There’s a new Queen Bee that everybody is buzzing about.
In her breakout role, actress Joy Sunday takes on Bianca Barclay in Tim Burton’s Wednesday, the Netflix dramedy that reimagines the eerie universe of the Addams family through the morose lens of its eldest daughter, the titular Wednesday (Jenna Ortega). Besides breathing new life into the beloved Addams clan, the show also spawns a fresh crop of occult characters, a social class of so-called ‘outcasts’ with supernatural abilities. Reigning above them all is Sunday’s Bianca, a charming siren and the most popular girl at Nevermore Academy, the gothic boarding school where mysteries abound.
“I knew that [Bianca] was the mean girl,” Sunday tells BAZAAR.com. “I knew that she was going toe-to-toe with Wednesday, but it was always really important for me to understand why and to show the why.”
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It’s hard enough to introduce a Queen Bee-type character when venerated figures like Regina George, Cher Horowitz, and Blair Waldorf already dominate the pop culture lexicon. But, how do you craft a new It girl, without relying on the tropes and pigeonholes that propelled the personality as a staple of high school dramas in the first place? To accomplish that, Sunday, well, did her homework.
“When I first got the role and was starting to work on it, I put together a lookbook of, ‘who was Bianca?'” Sunday says. She imagined how the siren might decorate her dorm at Nevermore, what kind of people she’d hang posters of on her walls. The list was eclectic, ranging from Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and Naomi Campbell to City Girls and Lil’ Kim.
“It was fashionable people, people who were magnetic, people who other people wanna be,” Sunday explains. “That was foundational for Bianca. It’s a way of protecting herself, as well. Being somebody that other people wanna be makes it less likely for people to question who she is.”
Tapping into Bianca’s vulnerability was integral to Sunday’s performance—and a huge reason why her character has become a fan favorite. With all the flak that “mean girls” get, it takes an empathetic performer to see through their malice. Bianca’s suave, seemingly effortless acrimony was simply a mask Sunday worked to peel away.
“Understanding the instability that she’s suffering from as a teen, as a young person, really helped me to connect with her insecurities and to really see them holistically,” she says. “I certainly always had her history on her shoulders when I was playing her, so moments that you see of insecurity or of fear come from her history and come from her past.”
When audiences first meet Bianca, she is everything that Wednesday is against. Where Bianca is charismatic, Wednesday is inhospitable. While Bianca seeks to allure, Wednesday wants to repel. They bicker, scheme, and—at one point—even draw blood. But, as Season 1 progresses, the two foils prove their merit to the other, eventually developing, if not a true friendship, then at least a genuine respect.
“The both of them are kind of put off by the other because they’re both really good at what they do and they’re not used to being challenged,” Sunday says of their fiery dynamic. “Somebody said Bianca and Wednesday are the same character in different fonts.”
On set in Romania, the energy between the cast was much less strained. In fact, Sunday remembers the entire experience as a sort of “summer camp.”
“We really leaned on each other quite a lot because we were away from home,” she says. “We were canoeing, we were fencing, we were doing archery, and then we were spending all day together and doing all these different things. And for a lot of people it was the first TV job, it was the first time out of their respective countries.”
As a relative newcomer to Hollywood, Sunday (who previously had minor roles in Dear White People and Good Trouble) stepped comfortably into the role of Bianca, even with revered costars like Gwendoline Christie, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Christina Ricci, and Luis Guzmán by her side. Not to mention, the Netflix series was director Tim Burton’s first stab at television.
“Obviously they have so many years of experience ahead of us, but it was such an honor to be able to play and create right next to them,” Sunday says. Of working with Hollywood’s favorite macabre filmmaker, she adds, “He feels really down to earth and kind and he is so open to ideas and so receptive. I also felt so much of his trust in playing my role, and that in itself is a huge deal.”
That trust translated onscreen. Sunday recalls being able to improvise some of Bianca’s searing, scene-stealing one-liners. When the Nevermore students volunteered at fictional amusement park Pilgrim World, for instance, Sunday riffed off a line from one of the park’s employees, who speaks in a tongue reminiscent of the 1600s. “Where has she hithered?” the worker asks Bianca, inquiring of Wednesday’s whereabouts. Bianca deadpans, “Knowing her, she’s hithered somewhere she shan’t be.”
“That was fun to play around with,” says Sunday. “But, I really loved Bianca as she came and she always fit in my mouth, so it was easy.”
Since its mid-November premiere, Wednesday made Netflix history, surpassing Stranger Things 4 to become the English-language TV series with the most hours viewed in a single week, totaling to more than 341 million hours.
“I was telling myself, ‘Oh, you know, nothing will really change. It’ll all be so calm.’ It has not been, which is why, moving forward, I’m fully preparing for the world to end,” Sunday jokes. The ubiquitous praise of the show has been understandably overwhelming, but also deeply gratifying. “Everywhere that I go, I feel so much love from people. And I’m so happy to, because I play an antagonistic force and it’s really amazing for people to deeply connect with that regardless.”
Netflix hasn’t yet confirmed Season 2, but, at this point, it’s really only a matter of time before they do. Meanwhile, Sunday looks forward to returning to the haunted world of Nevermore, where her siren powers will hopefully get more time to shine in the coming season. And, though the frenemies seemed to at last reach a truce by the final episode, Bianca and Wednesday resurrecting their feud in the next school year isn’t entirely out of the question, either.
“I know people really connect to us maybe being friends by the end, but I think there’s still room for us to kind of battle it out and to mature in that rivalry,” Sunday says. “I think they enjoy the rivalry, quite honestly. Finally somebody around that’s worth their pennies.”
Digital Associate Editor
As an associate editor at HarpersBAZAAR.com, Chelsey keeps a finger on the pulse on all things celeb news. She also writes on social movements, connecting with activists leading the fight on workers’ rights, climate justice, and more. Offline, she’s probably spending too much time on TikTok, rewatching Emma (the 2020 version, of course), or buying yet another corset.