Audra McDonald on 'Defending' Billie Holiday in Lady Day

Five-time Tony winner discusses her new Broadway show.

Posted: 05/20/2014 11:30 AM EDT
Audra McDonald on 'Defending' Billie Holiday in Lady Day

Audra McDonald has already tied a record by winning five Tony Awards, but she very well may be on her way to making Broadway history with her latest role as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill. The gifted actress has stunned fans and critics with her embodiment of Holiday in the show, and a record-breaking sixth Tony win seems well within her grasp.

We caught up with McDonald backstage at Lady Day and talked about how she managed to transform into the jazz icon. The secret, she says, lies with her grandmother. "She had a speaking voice that was very similar to Billie Holiday's speaking voice," McDonald explains. "I used to imitate her all the time...so I started there and then worked my way to Billie."

The actress also talks about honoring Holiday while portraying her in her darkest hour. "Everybody has sorrow in their life," McDonald explains, comparing Holiday to other tragic figures like Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse. "Every night before I go on stage, I think, 'You are her defender. Go out there and defend her.'"

For more of our chat with Audra McDonald, including her thoughts on carrying the torch of great African-Americans in theater, the rumors of her playing Aretha Franklin in a biopic, and more, check out our exclusive interview below.

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill runs until August 10 at the Circle in the Square Theater, and the Tony Awards will take place on Sunday, June 8. Check your local listings for broadcast info.

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(Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for New York Women In Communications)

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