Director saw kismet in casting singer Andra Day
Lee Daniels, director of ‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday’ on Hulu
Q: What did you see in Andra Day that told you she could play Billie Holiday?
A: You can start with the last name of Day. That was exciting to me (because of Holiday’s nickname, Lady Day). That’s sort of kismet. And just her commitment to being Billie. She really wanted to service Billie in the right way.
Q: Did you have to sell her on the role? Reportedly, she was scared of it.
A: She was terrified of it. I was terrified of her working for me. … But there was a mutual love affair that took place and trust and so it was great. We trusted each other and I think that that trust is what gets the performance, I believe.
Q: How do you coax an inexperienced actor such as her through a performance?
A: We had a great acting coach and we had a great vocal coach, so she came to set incredibly prepared. But I think she didn’t know what not to do. Sometimes it’s great to work with someone that doesn’t know the rules. I didn’t know the rules when I did television and “Empire” was created. So I think there’s something great about really not knowing the rules as you step onto this new platform that you’re in.
Q: What do you want viewers to come away with from the movie?
A: You know what I think? In these troubled times that we’re in, I just think when you think of this lone woman during this time standing up and taking on the government pretty much because she could have easily said, “Yes, I’ll stop singing the song” – I just think that we have an obligation to do the same thing, that we have to do the right thing for America. We’re in some dark times now and I think that people know in their heart what’s right to do and I think they have to stand up and do the right thing.