Joy Sunday on Wednesday’s Bianca: “I figured people would only see a mean girl”
The five best non-lead TV characters of 2022 #3: In a cast full of weirdos, misfits and psychopaths, this queen bee proved that bitches have hearts, too.
If Wednesday’s child is full of woe, Joy Sunday is quite clearly on the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s all there in her name. But if you want the official line from the traditional poem that inspired Morticia Addams to call her daughter Wednesday, then Jenna Ortega’s co-star in the frighteningly huge Netflix show is, IRL, “bonny and blithe, good and gay”.
Sounds about right. But the same can’t be said for Sunday’s character. Bianca Barclay is the queen bee at Wednesday’s new school, Nevermore Academy. Which, by teen TV show standards, means that she’s also the plot’s obligatory bitch. But of course, she’s not any old popular mean girl. Since this is a school for outcasts and misfits, Bianca also happens to be a siren (meaning she’s drawn to water), illustrated by Sunday’s icy blue contacts and sometimes-scaly skin.
And to be honest, she’s not even that much of a bitch. Sure, Bianca knows how to deliver a scathing insult, sabotage her opponents in style and even fence with finesse when challenged to a duel by Wednesday. “I trained for about a month [for the fencing scene]. I think Jenna had started training a couple of months previous,” says Sunday of her preparation for what is her first major role. But the empathetic acting skills of the 27-year-old Staten Island native – who studied at USC School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles – also bring plenty of heart to the character.
As slick as she is with a sabre, what really won us over with Bianca is the fact that, when push comes to shove, she’s one of the first people to come to Wednesday’s aid. Although she puts on a hard front, it’s clear that her priorities (and heart) are in the right place – she’ll stab you in the back over a school trophy, but have your back in a life or death situation. True frenemies never let you down.
Although Joy Sunday was in Romania with the rest of the cast during production, she’s been enjoying watching most of the show’s twists and turns along with audiences at home. “We were so separated in our filming and Jenna, of course, had the bulk of it, so a lot of the things that she shot, we didn’t see until we saw it on screen,” she explains. “All of that has been amazing to experience in real time.”
And what of the experience of starring in what is set to be one of the biggest TV shows of all time? After all, since it was released at the end of November, Wednesday has already earned a Golden Globe nomination and become the second-most watched English-language Netflix series of all time.
“It’s been really astonishing,” says Sunday, a little lost for words as she Zooms in from New York. “It’s really not what I braced myself for. You could ask any of my friends, I kept telling them that nothing would really change. It’s been so much bigger than I imagined.”
Talk about sparking Joy, eh?
Hey Joy, how did you get the part in Wednesday?
I submitted a tape and, a week and a half later, I met [director] Tim [Burton] over Zoom. About four days later, I was hired! It might be the world’s quickest turnaround, especially considering that a lot of the other roles took a couple of months to manifest. But mine was very, very quick. I had never tested for a show before, it was the furthest I’d ever gotten for a role of this proportion, and so it was mind-boggling, completely unexpected. One of my favourite audition experiences ever.
What number were you on the call sheet?
I was number 12, but it was kind of scattered throughout. There were people ahead of me that weren’t there the entire time. And a lot of people who were there the entire seven months [of shooting in Romania] maybe only shot for a total of two weeks.
Who was the person that you were most excited to work with on the cast?
Catherine [Zeta-Jones, who plays Morticia] was a model for me growing up – she was my first favourite actor. We have this same birthday and everything, so it was quite full circle getting to be with her on set. We didn’t have any scenes together, but I got to marvel from afar! It was an honour to be on the same production as her. That was the person I was really excited to be in the same orbit with.
Apart from Bianca, who’s your favourite character on the show?
You know, I actually read for [school-kid beekeeper] Eugene at our first table read and I think I could have done him pretty well [laughs]. No, Moosa [Mostafa] was lovely at that part. My other favourite is Sheriff Galpin. That might be because I’m biased about Jamie [McShane], but I just think he plays the sheriff so, so well. He’s quite dry but very subtle about it. I really appreciate that kind of performance.
What’s the funniest thing that happened on set while filming?
Georgie [Farmer, who plays Ajax, a gorgon student] and I, especially towards the end of shooting, had a lot of night shoots and it was really, really cold by that point. We would end up on set at two, three, four in the morning and they’d finally call us to do our scenes after hours of sitting around and we just couldn’t hold it together. I mean, really we were falling apart, but we’d just laugh at each other. That’s a cherished memory.
Which plot points did you enjoy the most, particularly watching it back and getting to see scenes you weren’t in yourself?
I really appreciate Wednesday and Pugsley’s relationship. The lakeside scene is probably one of my favourite scenes. It’s so tender, but it’s darkly tender. I think that’s a through-line for a lot of the work I appreciate. I’m excited to see, for potential future seasons, how their relationship grows.
Wednesday has smashed viewing records since its release. Why do you think it resonated with audiences and became such a hit?
Before we started doing our press runs, I was thinking of this question: why I really connected to it. And it’s just as I said, I really appreciate how dark but how tender it is, how down-to-earth it is about the ugly parts of our world, especially in this time. It’s also something you can enjoy with perhaps your older kids – or maybe if they’re edgy five-year-olds! But it spans audiences while still having this levity, this humour, this wit, and this groundedness in things that trouble us from day to day, whether it’s our family, our politics, our histories. I think that really deeply resonates with a lot of audiences across the board.
How has the response to the show changed your life, both personally and professionally?
I really put a lot of care into my character and I’m so happy that that shines through. I didn’t expect that. I knew I was playing the mean girl and I figured that’s all people would see. I was really happy that so many people saw her as so much more. And I’m so blessed with the reception – that’s changed my life, because it’s given me confidence. It’s affirmed and validated the work that I did in creating a nuanced character and creating a villain that people love. Or hate to love. Or love to hate.
Does Jenna Ortega have Main Character Syndrome in real life?
Not at all! I mean, she’s very dry, but she’s such a quiet soul. She’s not grandiose. She’s very humble, very hardworking. We call her chief. She’s in the trenches with us.
Without giving too much away, what do you think is next for Bianca on the show?
Well, I think we’ll get to figure out what the heck is going on with Bianca’s family, first and foremost. And as I’ve been saying, I really did enjoy the tension me and Wednesday share, so I’d love to see a bit more tit-for-tat moving forward. I’d love to see some of that snarkiness continue, but also the nurturing of their friendship and their alliance as well, and seeing how they depend on each other as equals.
As we head into the festive period, how are you planning on celebrating your incredible year?
I’m going to celebrate it quietly with my family and my parents mostly. I’ll be in London, actually, for New Year’s, but for Christmas, I’m really looking forward to something intimate and low-key.
What’s next for you in 2023?
I’m really excited to get back to my roots, which is creation. Performance is obviously a creation in itself, but I really want to empower myself and my friends to work up some things with our own hands. I’m looking forward to getting back into writing and producing some projects with friends that I went to university with, and seeing where that takes me.
Wednesday is available on Netflix. Not yet read our Main Character interview with Jenna Ortega? Get to it, or we’ll set Thing on you…