“DAUNTING IS definitely an understatement,” said Andra Day of making her feature-film debut this month playing jazz legend Billie Holiday in “The United States Vs. Billie Holiday.” “I was terrified. I am a huge fan of Billie Holiday,” said Ms. Day, who broke onto the R&B and pop music scenes with the monster song “Rise Up” in 2015. “I could not get out of my head that anybody might say, ‘Remember that one time Andra Day tried to play Billie?’”
Turns out Ms. Day needn’t have braced herself for any embarrassment. Her portrayal has already garnered a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama (while “Tigress & Tweed,” a composition she co-wrote for the film, is up for Best Song in a Motion Picture). She’s getting buzz for an Oscars nod, too.
Besides, Ms. Day, who was mentored early in her career by Stevie Wonder, has undertaken intimidating career moves before. She performed live at the Oscars in 2018, dueting with rapper Common on “Stand Up For Something,” from the soundtrack album of the film “Marshall.”
Here, Ms. Day talks about the headphones she used to stay focused on set, why it’s important to be polite in a foreign country (especially Canada), the regimens she follows to stay creative and healthy, and owning her dream car.
My Nord Stage 3 keyboard is absolutely essential. It’s insane that I don’t actually know how to play piano, but it’s so intuitive—it has so many sounds that inspire me or create a mood—that I’m able to mess around and find what I’m looking for. It takes me longer, because I don’t have the technique, but I’m able to fumble around until I get what I’m hearing in my head. I’ve started taking lessons, though. My piano instructor learned from Mike Garson, from David Bowie’s band, so I’m about to be bad. I’m about to be the coldest on the keys.
On the set of “The United States Vs. Billie Holiday,” I needed music playing 24/7 to help me get into and maintain character. Music is a transcendent experience. Even when there were tons of people around, I was able to put in my BeatsX earbuds and get lost in whatever the songs were giving me.
When I was younger, all I had was GarageBand, and to me [the digital-audio-workstation program] Logic is the juiced-up version: The controls are similar, but there are more features.
I love my Maserati Levante. There are certain things you never think you’ll have, and this is definitely one. It’s such a beautiful car. And the sound system is amazing, which is important.
Design Home is like “Sims” for adults: It’s just home décor and real-estate fantasies. When I add the perfect sofa to the perfect room, I go, “Oh my God. That’s good.” I got one of my highest scores the other day. I was very excited about that.
I don’t have time to plan nutrition, so I rely on my Magic Bullet. I dump a scoop each of rich greens, heart-healthy beets and collagen, and a tablespoon of hyaluronic acid and papaya seed extract, plus blueberries into one cup and I’m done. I’ve gotten all my nutrients for the day. It’s easy breezy.
I adore Speak & Translate. We were shooting in Montreal, so I used the translation app on set and while I was traveling around. Montreal is heavily French-speaking, and I hate the idea of not even trying. Like when I was in Korea, even just to be able to say, “Hey, where’s the bathroom?” was important to me. And I find people really appreciate the effort.
—Edited from an interview by Jeff Slate
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