This year marks the fifth year Queen Sugar will have been on the air at OWN. Recently, we had the chance to speak to Bianca Lawson, who portrays one of the show’s richest characters, Darla Sutton. We spoke to Lawson about how she expanded this character, the portrayal of addiction on screen, the love story with Ralph Angel and more. See what she had to say below.
MadameNoire: When you took the role of Darla did they have the character arc mapped out already? Did you know she was going to have this type of redemption story?
Bianca Lawson: Oh no, not at all. Originally, she was supposed to only be in a couple of episodes.
MN: What changed?
Lawson: I don’t know. Someone said to me, they were watching the dailies of Kofi and my scene in the parking lot in season 1 and somebody said, ‘Oh my God, he hates her so much because he loves her so much.’ It can be one thing on a page and different actors bring different things to the characters and suddenly people might then see you as the character and its sparking all these other ideas.
And that’s actually been a real pattern for me in my life, my character’s only supposed to come in and out. And then end up sticking around longer for whatever reason.
The character breakdown of how they [initially] described her was very different from how I went in and did her. They wrote her as stylish. And I went in in jean shorts, tank top, dirty Converse and no makeup. When I read her, there was something about a rawness. And I wanted to make her like a real person.
You always want to do the opposite of what you’ve been doing, right? So if you’ve been on a lot of shows where the look is high fashion with the hair and the makeup, you’re then dying to get all the makeup off and put on some sweats.
MN: You’ve said you’re nothing like Darla but you relate to her the most of the characters you’ve played. Why do you think that is?
Lawson: Even though our struggles aren’t the same kinds of struggles, I get the ways in which we can punish ourselves because we feel some guilt, some shame, some regret. If I feel like I’ve made a mistake or contributed to something not turning out the way it could have, I’m really, really hard on myself. You know that thing of working to have a bit more forgiveness, compassion. There’s this thing where she’s beginning to heal but it’s still very new and very raw so maybe people are misinterpreting or misunderstanding her. And she has to keep showing up for herself, despite other people’s perceptions about what she can and can’t accomplish. People often have a very myopic perspective of what they think you are or aren’t, based on optics.
MN: Speaking to that point, as a society, we’re just now beginning to understand addiction as a disease and how it affects people physically but also psychologically. What have you learned about addiction playing Darla and what do you hope other people will learn about the disease from your portrayal of her?
Lawson: Yeah, I think that there’s some very archaic ideas about addiction and specifically addiction as it relates to women. I very much believe in no one thing works for every single person. People can be very hardcore. ‘No, no, no. This is how you recover.’ You don’t know. Every person is different. And I think that some people will shame addicts. And the emotional affects are the harder things. People can detox from the physical cravings. But the thing you’re battling forever is the thoughts, the beliefs, how it impacts your mind, your self esteem and your relationships.
There’s a lot of blaming. ‘Oh, if you were just more disciplined. If you were stronger. Don’t you love yourself enough?’ That’s the most irritating. There’s a lot of blaming the victim. It’s a shaming thing, it’s not productive.
Addiction is a very lonely disease. Even if you’re not physically by yourself, it’s a very internally isolating. I think anybody is struggling with stuff is trying to heal something within themselves, whether it’s a behavior or negative self believes, toxic relationships etc., I would say try everything. Try crystal healing. Try psycho-therapy. Try everything.
And for me, something I struggle with is I will be so quick to do something to help somebody else but if it’s just for me, I’ll think, ‘Oh, that’s not important.’
MN: I want to talk about your relationship with Ralph Angel on the show because it’s not often we get to see men taking women back, loving them through their flaws and their challenges. Most of the time it’s the exact opposite. And society begin s to expect that of women regardless. Why do you think that portrayal is so important for us to see?
Lawson: There is this idea of ‘the woman does.’ Maybe it’s a little bit codependent and negative. But if someone loves you and we’re not perfect beings. I think there’s something about symbolism and seeing something. If you’re seeing this dynamic, you know that’s not something too big to expect in my life. There are men out there like that. I don’t have to settle. I know men in my life who will go the mountain for you, won’t judge you and suddenly throw you away when things are hard. It’s nice to see because then it raises the standards for ourselves.
MN: The writers went back and wrote COVID and the themes of racial injustice in the Queen Sugar story line. How does COVID affect Darla?
Lawson: Isolation is one of the most triggering things for addicts. Does she struggle with that in season 5? Not so much in terms of storyline. But I have my own thoughts when doing things. It doesn’t have to be on the page but I’ll think about it.
It’s nice to see that there is life after what you believe is your worst mistake. You can come back from it and have a great life, no matter what you have done. It’s important for people to see that because right now there is so much fatigue. There is something very hopeful about her path. And I hope people see it’s important to keep showing up for yourself even in the tiny little ways. They do add up.
Queen Sugar airs every Tuesday at 8/7c on OWN