Revelation of “Billie Holiday, an Affair of State”, Andra Day is in the running for the Oscar for Best Actress. While waiting for the awards, she presents this biopic signed Lee Daniels, scheduled for June 30 in our theaters.
“France loves Billie Holiday. Europe too”, Andra Day tells us in the preamble to our interview with her. “Her counterparts were saying that if she had lived in Paris, she probably would have lived longer. And I really feel that love for her.”
A love that materialized in particular by a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama for her role in Billie Holiday, a state affair, biopic signed Lee Daniels which now earned her an Oscar nomination. While waiting for the results, on the night of April 25 to 26 for us, she presents this film and her first major role in the cinema.
AlloCiné: “Billie Holiday, a state affair” is your first film as an actress and you slip into the shoes of an icon. Was playing a singer an added challenge, being a singer yourself?
Andra Day : It was a challenge yes and I had a revelation. Because I knew that I was able to provide the sung parts. Then I realized I should do it with his voice. And then that I should be her. Feel the connection to the public that was his. So I realized that singing wouldn’t be that easy, because I would also have to play. Singing, in the film, is also play. And I said to myself: “Damn” (laughs)
It was intimidating, definitely. But so rewarding. I don’t think I have the words to really say how much I love Billie Holiday and the way she is. I also like Lee Daniels, Suzan-Lori Parks [la scénariste, ndlr] and Johann Hari [qui a signé le livre dont le film s’inspire, ndlr]. It was a blessing. I thank God for not allowing me to sabotage myself with this role – because that’s what I was doing by not wanting to play it in the first place.
Why didn’t you want to?
Because I am not an actress. And I shouldn’t say it anyway, because Lee kept asking me to stop with it, telling me that I was an actress. It is true that I am now, but at the time, and I have no problem to admit it, that was not the case. So I didn’t want to be a stain on Billie Holiday’s legacy, and that would have broken my heart, because I love her very much.
I often had this thought in mind: “Billie is great. Diana [Ross, qui l’a incarnée en 1972, ndlr] it’s great. But do you remember when Andra was proud to play her? “(Laughs) I had a hard time getting over that feeling. But meeting Lee was defining, as was seeing how devoted everyone was to her. My game coach and my tutor also counted and helped a lot. I didn’t mean to be bad.
So I didn’t want to be a stain on Billie Holiday’s legacy, and that would have broken my heart, because I love her very much.
How did you become Billie? Through videos and sound recordings? What was the most difficult aspect of this transformation?
I already knew his music, because I was a big fan. But I had to listen to all of his songs, as well as interviews, in addition to reading all the books I could, watching documentaries. I tried to listen to each recording that she spoke in, with different moods, being careful to be able to distinguish the times when she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, sober, angry, happy, carefree. … I was also looking for his professional voice, his interview voice. And the times when she was sexy.
There aren’t that many recordings in which we hear him speak. Not as many as there should be for a superstar of his caliber. But there was enough of it for me to catch her different states of mind and who she was in different spaces. I also collected a lot of things: shoes, a brand of lingerie, earrings, a perfume that she loved …
I got there by talking like her and working with my trainer, transforming my body by losing weight, starting to smoke because I wasn’t a smoker before – nor did I drink alcohol but I got into it too. I also changed my language, adopted a more gendered behavior like his. I have listened to people who are addicted or had been, to understand how addiction is a mental illness. Everything I could get my hands on brought me closer to her.
“Billie Holiday, a Matter of State” hits theaters on June 30th.
Interview by Emmanuel Itier in Los Angeles on April 7, 2021 – Transcription: Maximilien Pierrette