When you consider that Bianca Jasmine Lawson has been in the entertainment industry for 23 years as a working actress, it’s hard to believe that she’s been able to fly under the radar as much she has. It’s not that she’s not visible – for most of that time she was credibly playing teenagers on hit shows from Saved By The Bell: The New Class, (when she was actually a teen) to Sister Sister to The Secret Life of the American Teenager to Pretty Little Liars and more.
But her work on Queen Sugar as Darla, the recovering drug addict and off-and-on girlfriend of Ralph Angel Bordelon (played by Kofi Siriboe) and mother to their son, Blue, has allowed her to reintroduce herself. Queen Sugar, now in its fourth season on OWN, follows the exploits of the three Bordelon siblings who own a farm in a small Louisiana town.
Although she turned 40 this year, Lawson’s seeming inability to age means that she’s playing a woman in her 20’s. But Darla’s character arc has allowed Lawson to play a full gamut of emotions. She says that in this role as Darla she has had to become more transparent.
“For me personally, I’m not one that externalizes my emotions,” Lawson says. “With Darla I get to play the gamut of her emotionality. There’s no hiding emotionally with her. So I had to be OK with exposing a lot of my own vulnerability, a lot of my own grief. I can’t hide Bianca behind this character. She’s required me to expose more of myself and I’ve had to be more fearless about tapping into my own stuff.”
Lawson auditioned for the role and was almost cast when she had to do a chemistry read with Siriboe who was auditioning for the role of Ralph Angel. Only the casting director knows whether the two already had the roles in the bag, but if they didn’t, the chemistry read, which was the scene in the parking lot where we first meet Darla in Season 1, must have sealed the deal.
“Kofi and I had never met before and he came in and I didn’t wanted to run the scene before he came in the room because I like the element of surprise and to see what happens in the moment,” Lawson says. “You can never get that first moment back. We did the scene and it was good, but after we did the scene, we [improvised.] That was the moment where it just felt that we were on the same wavelength.”
When actors have onscreen chemistry, it’s palpable and the audience roots for them, even when, as Lawson and Siriboe have seen, if the relationship is tumultuous. According to a funny post on her Instagram page, Lawson is “obsessed” with astrology (she laughs at this description) but can tell you that the two sun sign Pisceans both have Leo rising signs. So even the stars must have aligned to bring these two together.
“[Kofi] likes to say it’s because we’re both Pisces and we have that deeply intuitive, telepathic thing, which could be true,” she laughs. “We can deeply connect depending on the other person’s energy.”
Though Darla is a single mother struggling with sobriety and the memory of the sordid things she did in the throes of addiction, Lawson plays her with a fierce grace. It’s interesting to connect with actors who bring such memorable roles to life and realize how gifted they are in obscuring their own personalities. While sorrow clings to Darla even in her triumphant moments, Lawson is bubbly, talkative, artsy.
While no truly accurate characterization can be made in a brief conversation with a journalist, Lawson’s low profile suggests she doesn’t live for social media or for fame. Her Instagram barely reflect 20 years in entertainment – it seems more like one of your sweet, cool friends from college who went off to artsy pursuits and charitable deeds. Lawson recently chronicled a charity trip to Zambia on her IG, sharing modest pics with smiling kids that seemed uncontrived.
It could be because Lawson doesn’t need to clout chase. Her mother, Denise, is a Gordy. Yes, those Gordys – Berry is Bianca’s great-uncle. Rhonda Ross, yep, those Rosses, is her cousin. Marvin Gaye, Jr. is her biological half-brother. Her father is actor Richard Lawson. He’s married to Tina Lawson, whose daughters, Beyoncè and Solange, you may have heard of.
“I’ve been around very famous people my whole life,’ Lawson says without a trace of humble bragging when asked the inevitable ‘how does it feel to be Beyonce’s stepsister’ question. She calls her a ‘wonderful human being’ and adds that since Tina and her aunt were friends for years, none of the Knowles clan is new to her.
“I’ve known the family since I was about 6, so it’s a new relationship for the public, but it’s not new to me,” she says. “It’s always great to have more family especially when you get along and you have familiarity and you’ve known each other for so long. We had people in common for a long time.”
She even shares that Beyoncè and Jay may have binge-watched Queen Sugar in one night in support of their fellow artist. You already know, if you have seen her social media, that she and her father are close and that her stepmom pops on her page regularly to give her her deserved props.
But don’t look for Lawson to be in the latest haunts with the famous people she knows. She agrees that the most likely place you’d run into her is the grocery store or out in nature, not the hottest party. That’s how she keeps that incredible youthful look – she confirms that cuddling, and leading a low-key, low-stress life is her chosen form of anti-aging.
“I’m a cuddler, and that kind of affection, in a really pure way, it releases oxytocin and releases all kinds of positive emotions in your body and that makes you look vibrant.”
Who she cuddles with and where they do their cuddling – nope, she’s not going to tell you.
But it’s not a coy form of celebrity obfuscation – that’s just who she is. The best actors are likely the ones that can disappear around others and observe human behavior so they can duplicate its nuances onscreen. And because of her family, Lawson knows that great fame and great visibility have their challenges.
“When I was younger, I wanted it to be about that I worked really, really hard. But it’s my nature. Its my personality. Other people are more extroverted in that way and they are very on the scene and you know who they’re dating and all about their relationships. But all see all sides of it. Looking from the outside and seeing what looks like the positive aspects of being that famous but it’s a very complex thing. I’ve seen the spectrum. I know what it’s like from the inside. People are human and there are all kinds of tradeoffs and all kind of good and bad. To me, it’s not a tradeoff or a reaction to the people I’ve been around. I’m just naturally a more private person.”
As for the future of Ralph Angel and Darla…well, that’s up to the Queen Sugar writers. Their storyline has taken a turn recently that seems to imply a reconciliation and fans are divided as to whether that should happen. As for Lawson, she, too, has an opinion that may or may not be influenced by the fact that she knows what’s ahead in the next two episodes.
“I hope for them that whatever happens is going to be for their highest good whatever that looks like,” Lawson says. “The writers have been doing a great job, so I don’t even want to put my personal expectation on it. I want to see where they feel moved for it to go.”
PHOTO: PR Photos, OWN
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