, but it cost him 40 pounds. 

Chris Hemsworth

The Thor star went from muscle maniac to scary skinny for his role in The Heart of the Sea. After filming wrapped, Hemsworth returned to his muscular self.

Miles Teller

The Spectacular Now star bulked up for his roles in Whiplash and The Divergent Series: Insurgent.

Renée Zellweger

The Bridget Jones's Diary actress had to gain 30 pounds, not once, but twice for the lovable franchise's first and second films.

Chad Michael Murray

The actor shed 25 pounds for his role as a heroin addict in Other People's Children.

Matthew McConaughey

An actor hasn't startled us this much since Christian Bale whittled away to skin and bones in The Machinist. The Magic Mike hunk dropped 30 pounds to star in The Dallas Buyer's Club, the real-life story about a man dying from AIDS in the 1980s who treated himself with alternative remedies he smuggled into the United States from Mexico.

Matthew Fox

The actor lost 40 pounds to become shockingly ripped to play a killer opposite Tyler Perry in Alex Cross. He trained for five months with the same man who helps Daniel Craig get into James Bond shape.

Aaron Carter

The singer posted a picture of his newly beefed up bod on Twitter, writing, "I've been at Johnny Wright's compound working on my mind, music, and body for a new album release!"

Taylor Lautner

The teen heartthrob went from cute kid to beefy babe as werewolf Jacob Black in the Twilight sequel. "The day I finished Twilight, I came home and started bulking up," Lautner told Interview magazine. "For New Moon, I'm 30 pounds heavier than I was in Twilight."

Jason Segel

The actor lost a significant amount of weight for his role opposite Cameron Diaz in Sex Tape. "This time when I take my shirt off, I've made a promise to myself, it doesn't have to be funny," he told Us Weekly.

Rooney Mara

The up-and-comer has been spotted around town looking leaner for her starring role in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. According to a source, the actress is also cutting her hair supershort and doing Pilates workouts to achieve her character's "anorexic" look.

Christian Bale

The actor is no stranger to morphing for movie roles. In 2004, he lost more than 60 pounds for his skeletal role in The Machinist, and he did it again for the upcoming The Fighter opposite a very bulked-up Mark Wahlberg. He also gained 40 pounds for both American Hustle and Vice, and lost 70 pounds for Ford v Ferrari.

Jake Gyllenhaal

The actor looked more like a god than a prince for his role in 2010's Prince of Persia. Gyllenhaal said he studied Parkour, the French art of street running, to bulk up for the film.

Tom Hanks

"All it is is time and discipline," the Oscar winner told Time magazine of his role in 2000's Cast Away, for which he lost over 50 pounds to play a man stranded on an uninhabited island.

50 Cent

The usually ripped rapper shocked everyone with this pic of him looking dangerously skinny. He reportedly went from 214 to 160 pounds in just nine weeks to play a football player diagnosed with cancer in Things Fall Apart.

Carrot Top

No joke, but that's Carrot Top! Forget carrots, his biceps look like friggin' watermelons.

Robert De Niro

Shaping up for movie roles is nothing new. The legendary actor earned an Oscar nom for his role as terrifying tattooed rapist Max Cady in the 1991 thriller Cape Fear.

Christian Bale

In order to portray former Vice President Dick Cheney, the star sported a fuller figure ahead of his performance in the biopic Backseat. 

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