Culture Trips

Andra Day: ‘I want to be sexy and pow in an awards outfit’ | Film

US singer-songwriter Andra Day plays the titular lead in The United States vs Billie Holiday. Her acclaimed performance as Holiday, her first movie role, has earned her multiple accolades including a Golden Globe for best actress and an Oscar nomination.

As the Golden Globe for best actress in the drama category was being announced on 28 February, Andra Day was sitting in a hotel room in West Hollywood with her hands clasped prayerfully under her chin. In normal times, she would only have been allowed a single guest at the awards ceremony, but on this occasion the 36-year-old, who plays the lead in The United States vs Billie Holiday, was joined by family and friends, co-stars from the film and members of her publicity team.

When Day’s name was read out, the room exploded in collective joy. In a video posted to her Instagram account, you can see Day rolling around the floor in a silk Chanel gown, laughing in disbelief. “I was really shocked,” she tells me. “It was so overwhelming.”

The disbelief was genuine. Day had never acted in a film before and was up against experienced stars for the award including Viola Davis and Carey Mulligan. Growing up in San Diego, her interest in performing arts leaned towards dancing and music. In 2015, with support from Stevie Wonder, she released her debut album Cheers to the Fall. When she was encouraged to audition for the role of Billie Holiday in a film by Lee Daniels, Day initially declined. “I tried to get out of it on multiple occasions,” she says. “I love Billie Holiday so, so much, and the idea of being a stain on her legacy kept coming into my mind.”

Andra Day in The United States vs Billie Holiday.
Andra Day in The United States vs Billie Holiday. Photograph: Takashi Seida/AP

Her fears, which persisted throughout the shoot, proved groundless: Day gives an extraordinary, visceral impersonation of the jazz singer in her later years, plagued by drugs and the FBI. The response to the performance – she has also been nominated for best actress at the Oscars – has convinced her that she might have a shot at acting after all. “I don’t know that I want to do a lot more acting, but I would like to tell more of our stories, to get more marginalised, suppressed narratives made.”

It wasn’t until after the Golden Globes ceremony that Day learned she was only the second black woman ever to win that award, after Whoopi Goldberg for The Color Purple in 1986. “That means that, for 35 years, black women were made to feel inadequate in this space. It really does remind me that representation is huge, which is what makes me go, OK, I want to stay in this business and be another voice.”

As for her Oscar hopes, Day will be attending this year’s intimate ceremony in person but, she says: “I still feel like I’m processing a Golden Globes win, I’m still processing a Golden Globes nomination. I’m way behind as far as processing things go. I just feel really grateful.”

Favourite awards ceremony anecdote?
Regina King surprised me on the night of the win [by appearing in person behind Day to congratulate her while she was in the middle of a live TV interview with Access Hollywood]. That was insane.

Where do you keep your Golden Globe?
It’s actually still sitting in the case they delivered it in, because I haven’t found the perfect place for it – and I’m scared dust is going to get on it, or fingerprints.

What do you look for in an awards outfit?
This season I’m looking for something that makes my body look great. I want to be sexy and pow. For the Golden Globes, I wore this incredible silk Chanel gown, handmade with all of the sequins. It was gorgeous and stylish and it fit really well.

Strangest goodie bag item?
One of those ab things you stick on your stomach and it tickles you until you have an eight-pack. It hasn’t worked on me yet.

The United States vs Billie Holiday is available on Sky Cinema

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