Throughout her profession as a Grammy-nominated musician, Andra Day has sung loads of Billie Vacation songs. However to completely develop into the titular jazz singer in The US vs. Billie Vacation, Day needed to dive headfirst into Vacation’s dangerous habits by smoking cigarettes, cursing, and consuming onerous liquor. It is a part of what makes her portrayal so mesmerizing. For W‘s annual Finest Performances situation, Day discusses dropping practically 40 kilos to attain a “interval physique” and shaking off imposter syndrome nerves on set.
What scenes did you do throughout your audition for The US vs. Billie Vacation?
I did a scene that is really not within the film, the place she’s having a gathering with John Levy in a membership; we did not actually find yourself taking pictures it, which was humorous, as a result of it was the scene that made me probably the most nervous. However the scene that did make it in that I did for my audition was the scene the place she will get busted and first discovers that Jimmy Fletcher is a federal agent. After which I did the scene the place she’s dying. So these have been my audition scenes, those executed proper out of the gate. They have been actually, actually difficult, however I additionally assume, as Lee Daniels taught me, the concern of doing poorly actually fueled lots of that, together with private trauma.
Whenever you received the function, did you might have a second of celebration or have been you a nervous wreck?
I used to be horrified. You may ask Lee. The very first thing I advised him was, “Did you have a look at everyone? Are you certain you checked round and made certain…” I used to be nonetheless so hesitant, and he was like, “Yo, simply present as much as set.” However I did have one second of celebration with certainly one of my employees and with my mom; she was with me on the time. And everyone was like, “Whoa.” However then the concern settled in instantly, and I used to be like, “What the fuck are you doing? Get out of right here. This can be a horrible concept.” However Lee believed in me sufficient to take an opportunity that even he was terrified about. And so was I. However right here we’re…
Lee advised me you probably did some fairly radical issues, such as you taught your self to smoke?
Yeah, not one thing I would really like. That is my first film, so I do not know that I may communicate to younger actors, however I do not need to recommend that to them. There was additionally the drastic weight reduction—I used to be initially 163 kilos after I began, and I received right down to 124. At first, I began by simply shrinking my caloric consumption, after all, after which exercising as nicely. However actually, I did type of starve myself a bit after I was on set. I do not essentially suggest it, however for my character, I did not need my physique to appear to be a fitness center physique of 2020. It needed to appear to be free pores and skin and elements. That, for me, was essential: having a physique true to that interval. The opposite factor is, it made me very weak on set and slowed me down in a method that actually helped with the scenes with heroin. Then I began smoking cigarettes, which I do not do. I do not smoke something as a result of, to start with, I’ve no body of reference for myself smoking. So it makes me really feel like her; it slows me down. I’m very quick, and she or he’s like molasses. And after I needed to do scenes the place I used to be excessive on heroin, it actually helped my bodily physique to nod in a method the place I may concentrate on the emotion, and my physique was reacting the best way I needed it to. It helped to gradual me down, and it helped, after I did need to be excessive, to drop me into these locations. I wanted to really feel it in my physique to consider it, I assume.
And in addition, you do not swear.
I do not—it is one thing I am nonetheless making an attempt to let go of. So cussing is one other factor I picked up. And I do not drink alcohol, however I did drink lots of gin and bourbon and all of that stuff, despite the fact that you are actually not supposed to try this. However look, I used to be determined. I did not need to be horrible, so I used to be like, “No matter we have now to do on this second, for this function. Lower off all my hair.”
You have sung lots of Billie Vacation in your profession as a musician, however was it scarier to sing her songs within the context of this movie?
At first it was nerve-racking as a result of it is one factor if you’re doing a one-off tune right here or there, or I am simply playfully emulating her voice, however to remain in it and to consider it and to dwell as her was undoubtedly totally different. I’ll say as soon as I used to be capable of get to that time, the music and her voice helped me to drop into her. Music was my gateway into her character. That and Billie’s snort, actually. She has such a definite snort. Her snort is sort of a Ping-Pong ball—it comes again and hits you. Nevertheless it was additionally a little bit of a problem as a result of I would discover myself getting misplaced within the music the best way I might simply singing it. After which Lee would deliver me proper again. “You are being her, it’s a must to really develop into her and act. You may’t simply do it the best way you’d do it.”
How outdated have been you if you began singing?
I used to be actually younger, possibly round 6 or one thing like that.
What was your go-to tune to sing to impress your loved ones?
Whitney. I might simply butcher Whitney at 6 years outdated. I might do “I Will At all times Love You,” “Saving All My Love for You,” “I Wanna Dance With Any person (Who Loves Me).” My dad and mom all the time had music on in the home: Luther Vandross, Stevie Surprise. It wasn’t till I used to be round 11 that I found Billie Vacation. And I actually found the nice jazz singers of that point: Nina Simone, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, after which Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus and Donald Byrd.
Do you might have a go-to karaoke tune?
What if I used to be identical to, “Rise Up” is my go-to karaoke tune? I am going sing my very own songs to karaoke on a regular basis! I am simply kidding, that may be horrible. No, it could be both Roberta Flack’s or Lauryn Hill’s “Killing Me Softly With His Music.” Like, give me both one.
Did you might have a favourite movie if you have been rising up?
Girl Sings the Blues is unquestionably one. Additionally, Carmen Jones is a big one. I like Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte.
The place was your first kiss?
My first kiss was really exterior of a theater in San Diego, in an space known as Golden Hill. It was with my first boyfriend. I used to be 16 years outdated, and I do bear in mind it being not nice. No offense to him, I am not saying that he wasn’t a great kisser. I would not have recognized on the time. I simply bear in mind being like, “Yeah, I do not really feel like that is my factor.” I made a decision that definitively at 16 years outdated: “Nah, bro, I am out.”