Andra Day interview: ‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday’
Andra Day hopes that “The United States vs. Billie Holiday” will allow younger artists to “really recognize her as the gangster that she was. Everything that they’re doing with the backing of the Black Lives Matter movement in the post-Civil Rights era, she was doing by herself.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Day above.
Day plays Billie Holiday in what is her first on-screen acting role, an intimidating undertaking to say the least. “I didn’t want to be terrible,” she says flat-out. “I love Billie Holiday … I just had this idea in my mind that I would be the one stain that everybody was like, ‘Man, remember when Andra Day tried to be Billie Holiday?'” But she ultimately decided that by accepting this role, “I’m probably being caused to face my fears and to do an act of great faith. That’s how it read out to me.”
She also appreciated director Lee Daniels‘ commitment to vindicating Holiday in the public record. The legendary singer struggled with addiction, leading to her death in 1959 when she was only 44-years-old, but “this was a woman that the entire government went after … because she was raising awareness about lynching in America [by performing the song ‘Strange Fruit’] … She was a change-maker. She was a wave-maker. Oftentimes America does not like to look in the mirror, and they do not like artists that hold a mirror up to them constantly.”
The legacy of “Strange Fruit” lives on today: “She is the genesis of a lot of things that we say and we do now. That is our first protest song, truly. And she ultimately gave up her life for it. She permeates everything that we do with regard to progressing and moving things forward, and equality.” Thus far for her portrayal, Day has received Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award nominations for both her performance and for the original song “Tigress and Tweed,” which she co-wrote with Raphael Saadiq. Will a Best Actress Oscar be next?