Andra Day Reveals the "Heartache" and "Trauma" She Channeled to Play Billie Holiday

Golden Globe winner Andra Day detailed the "really challenging" physical and emotional transformations she went through to play jazz icon Billie Holiday in The United States vs. Billie Holiday.

By Brett Malec Mar 01, 2021 3:01 PMTags
Watch: Happy Birthday, Billie Holiday: E! News Rewind

Andra Day didn't just go through a physical transformation to play Billie Holiday in The United States vs. Billie Holiday, she also went through a taxing emotional journey.

Prior to winning big at the 2021 Golden Globe awards on Sunday, Feb. 28, the 36-year-old singer and actress opened up about portraying to iconic jazz singer for E!'s "Ones to Watch" video series celebrating Black History Month.

"Obviously I was a fan of hers long, long before this, since I was 11 years old. But I still read Lady Sings the Blues a few times," Day exclusively told E! News. "I read every book I could get my hands on, read every magazine article. Disparaging articles, positive ones, ones about her fashion. Studying the FBI even. It was the emotional work, that was the really challenging thing for me. There was a lot, a lot of work, a lot of research, a lot of transformation, but it was definitely worth it. She is worth it and I do believe god wanted this story told."

In the film, Day sings Holiday's famous song "Strange Fruit," which is about racism and lynching in America.

Stars Playing Real People

"It's more than just singing a song and paying homage to her, there's a need for people to hear the words, to not enjoy the song. Don't enjoy the song, it's not a beautiful song, you know what I'm saying? It's a terrible song but it's a necessary song," Day shared. "There was a lot of sort of trauma built up just from playing her, her life and the heartache from that. Heartache from my own life and my own trauma. Heartache from being a Black woman living in America, just living in the world."

Taylor Hill/Getty Images, Takashi Seida/Hulu

Day says she's excited for people to learn how revolutionary Holiday was not just as a performer, but as an activist.

"People can expect a hero, they can expect the godmother of civil rights and someone they can pay homage to and say thank you to," she revealed. "And inspiration for moving forward in the future because if she could fight, one singular, solo Black woman, and shoulder this burden on her own in the '40s, we definitely can and have to do it now. So I'm excited for how it's received."

Check out our entire "Ones to Watch" interview to hear more about the film, Day's passion for the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement and what it was like performing at President Joe Biden's Inauguration last month!