Andra Day Recalls Emotional Experience Cutting Off '12 Years of Hair Growth' to Play Billie Holiday

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Hanna Flanagan
·3 min read
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Takashi Seida/ Hulu; David Livingston/Getty

Andra Day completely transformed herself to embody one of the most iconic voices in music in the upcoming biopic The United States vs. Billie Holiday.

During Friday's episode of the new PEOPLE Every Day podcast, hosted by Janine Rubenstein, the singer, 36, says the character took "hold" of her while filming the Hulu drama — from losing weight and smoking cigarettes, to changing her mannerisms and cutting off her hair.

"It was definitely a transformation," she says, before opening up about the emotional experience of cutting off "12 years of hair growth."

"You know, usually you're like celebrating, you're like, 'Yay, big chop.' But I was like, 'Did we just straight [cut] right into the back of my head? Okay.'"

"It was worth it," the singer continues. "I was happy actually. I actually really enjoyed the short hair. So ultimately it was working, and I think there's just no way to do a character like her's justice without going [all in]. I mean, that's a Black woman in [the] '30s, you know, there's no way to do a justice without going that deep."

For Andra Day's full interview, listen to the episode of PEOPLE Every Day above and subscribe!

Day also lost 39 pounds to prepare for the role, telling Rubenstein that she "couldn't look too muscular" and had to look thin as a result of "starvation and drugs."

RELATED: Andra Day Stuns in Chilling Trailer for Lee Daniels' The United States vs. Billie Holiday

"I started to smoke cigarettes. I picked up the habit and started drinking a lot of gin a lot," the star — who doesn't recommend that to others for health concerns — says.

Eric McCandless/Getty Images Andra Day

During Variety's Actors on Actors interview with Leslie Odom Jr. last month, Day admitted, "I basically abused my body for a long time."

"I'm joking and not really joking," she added.

"I got the role at the very top of 2018. Reading everything I could get my hands on. Listening to every interview. Apparently, I exhausted the internet of Billie Holiday photos. Apparently, the internet will tell you that you've reached the end."

Day continued: "I put my family through it; I put myself through it. 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. I just asked God to give me all of the pain and trauma. I asked him to give me her pain and give me her trauma."

RELATED: Andra Day Says She Said No 'Multiple Times' to Playing Billie Holiday: 'I Was Terrified'

Day said that she also had to change her voice to sound like Holiday while performing some of the late jazz legend's greatest hits, including 1939's "Strange Fruit," which details the lynching of African Americans in the United States.

"That was an early decision that we made right away to do the singing," Day said in the Variety interview. "Every time I would sing a song I'd go, 'Okay, Lee's going to hear this and he's going to fire me.' But I wouldn't have done it if they'd been, 'Do it in your voice.' That for me would have probably been a no. There's victory and there is pain in her voice. So to me it was just like we've got to get it, we have to get it, you know what I mean?"

The film also stars Trevante Rhodes as Jimmy Fletcher, Natasha Lyonne as Tallulah Bankhead, Garrett Hedlund as Harry J. Anslinger, Rob Morgan as Louis McKay, and Evan Ross as Sam Williams.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday drops Feb. 26 on Hulu.

Check out more from Day's interview on PEOPLE Every Day, airing now on iHeartMedia, Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you listen to your podcasts.