She gained 20 pounds and dotted her arms with track marks to portray the R&B pioneer, who struggled with heroin addiction during that era. The singer spent a few days at the Phoenix House, a rehab center in Brooklyn, to learn the junkie stagger and addled rage she uses to surprising poignant effect in the movie.
“I never tried drugs in my life so I didn’t know about it all,” she said. “It was hard to go there. In the beginning I didn’t want to offend anyone, I didn’t want to ask the wrong questions or seem judgmental. They were so honest, though, and I am so thankful. I don’t think I could have understood that level of pain or need. What they do there is amazing. I learned a lot about life and myself.”