Wednesday star Joy Sunday takes us on her poignant journey to beauty

close up of joy sundays face and shoulders wearing shaved hair red lipstick and feathered lashes with red french tipped nails held to her face
Joy Sunday takes us on her beauty journeyZoe McConnell for Lancôme

There are certain things you can’t not gush over, so forgive us for a moment. Wednesday breakout star Joy Sunday’s face gives makeup a depth and intensity that feels cosmic, even heavenly. It’s like makeup was invented for her face. Ok, gushing out the way, would you believe us if we told you that she’d actually never even picked up a lipstick until her late teens?

Gracing London for 2024's BAFTA Awards, we're still reeling from her red latex lip and spiky feathered lash look, created with Lancôme – it's hard to imagine this hasn't been a lifelong love affair with makeup. Just days before, we were lucky enough to get to chat with the actor and filmmaker about her life in beauty and discover the unique way her relationship with makeup blossomed from her work.

joy sunday takes a photo in the mirror in a red dress
Zoe McConnell for Lancôme

Growing up in a Nigerian family in New York City, Joy says the women around her didn’t wear a lot of makeup and it wasn’t something she tried until her final years of school. Turning more to clothing for self-expression – like being talked down from wearing neon and suspenders on her first day of high school – makeup wasn’t really on her radar. “It took me a really long time to realise that people were wearing makeup at school, for the longest I just thought everybody looked like that when they woke up,” she says.

Despite makeups then minimal role in her personal life, as a storyteller, she tapped into a clear vision. Before shooting Wednesday, she created a lookbook for Bianca’s clothing and makeup which she brought to the team; “They were very open to working with me, and everything that they brought really felt like my vision for it, that was very in sync.” Throughout the season she worked closely with the makeup artists on each look; “For the prom scene I was inspired by an afro-punk post that I saw, I brought that to the makeup artist and we recreated the look.”

joy sunday in wednesday at ball with graphic eyeliner
Joy as Bianca Barclay in Netflix’s Wednesday.Vlad Cioplea/Netflix © 2022

For Joy, narrative is closely tied to style, which is how she approaches her characters. “For Bianca, the way I thought of her was, ‘Who does she want to be? And what does that look like?’ Because she's projecting an image of herself that isn't exactly true to her,” she says.

This creative collaboration undoubtedly played a crucial part in how harmoniously the makeup and the performance fused together, and for Joy it marked a new beauty era; “I definitely had a huge hand in it. And it was, it was a huge part of me building beyond that.”

The time that followed was a period of discovery: “I didn't really start getting familiar with makeup until the past couple of years, starting with the Wednesday press run.” It’s a late-coming that gives her an open mind when it comes to glam, particularly with her ‘trinity’ of trusted MUAs, Sheika Daley, Pauly Blanch and Nadia Tayeh. “I love handing the reins to the makeup artists and letting them have fun," Joy says. "I like to think of my face as a canvas.”

joy sunday at the wenedsay premiere with shaved head and purple makeup
Her Wednesday Premiere look stands out as a highlight; “Paul says he used like 50 different shades of lipstick to create that ombre look and I just felt like a princess."Albert L. Ortega - Getty Images

The recognition that came with her natural flare for bringing beauty to life was something that felt affirming during that period. Speaking on being approached to be a Lancôme ambassador Joy says, “It was just really beautiful to feel like I was noticed. In the craziness that was happening around the release of the show – and in some ways, kind of feeling lost in it – it felt like Lancôme had seen me through all of that, and it was really beautiful and validating.”

When it came to finding her own makeup identity, one of her first building blocks was people noticing and commenting on how much she loves colourful looks. “I've always dressed that way and my makeup has become an extension of my clothing, which I think is quite fun and playful, I like to have makeup that reflects that.”

As well as – unsurprisingly, – drawing from film, her fashion and beauty inspiration comes from people all around her and the living characters that make up NYC; “There are so many little things that people do to define themselves that I'm really drawn to as an actor, and I try to replicate. I'm very observant, when somebody stands out to me I'll take a mental note of what it is about them."

And when you use beauty and fashion to build characters, it’s understandable for your own personal styling process to fall into that framework. “I tried on a crazy outfit last night for a trip I have coming up,” says Joy, “because I have this very specific character in my head of what I'm trying to look like. And then I'll probably do a fun pink lip to go with it to really drive the character home, and so yeah, it tends to bleed.” And she means it; “My very active imagination styles me as well. I have a couple of fun obvious wigs that I'll throw on if I want something a little different; a lavender grey one and a really ash blonde, when I feel like going in that direction. It's very Tokyo Vice.”

Of course, we had to ask ‘who’ each of the two wigs are. “The lavender grey, she's a short bob with bangs and so it's almost like an Eternal Sunshine [of the Spotless Mind], but a little like her alien best friend maybe?” explains Joy, pausing to see if we were on the same page, before turning her mind to the second wig; “and then the ash blonde pixie, she’s definitely, hmm, do you know the show Codename Kids Next Door? It’s an old show about a bunch of kids and they were spies? She’s spunky!” She smiles and adds with a faux concern, “But see now you're letting my imagination show.”

Wig days aside, Joy has worn her head shaved for over ten years and it plays a strong part in her self image. “Growing up my features weren't praised, and so in shaving my head I kind of accentuated the very things that I would often be made to feel insecure about. I've come to embrace their beauty and I think because of that I often do draw focus to my lips, or I'll do a really big eye. It's kind of hard to describe how mathematically it works because everything [her features] is so big, but I love to highlight it and embrace it.”

Looking back at the features she grew up being made to feel were wrong, Joy had her breakthroughs relatively early. “I had a point, thankfully, where I realised that perception wasn't my fault, and that I had to embrace what I loved about myself and what I loved about where I came from. And that's when it became so easy to love myself.” The actress credits a trip to Nigeria at 13 and a later trip to Brazil as turning points. “They were two really formative points for me because I got to see, as a nascent adult, what my family and people who look like me, how they are and what their spirits are like; people in a different country who celebrate themselves so loudly, despite the world's politicised view of beauty," she explains.

“My relationship with beauty had to be redefined in my own terms, but I'm really happy with where I arrived at,” say Joy, “and I think that where I arrived at – fortunately very early – helped me to where I am now. I'm grateful for my journey to beauty and to understanding it.”

Lancôme are the Official Beauty Partner to the EE BAFTA Film Awards

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