Whether she’s playing the delightfully mean friend on Sister, Sister, the rowdy ex-girlfriend on Save The Last Dance, or the controversial bisexual girl in town on Pretty Little Liars, Bianca Lawson has always served us peak “cool Black girl.” After so many years of bringing high schoolers to life on our TV screens, many of us perceive her as our eternal teenager. But her most recent role on Queen Sugar as Darla Sutton shows Lawson in the full bloom of womanhood and all the complexities and experiences that come with that journey. She has tugged at our heart strings for six seasons in a role that has quickly become one of her most beloved and treasured characters to date.
One thing is for certain: When art mirrors life it can be both unnerving and transformative—and Darla has changed Bianca.
“You know all those episodes where [Darla] was depressed — I’ve struggled with that my whole life but it was never something I would talk about or express to anyone,” Lawson tells HelloBeautiful. “Through her, I could sort of just let the guard down. I think it has been good for me.”
Coincidently, we both showed up to our Zoom date with fresh faces and no interest in the upkeep that pre-COVID norms once required and expected of women. Laughing about what we once did for beauty’s sake pre-pandemic breaks up the awkwardness that often joins strangers in conversations and we chatted easily. Every interview with Bianca that I’ve read started with questions about her anti-aging secrets. The pleasantries always begin like, “Oh my gosh, I cannot believe you’re 40 blah blah blah.” So I crossed that question off my list to avoid redundancy. Also, I’m a 44 year old Black woman and I know the answer to the age conundrum: aging backwards is our thing. And it’s very clear that Bianca, like many Black women, is one of God’s favorites. We both aggressively nod at our similarities and issue our condolences to the rest of the world and hope that the odds are forever in their favor as well. We laugh about it; actually, it’s a firm three-minute cackle. And then we bat a few compliments to each other like Black women of respectable auntie age do when they are catching up.
Still, even in our charming and delightful first exchange of words, her energy is quiet and still. She is soft and calm, her voice commanding attention and respect as she recalls some of the lessons she’s learned from her dad, mom, and even her step-sister Beyoncé. Yes, that Beyoncé. Lawson is not a woman who overshares her private life and her demand for privacy feels both vulnerable and inspiring. What we do know, however, is that she is what we consider Black royalty. I mean, she is related to Marvin Gaye and Berry Gordy. Her bloodline has been dipped with rhythmic Motown genius and recently frosted and sugarcoated with the blessings of the biggest tribe known to our culture, the Beyhive. Despite this enviable level of privilege, Bianca holds very relatable values close to her heart—values that have kept her grounded in the Hollywood bubble since her early start with Barbie commercials at age nine.
“You have to trust your own intuition, your own vision for yourself,” she says in a confident, self-actualized way that pulls me in immediately. “Other people will try to project a lot of things onto you. But you are your own best authority. You can’t allow other people’s perception of you to define how you move.”
One perception of Lawson could be that she has been typecast as our forever youngin’. But that’s far from her truth with the role of the once troubled and now triumphant Darla. With this role, there are so many things she’s gotten to do as an actress that she never got to do before. Because of that, Darla has won a special place in Bianca’s heart. She agrees that after six seasons of Darla, her attachment to this character is quite complicated, but that’s not necessarily a deficit to Bianca.
“I think Darla is the longest time I’ve embodied or lived with a particular character and gone through so many things,” she says. “It’s rewarding in the sense that I’ve gotten to use different muscles and I’ve gotten to tap into certain things. None of the other characters in my life have I really put myself into.”
Indeed, the character development of Darla has been so rich and layered, Bianca’s embodiment of her so raw and unguarded, that it’s hard to believe that she’s just a character. Bianca and Darla feel so connected and, especially during this sixth season of Queen Sugar, the beloved actress says there’s a reason for that. She hesitated and paused for a moment before sharing that Darla’s pregnancy this season triggered mounds of emotions and uncertainty in her.
“I’m gonna be brave here,” Lawson says softly. “There was a thing that sort of happened and I ended up not being pregnant. And I was sad about that. And I actually didn’t even think I wanted a child. But then when I thought it might possibly be, I was happy about it. And then when I wasn’t and then Darla was suddenly pregnant…the timing was interesting for me. The themes of motherhood and all of those things and family and her being so happy about something that I was kind of grieving a little bit.”
If I’m honest, that unspoken thing Bianca shared has happened to me. Maybe to us all even in different ways? I’ve talked myself out of wanting or doing something and then I abruptly changed my mind. Within days or weeks I might go back to that desire or dream and I want it again. But then fear or doubt emerges out of the abyss and I don’t want it anymore. Then, the toggle of life circumstances begins to happen and I’m grieving something I didn’t want in the first place. We underestimate the fact that we don’t just grieve humans. In life, there is an opportunity to grieve every experience laid before us.
“You know how when you’re really good at coping and pushing through it can be good and bad,” Lawson continues. “Maybe normalizing things that should not be normalized because you’re just pushing through. I was not someone that was ever emotional or cried openly— or was so expressive emotionally. I think because Darla feels everything so deeply, it has given me some sort of subconscious permission to say how I really feel.” We both scurried to catch the one thug tear that we had released with those words.
Bianca’s powerful connection to the universe is tangible. Think of deep connections to other human beings. Think of an ethereal, empathic existence on this planet. This is Bianca Lawson. This is what makes her such a wondrous actress. She has been able to build relationships with each of her characters and Darla Sutton has only deepened her artistic and personal journey.
We are midway through season six and Bianca couldn’t have written a better season for Darla. “It’s actually quite nice what they’ve done,” she says, pleased with her arc on the show. “I don’t know that I would have ended it differently—and, who knows, in editing they might change it—but what was the last scene at the time for Darla was my favorite one to shoot of the whole season.” I perked up a bit in my seat hoping for a slip of the tongue and a season finale reveal, but Bianca gracefully curbed me. She insisted that if you’re not watching Queen Sugar now is the time to binge and ends our conversation with Darla praises.
“I’m excited for Darla and this next chapter in her life,” she says with a smile. “I’m excited for the woman that she’s become and all of the blessings that are coming her way.”
Lawson could just as easily be talking about her own experiences and hopes for the future. What feels like a great love story between actress and character has emerged and evolved alongside Bianca’s deeper understanding, grace, and love for herself. Between the quiet fortitude in her voice and her prolific career to-date, this much is clear: For Bianca Lawson, the best is yet to come.
Queen Sugar airs every Tuesday at 8pm ET/PT on the OWN Network.
Ty Alexander is a bestselling author, podcaster and wellness blogger who teaches women how to choose gratitude over grief. In her writings and teachings, she blends radically honest stories with actionable “aha” lessons. Through her wildly popular blog, TyAlexander.co, she has become a leading authority in lifestyle, beauty, and wellness-related content. She has been featured in notable media outlets such as Well + Good, Redbook, RealSimple, CNN, O Magazine, Essence; and is a one of 2021 BlogHer Voices of the Year. Ty has also been a digital content partner to major brands such as Dove, Anthropologie, Cadillac, Estee Lauder, State Farm, Amtrak, and Ulta Beauty.
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