The brand new Oscar nominee owes much to the legendary Lady Day: her voice as a singer, her film debut with “The United States against Billie Holiday,” the first “hit” of a career full of successes and also her stage name.
Once it is known that Andra Day (Edmonds, Washington, 1984) owes everything to Billie Holiday, it can be said that she had a hard time paying off the debt. She is more, she repeatedly refused to accept the role. And Lee Daniels, her director, to give it to him.
Music diva stuff, multi-nominated for the Grammy and behind the song Rise Up, the anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement making itself loved? “I still do not believe that I am an actress,” she declares. “But that’s a feeling that black women have, that we never quite believe what we are capable of. That made me decide to do it ”.
That and more, because Holiday’s presence was a constant in her life. Her mother, a very spiritual and vigilant woman in a church, loved the music of Lady Day. And her musical theater teacher at her school, the closest she was ever to an acting training, it was she who told him to listen to her to find her own style. “She was 11 years old and I didn’t understand her lyrics, but her voice enchanted me,” she recalls. So her favorite subject was Sugar, but she soon realized that behind Strange Fruit there was more than just a singer.
“I found a fighter, the godmother not only of the blues but of civil liberties. Someone who raised her voice not only for blacks but for all racial minorities, the marginalized, women. She spoke of something relevant then and that is still valid today ”. Day talks about the central theme of the film, a song that Holiday dedicated, says the interpreter, “to the systemic lynching that existed, there is, in the United States, the first protest song of the black community and for which they tried to assassinate her and, in fact , they made it”.
The weight of his legacy
Day can still see the weight that she carries in her voice. His is smoother, more fluffy than Holiday’s. For her transformation, he needed to load her with all the sorrow, the heroin, the cigarettes, the frustrated and sometimes violent loves that marked the life of this legend and scratched her voice. “I had to relive all the traumas that I had left behind many years ago and stay there because I am not such a good actress as to enter and leave the character,” says someone who normally neither drinks nor smokes and who also had to say goodbye in this preparation and filming time to your scarves, your hot tisanes and any other personal care. “The worst has been to get out of it, because it left something in me that enjoyed this communion, but that was not healthy at all,” he concludes what has been her debut in the cinema. Hence, her biggest advantage of her Golden Globe was eating to the full, having taken care of her weight to show a consumed Holiday in her fight. And celebrate the second victory of a black actress at the Golden Globes (the first was Whoopi Goldberg in 1986 with The Color Purple). “But I will love the day that something like this is normal, that another 35 years do not have to pass until another victory,” says guerrera and perhaps willing not so much to act but to find other stories of women, of minorities, that need to be told with her as a screenwriter or, perhaps, as a director. As her father, as spiritual as she, told him, “he who does not sow, does not reap.”