When Season 1 of OWN's hit series Queen Sugar came to a close, family matriarch Violet Bordelon was left disoriented. She had lost her older brother Ernest and weathered a rough patch with her lover, Hollywood. Nevertheless, she was determined to keep it together for the sake of her nieces and nephew. Things began to look up for Violet in Season 2 as she regained her footing as the backbone of the Bordelon children, and also began to dream for herself again. After years of baking some of the best pies in Saint Josephine, Violet was approached to sell them commercially for a hefty price tag. But the happy moment was quickly shattered by a lupus diagnosis that rocked both Vi and fans to their cores.
For Queen Sugar fans, Aunt Vi, played by Tina Lifford, is truly a gem. The vivacious character's presence keeps the show interesting, with her blunt lines dripping with wisdom and wit, and her maternal nurturing spirit feels all too familiar at times. According to Lifford, this familiarity is exactly why Aunt Vi is so popular with viewers.
"Everyone knows a Violet," Lifford says in a phone interview with Bustle. "She's a figure that’s kind of suave, but also relatable. Not like a mom or a grandma, but more like an older sister with auntie energy [who] creates a place where you feel safe to talk about the kinds of things that you don’t feel comfortable sharing with anyone else."
One of the best parts of playing this role for Lifford is getting to interact with Queen Sugar fans. "Across ethnicities, genders, and age, people are just thrilled to meet Aunt Vi," she says. "And when they meet me you'd think they were going to ask for a selfie, but really they just want a hug."
Much like her character, Lifford is very family oriented, which helps her play the part with ease, especially during this tumultuous second season. "For me, the key to embodying Aunt Vi is really understanding and feeling in my body how precious everything feels to her right now. I have to really understand and feel how deeply she yearns to be there for her family, to love Hollywood for many more years, and to see the Bordelon legacy continue," Lifford says. "The idea of an illness disrupting those yearnings is devastating. It’s not the lupus Violet is fighting this season, but instead her ability to fulfill these desires."
During Queen Sugar's record-breaking debut in 2016, all eyes were on Aunt Vi as fans took interest in her relationship with the much-younger Hollywood. When the show was still in the developmental stages, Lifford remembers getting a call from OWN and not even reading a full script before accepting the role. "It was pretty much a no-brainer," Lifford says. "I can’t help but admire all the heavy lifting Oprah has done for 30+ years in order to bring Queen Sugar to life. I am convinced [the show] wouldn’t have been green-lit by any other network and the fact that Oprah and OWN were in the position to bring this kind of content to the air is an extraordinary setup for what I hope will be a continued expansion of storytelling for people of color."
Lifford says she was also drawn to Aunt Vi because the character shows a side of older women that's rarely seen on television today. "She’s this three-dimensional character with her own life, feelings, and aspirations, who's still able to give 'motherly' tough love. Kudos to Ava DuVernay for creating this version of Aunt Vi," Lifford says. "Who Aunt Vi is on Queen Sugar the show is not who she is in the book. And the fact that I could bring to life what Ava proudly admired about the women in her own life makes me feel honored."
The hit series wraps up its second season tonight, and with it already renewed for Season 3, Queen Sugar fans can rest assured that Lifford will continue to bring Aunt Vi's groundbreaking spirit to life in a way that makes everyone love her even more.