Andra Day Lost 39 Pounds, Started Drinking and Smoking to Play Billie Holiday

Andra Day
Leon Bennett/STA 2020/Getty Images for BET and Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

The actress-singer plays the famous jazz singer in 'The United States vs. Billie Holiday.'

Andra Day fully committed herself to the role of Billie Holiday. The 36-year-old musician's first major movie part is portraying the late jazz singer in the upcoming Hulu film, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, and the role led to her making some major lifestyle changes. 

“I basically abused my body for a long time,” Day said during Variety's Actors on Actors with Leslie Odom Jr. “I’m joking and not really joking." 

Day landed the role in 2018 and got to work researching Holiday and emulating her actions. 

"I put my family through it; I put myself through it,” she shared. “I went from 163 pounds to 124 pounds. I would talk like her and I don’t drink or smoke, but I started smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. Not that I recommend people do this; I just was desperate because this is my first role." 

The film follows Holiday as the target of an undercover sting operation centered on the singer's substance abuse struggles. Day wanted to be in the right mindset to play the troubled singer at such a pivotal time in her life. 

"I just asked God to give me all of the pain and trauma," she said. "I asked him to give me her pain and give me her trauma.”

The United States vs. Billie Holiday premieres Feb. 25 on Hulu.