After pulling off a breathtaking performance as Black jazz singer Billie Holiday, Andra Day reflects on what it was like to play the “Strange Fruit” singer.
“This experience, outside of my niece and nephew, was the greatest experience of my life,” she said in an interview with People. Despite receiving several nominations and winning awards at the Golden Globes, the African-American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Film Awards, and the Palm Springs International films festival, she still remains humble about her success.
The 93 Annual Academy Awards are coming up on April 25, and Day has one nomination in the Best Actress in a Leading Role category. She’s going up against Viola Davis, Vanessa Kirby, Frances McDormand, and Carey Mulligan for the title. When asked how it feels to share this nomination with the other four women, she said, “We’re just sharing this space, we are representing multiple stories, and we are loving on each other. I’m celebrating them, rooting for them.”
She went on to explain the historic reason why she is grateful to be in the category with the “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” actress. She said, “Just being with Viola in this space, especially being the first time two Black women have been nominated since Diana Ross and Cicely Tyson, it’s amazing. It feels a little overwhelming.” Ross and Tyson were nominated in this category in 1972 for their roles in “Lady Sings the Blues” — also a dramatization of Billie Holiday’s life — and “Sounder,” respectively.
Just weeks before the film was released, Day confessed that she initially turned down the opportunity to portray Holiday “multiple times.” She told USA Today, “I didn’t anticipate I would go into acting this soon or start with a role like this. I didn’t want to do this when it was first brought to my attention – because I love Billie Holiday. … I was nervous, I was terrified. I said ‘no’ multiple times.” But the singer decided to face her fears and “Rise Up” to the occasion.
The Lee Daniels directed film, which is based on a screenplay written by Suzan-Lori Parks, can be watched on Hulu. It focuses on the later period of Holiday’s life as she battles drug abuse and abusive men while being persecuted by the government.