Her titular role in the upcoming biopic The United States vs. Billie Holiday, which will premiere on Hulu Friday (Feb. 26), peels back the curtain on the legendary jazz singer’s declining physical health during the ’50s. To portray the “Strange Fruit” singer’s heavy drinking and heroin addiction on screen, Day took some off-screen measures of her own that she doesn’t recommend in order to obtain a “period body” that was accurate for the time the film was set in.
“There was the drastic weight loss. So I was originally 163 when I started. I got down to 124. I don’t necessarily recommend,” she explained to W Magazine in a new interview Tuesday (Feb. 23). “For me, it was like I didn’t want my body to look like a gym body of 2020, or 2019 at the time. For me, it was important having a period body. The other thing is it made me very weak on set and slowed me down in a way that really helped with the heroin.”
The 36-year-old Grammy-nominated singer has already snagged two Golden Globe nominations this year for best performance by an actress in a motion picture (drama) and best song in a motion picture for her performance of “Tigress & Tweed.” She earned similar nods for the 2021 Critics Choice Awards, including best actress and best song. But as “nerve-racking” as it was to consistently emulate the voice of one of her idols, she went through much more rigorous training to physically stay in character.
“I started smoking cigarettes, which I don’t do. I don’t smoke anything. First of all, I have no frame of reference for myself smoking, so it makes me feel like her. It slows me down. She’s like molasses — I’m very fast. And when I had to do scenes where I was high on heroin, it really helped my physical body to nod in a way that I was just focusing on the emotion,” Day continued. “And I don’t drink alcohol, but I did drink a lot of gin and bourbon and all of that stuff, even though you’re really not supposed to do that.”
Day told W Magazine that she also had to pick up cursing. Even though it completely took her out of her element, she was more than willing to play the part right.
“Look, I was desperate. I didn’t want to be terrible, so I was like, ‘Whatever we have to do in this moment, for this role. Cut off all my hair,'” she said.
Watch her W Magazine video interview below.