Andrew Dunn interview: ‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday’ cinematographer
It was serendipitous when director Lee Daniels came to cinematographer Andrew Dunn with the opportunity to collaborate on “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” which tells the story of the famous singer as she struggled against addiction and a hostile federal government after she recorded the song “Strange Fruit” to protest lynchings in America. He has long been familiar with her music, so “to have the chance to make a film about Billie Holiday, I was so thrilled,” Dunn explains. Watch our exclusive video interview with Dunn above.
“My father used to play Billie Holiday records on Sunday morning at home, so I was brought up with this magical sound wafting through the house,” Dunn adds. “It was very intriguing to me who this person was, what sort of life she had … There was something in the back of my head that was enticing me, and I thought one day maybe I would get a chance [to make a film about her] … and then when Lee first mentioned it I thought, my goodness, am I dreaming?”
Dunn has worked multiple times with Daniels, having previously lensed his films “Precious” (2009) and “The Butler” (2013). “I think with myself and a director like Lee, there’s a symbiosis and understanding of where we want to go without saying too much,” says Dunn. “But Lee would always give me hints and ideas, and I would translate those into” cinematic images. In particular, the two agreed that a chief goal was to be “intimate” with their subject.
“For me that’s a big part of the journey, to take the audience back through this camera … and travel through this apparatus into that time,” Dunn says. “We actually wanted to be back there with her … [Andra Day, who plays Holiday,] was fantastic in allowing us to be intimate with her.” That approach helped Day earn Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award nominations for her performance. Dunn himself has been nominated for five BAFTAs and two British Society of Cinematographers Awards over the course of his career, and with “United States vs. Billie Holiday” he may receive further recognition.