'Queen Sugar': Bianca Lawson Talks Darla's Evolution (Exclusive)

There's a reason that out of all the characters Bianca Lawson has played in her 20+ year acting career, Darla of the hit OWN drama series Queen Sugar is her favorite. Lawson brings a level of depth and vulnerability to Darla unlike ever seen before on television. Despite Darla's mishaps and past struggles with addiction, viewers root for her to win. Darla proves that there's power in redemption. 

With the show wrapping up its sixth season and preparing for a seventh, fans have watched Darla blossom from a timid and struggling recovering addict fighting to prove her worth as a mother and partner - to now standing firm in her voice and not being a victim of her past mistakes.

This season, Darla blossoms as an expectant wife and mother. She and her longtime love-turned-husband, Ralph Angel Bordelon, prepare for the birth of their second child. Typically, Ralph Angel acts as Darla's backbone. But this season, as he deals with the financial and social pressures of being the leader of their family, it's Darla who steps up to the plate and serves as their family's strength. 

Darla has come a long way from being the person who was seemingly excommunicated from the Bordelon family, to now being a trusted integral part of their tribe. Ahead of the Season 6 finale (which you can watch an exclusive preview of here), Pop Culture spoke with Lawson on why Darla's complexities make her the most beloved character she's portrayed. Lawson also speaks about working with such a talented cast, her hopes for Darla's future, and the representation of Black love in Darla and Ralph Angel.

PC: You guys were picked up for an additional season. So congratulations on that. It's been very exciting as a fan from the beginning to watch your character Darla's journey. And now she's entering into the second phase of motherhood. Obviously, we know that she has our beloved Blue and now you and Ralph Angel, your husband on the show, are expecting your second child together. We know your journey has come really full circle from your individual journey, with your character, to your relationship with Ralph Angel. And you really show what redemption looks like, specifically with Darla and her quote-unquote, checkered past, as we all have. But how rewarding has this been to go on this journey with her?

BL: I mean, my goodness it's been so incredibly rewarding. When you start the thing you can't even imagine the evolution. I love her story where she is and sort of that idea that no matter how bad things are or how dark they are, it's not the end of the road for you. It's not the end of your story. You can still have your happily ever after and maybe even be even greater than before. So there's never anything to feel shame about or feel like you missed out on opportunities. It's all learning. And I think as long as you keep getting back up, you keep moving forward, keep trying again and trying again. You'll make your way.

And so I just think it's so beautiful what's happening with her little family and the new life. And it's like a new beginning and she's just really blossomed. And she's so strong, and she has such a good heart, and she just never let anything... She trips, but she doesn't stay down. And I think that's all you can really do. Life is going to happen, but you can always... There's always a new beginning. There's always the next morning, another day. And you just try to do the best you can in the moment that you're in. And I just feel so blessed because a lot of times, you'll do a character, a job, and it doesn't really go anywhere. It kind of stays the same. Very one-dimensional. But I've got to... Almost like I've experienced a whole other life with her and everything. Just all, the whole range of colors.

And you mentioned that Darla has tripped and stumbled and obviously viewers have been on this journey with her and there have been times where the audience has been upset or non-forgiving at points. There's obviously been conflict within the family and Darla, but we still continue to root for her. Even after the whole paternity mishap and her relapse at one point throughout the show. And a lot of the stuff that just she and Ralph Angel have gone through. But why do you feel like the audience continues to root for Darla? What is it about her that makes people say, "OK, we want to give her a second, third, fourth, sometimes fifth chance?"

It's a very human story. Like I've done things. Everyone has things. And I think that she taps into something. And it's real. It's not like, OK, she's this perfect person and she's suddenly fixed now and things are suddenly perfect. It's like, we all go through ups and downs and peaks and valleys. And so I think there's something, I don't know, very real about her. And I think that people can relate to her. And she feels everything deeply and she's not afraid to be vulnerable. She's not afraid to own up to things. I think as much as people say, "Oh, I'm so angry at her," this or that. She's trying. As we're all trying; as I'm trying. And just kind of trying to figure it out and get through another day. So there's something very moment to moment about her.

And you spoke about her vulnerability and that's one of the reasons why I love the show so much. Obviously, your character Darla is a favorite. But even within the relationship that she shares with Ralph Angel and just to see the level of vulnerability between the both of them. At different levels, there have been times where it's been vulnerable and it hasn't been that good as far as the space that the two characters have been in with one another. Or that she's been in with her own family. Or that she's been in with Ralph Angel's family. But I do think that the job does such... I'm sorry. I do believe that the show does such a good job of showing vulnerability in black characters that we haven't necessarily seen before. So what do you feel like the whole love story between Darla and Ralph Angel represents?

There's something about, I think when you can be your real messy self and you're both still in it. You both still are trying. I think we see these fantasy fairy tale versions of love stories, but it's not like... Doesn't happen in life. You go through all these different things and I think if the love is really there and the respect. I think that they really get each other. They really see each other. And even when it's hard or they're acting like they hate each other, that's what relationships are like in reality.

And I think sometimes people give up too quickly when it's like, "Oh, this isn't rainbows and sunshine." And obviously don't ever take any kind of abuse or disrespect. But I think it represents that maybe possibly the worst things can happen or in your imagination. Like, "Oh God, this person's going to disappear from my life and I've lost and it's ruined and it's over," but it can come back again. It can come back again in a new moment and be even deeper and stronger and better because of the things that you went through together.

And it's also been interesting specifically this season to watch the two of you, because for so long, Darla has been the one that's been given so many chances or the most grace, I will say. But obviously the tables have been turned a little bit this year with you having to rely on Ralph Angel and trust him during this pregnancy, that everything will turn out right. And obviously things go a little bit wrong and you have to be the one to yield him the level of grace that he's yielded you in the past.

And I think that it's been good because the writers could have easily done it differently. They could have made Darla snap out. They could have made her harsh and leave and say no. But they decided to show that level of forgiveness from her side as well. Which I think you never really get to see. It's always sort of one character that's looked at as the person who messes up. So to see her have that same compassion for him, has been fun. Why do you think the writers decided to... I'm not sure if that was explained to you guys, but what mindset do you think they were in?

I don't know. I mean, I feel like, I think they were pretty kind of unforgiving. The family was pretty unforgiving. They were pretty hard on her. I think Darla gave herself more chances. And I think in life, no matter how other people are perceiving you, if you don't give up on yourself. Because ultimately that's the thing. It's not about other people. But I think in terms of Ralph Angel and Darla, that's family. That's love. That's whatever. Deep friendship. It's like at different points, one person is in need to be the anchor, the container, the strength for the other when they're down. And then when that other person's down, it's like a trade-off and that's how you kind of build together.

And so I don't know. I don't know if it was like a grand plan with the writers. I think maybe it's kind of a symbiotic thing where they write something and... Because certain words on a page, but then when you get two actors together, new things can happen, and spark that weren't necessarily on the page. Or it read a certain way, and then the way someone delivers it or the way the moment actually translates on screen, it's like, "Oh wow, that's like a different... That's giving me something else. And now maybe I want to go pursue that".

So I think that it was probably a combination of different things. And then it just kind of goes where it goes like life. You can plan for it. You can think, oh, this is what something is. And then you get in the moment and you feel differently than you thought. Or it goes a little bit differently than you thought. And it becomes a whole new thing. 

I love the baby shower moment because you did mention that the family has been hard on her. But specifically, Aunt Vi was the toughest in those earlier seasons. But the speech that Darla gave during you guys' baby shower was just very touching and to see how far you guys have come. And especially you and Aunt Vi. I always say that Aunt Vi is like that amazing matriarch, but you don't want to be on her bad side. But because it's hard to get off of it. But for some reason... I mean, we are obviously viewers of the show, but there was a transitional moment between you and Aunt Vi a few seasons ago where your character relapsed and she was really there for you in that moment. And from there, you guys have really blossomed. So how has it been to go from having that contentious relationship on screen to then being embraced by her character on screen?

Well, I think it's so interesting, it's like you can look at somebody else and think that you're so different. And then suddenly you realize you have more things in common than you thought. And now you're seeing the person in a new way. And so, it's extraordinary kind of. You think someone's your enemy, and then suddenly you're their ally. She saw her in a very real kind of vulnerable, fragile moment. And she was there for her. And then they shared this thing that maybe they wouldn't have had that not happened. So I love that. That you just never know. Things can be repaired. And I think we're all a lot more sort of similar than we are different ultimately in the end.

How has it been working with the cast? Because as you said, this is Season 6. So you guys have really grown as a family. And like you said, a lot of times you don't really get to see character development in the way that it has been on Queen Sugar. It's really been a rollercoaster ride with the characters. So I'm sure that that's been interesting to do so off-screen. But obviously, I'm sure you guys are learning from each other and pulling off of each other during scenes. So how is the environment working with such an amazing, talented cast?

They just make it so much easier because you feel... I think to do anything, especially like the creative process, especially sort of bare your soul and whatnot. There has to be a level of trust where you can just kind of do anything and express anything and they're right there with you in the scene in the moment. And so it makes the work so much easier because you're not having to kind of juggle all of these other things or feel like you're kind of on a ledge by yourself.

So I think it's sort of like our imitating life. You work with each other all day long, these happy scenes, these sad scenes, these angry scenes. And when you get to play with other artists in such a free way. And no matter what ball you throw to them, they catch it and throw it back. And it gives you the freedom to explore and to maybe make mistakes or fail. But I don't really believe there are any mistakes. You might think something's a mistake, but then it grows something else or you discover something else. And so it's a gift, I think, to get to work with a cast that they're all... They care so deeply about the work. And it's not about egos. And it's not about politics or, "Oh, this is my moment". It's like everyone's just really there with each other. And so that's a gift and it's a blessing, because it doesn't always happened that way.

And outside of your character. Because you said before that Darla has been your favorite and most complicated character to play. But obviously, we've watched these other characters on the show, and we've seen their ups and downs and their rainbows and storms. What has been the most rewarding or the most fun character story that you've seen besides you and probably Ralph Angel?

I mean, the work that Tina Lifford is doing is extraordinary. And Tina and Dawn and Nick, oh my God. To see the flowering of his character, right? And Omar and Henry. And now we have Tammy, who's so great. I love them all, but for different reasons. And I think they've all gotten to go on these huge multidimensional journeys. And so I don't have like a favorite. I'll see things, I'll see a scene and be like, "Oh my God, that's so brilliant, that's so amazing", and like text the person and because you're not there, so you don't see it. So when you get to watch and you see it all came together and the heart and the soul, and it's like, "Oh my God, that's amazing." Because you're just kind of doing it, and you don't really... And then when you watch it back with editing and the music and the beautiful cinematography and each director brings their own kind of flavor. And how that sort of influences it. So all of them for different reasons at different points in their journeys.

What are you hoping is next for Darla? Because she's about to give birth. I will say that at least from a viewer standpoint, her situation's a lot more stable. I feel like she's found her voice and she's continuing to use it. Which has been rewarding as a fan to watch because there have been sometimes where I'm like, "Darla just stand your ground. You don't have to take this." And I feel like she's found a good balance of still being big-hearted Darla, but also not tolerating certain attitudes from different people and realizing that her past is not her present. So what are you hoping is next for her?

I don't know. I hope she continues to thrive. But obviously, it is television, and I suppose it would probably be boring for the viewers if it's just like... But I like to be surprised. I like to arrive to the new season and see what they have in store for her. And sometimes it's, I'm like, "Oh, that's so brilliant. That's so amazing." So I don't know. I almost don't want to jinx it. I don't want to say. I love what they've been doing with her, so I'm curious to see what they're cooking up in that writer's room.

And is she still your favorite character that you've played throughout your long and amazing career?

Yeah. I just feel very, very close to her and you can start to merge a little bit. Where you have been playing someone so long and you think... You go home and it's like, wait, is this how I'm feeling? Or is Darla still sort of in my work field right now? So it becomes like your best friend, your child, your whatever. I've learned things from her. And there have been things that I went through in my life that, not like exactly paralleled, but I get the script and it's like, oh my goodness. I can use all of that and channel it through her.

And so it's cathartic for me, and helps me process things, and gives me new perspectives on things that are happening in my life. And when she's finding her voice and she is having her happiness or whatever. I feel like getting to be a part of it and all through the pregnancy this last season and having that baby bump, it felt like I had another character in the scene with me at all times. And it's like I'm pregnant and I just got married, and I'm having a baby. So it's yeah, she really is.

Queen Sugar's Season 6 finale airs on OWN on Tuesday, Nov. 16, at 8 p.m. ET. Click here to see an exclusive preview of the finale.