Interview with DAWN-LYEN GARDNER | Writing My Own Story

Our lives are made of the stories we tell. Whether we speak about what we like or dislike, our words become our focus which in turn converts into what we believe to be true. The intention behind each word is very powerful, and it’s normal that we want to be heard, understood, recognized and validated, thinking that by doing so we will feel better. But same as our stories, the beauty of the human race is that we are all unique and diverse. Hence allowing to receive inspired words from within ourselves, will embrace our innate creative expression and own pursuit of happiness. We all have the power to look back at the previous chapters and rewrite them as essential parts of our becoming and see boundless opportunities in our futures.

Actress Dawn-Lyen Gardner is a contemporary storyteller. Through becoming different characters on screen, she brings light to stories about strong women, families, and American culture. She says, “I’ve never been clearer about the transformative power of storytelling, and at this point, acting isn’t just something that I love to do, it feels like what I’m supposed to be doing. I feel really, really blessed to feel that.”

In this interview, you will tap into Dawn-Lyen’s passion and love for who she is and the life story she is writing...


● Please introduce yourself briefly. Who, in your own words, is ​Dawn-Lyen Gardner​? 

I would say Dawn-Lyen Gardner is an actor, an artist and a storyteller interchangeably – followed closely by student, seeker, activist, facilitator, healer, and lover of life and chocolate. 

● Did you always feel that acting was your career path? 

Hm — that’s a big question for me. I think somewhere I did always feel that, but it’s been sort of a push-pull journey with it. I actually started acting professionally when I was nine in commercials and TV, and then in my teen years, I found myself really questioning why I was doing it. Like, what was it all for? I think I was questioning a lot in the world, searching for meaning, and that included this thing that I loved doing. That questioning took me to an arts high school and eventually landed me at Juilliard, and that’s where I feel I really chose to pursue a career as an actor. 

But even through that time and since that time, the questioning would resurface. I think too, as I’ve had this parallel journey of working in social justice, the question was always some version of, “Is acting the best use of myself? Is this the best way for me to be of service?” I would say that now, I feel a synthesis of all of it – I’ve never been clearer about the transformative power of storytelling, and at this point, acting isn’t just something that I love to do, it feels like what I’m supposed to be doing. I feel really, really blessed to feel that. 


Photography by Irvin Rivera

● It seems that the entertainment industry is expanding to include more diverse and inclusive content. Why do you think this is happening and how do the talents within the industry influence that change? 

Another big question! I think it’s happening for several reasons. On one level, I think audiences are hungry for stories that reflect the complexity of their world and those in it. It seems like good business sense to create content to meet that demand — I think we saw that in the success of films like “Moonlight” and “Black Panther.”

On another level though, I think two important things are happening right now: one, historically marginalized artists are staking their claims in the landscape in an undeniable way – and they are empowering others to do so. Which is phenomenal! And two: I think as a society, we are all craving spaces to make sense of this time, to ask questions about who we are becoming right now. It feels urgent. Story, narrative and media are those spaces most available to us. And we need all of our voices in those spaces to begin to understand what’s happening. 


● Charley Bordelon is the lead character you play on OWN’s popular series ​”Queen Sugar,” which is currently streaming its fourth season. ​”Queen Sugar” has chronicled the estranged Bordelon family coming together. How has Charley’s position within the family dynamics has evolved so far? 

I think it may be one of Charley’s most unexpected journeys — her movement from being a brilliant but controlling force in the family who has to be in charge no matter what, to becoming someone who wants to show up and be connected to her family, someone who is able to see them as confidently as she sees solutions. Charley is so defined by this outward heroism, her commitment to the promise she made to her father in the first episode to “fix it” — but I actually feel some of her most heroic moments have been within herself and her family. 

● Throughout all seasons Charley has been an example of a strong woman that faces many challenges while also molding her sense of self. Have you discovered anything that has impacted your personal growth during the process of Charley’s becoming? 

You know, one of the greatest gifts of playing Charley is that she demands that I embrace all of me. Every single part – every shadow, every shine, every gift, every insecurity. Nothing is left out. She has no apology for any of it, no backing down from her own journey. All of that has asked me to meet my own journey and ambitions with greater courage, greater ownership, greater vision. I know that I would not be the person that I am today without having walked in her stilettos for four seasons! 

● After Charley’s sister Nova crossed the lines with her book exposing the family secrets, their relationship was tested, which is a perfect opportunity to practice unconditional love. Do you think Charly will be able to forgive Nova for this? If so, how do you think their relationship will look like? 

It’s going to be interesting — I personally think forgiveness is always a process, not an event. And there is no clock on that — people move forward as they need to, in the time that they need to. Charley is not someone who forgives easily, and the betrayal is enormous. I honestly wondered through the season, how are the writers going to resolve this? Are Charley and Nova going to be able to heal? Gratefully, I am at the end of the season, so I now know the answers to all of that, but I can guarantee that the audience won’t see it coming. 

● Charley’s relationship with her son, Micah, is also a rollercoaster as he is coming of age. However, it seems that Charley is more open to letting go of control over her son. How does Charley become conscious that allowing Micah to experience his own expansion will benefit them both? 

Photography by Irvin Rivera

I don’t know that Charley does totally become conscious of that, at least I don’t think she understands how it will benefit her. I think it will, but she’s not quite there yet. What she does recognize is that Micah needs to grow, that he needs to step into his own adulthood – and I think she feels the burden of what he has weathered outside of their mother-son relationship, with the public explosion of their family life, moving across the country, his traumatic encounter with police, etc. So I think it’s actually Charley’s love for Micah, the responsibility she feels as a mother, that drives both her control and ultimately her letting go.

● How does Romero’s presence in Charley’s life influence her state of being? 

I think Charley relaxes with Romero. She’s not in a “mode” with him. He’s also a safe space for her to do that – when we meet him, he’s free of any connection to her former life, her grief, her fight… all of which is very new for her. 

● “Queen Sugar” has been praised as it represents many aspects of race, culture, justice and African American issues in a way that have not been prominently featured in mainstream media. Beyond the family’s interpersonal relationship, what kind of awareness does the story bring to the audience? 

The show really is an invitation. It invites audiences to sit down and get to know these characters, to care about them, to see themselves or some part of their lives reflected back in this culturally rooted story of a Black family in rural America. That is revolutionary, as it asks the audience to expand the image of whom we identify as heroic. And it does this while taking on conversations around power, wealth, race, land, gender, queer identity, mass incarceration, illness, addiction, sexual assault, domestic violence — it’s calling for the audience to examine their relationships with the complexity of our world. And again, I believe that’s exactly what audiences are hungry for. In terms of representation, women have been centered in front of and behind the camera unprecedented ways — and in Charley, the show has produced a complicated, brilliant, flawed and unapologetically masterful woman whose presence and power is self-defined. Those are all glorious achievements, and I am proud to be of service to them. 

● What does it mean to you to be working on this project with such incredible women as Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey? 

It’s really hard to put into words. They are such powerful, one-of-a-kind women. I’ve gotten a front-row seat to the power of intention, as this show is absolutely a reflection of who they are and the kind of work they are committed to putting into the world. And they get results – so far, they have launched over thirty women into the directing pool for television. That’s game-changing, as a precedent. And as an actor, to work with only women directors for the past four seasons – it has shifted my normal, in terms of the image of what and who a director can be. I didn’t even realize how unchallenged that norm was, until this experience. I am forever grateful to them for that, and for trusting me with the incredible character that is Charley Bordelon. 

Photography by Irvin Rivera


● Do you have any practices when you want to reconnect with yourself?

Yes! Meditation. Yoga. Massage. Walks in nature. Singing. Writing. Intimate time with trusted community. Time out. 


● Are you involved in any charity organization or humanitarian cause you would like to mention? 

My engagement in social justice and activism spans a range of issues, many of which are interconnected. At this particular time, I would like to say this: if we do not recognize that what is happening at our southern borders and in immigrant detention centers across our country as a human rights atrocity — if we do not take action to close the camps — our future generations will hold us accountable, as they should. We truly cannot let it stand. We must face it and we must act. Find out what you can, get involved. History is watching. 


● The spirit of The Hedonist Magazine is ​”The Essence of a Joyful Living​.” How does Joy during the creative process affect your own experience and in consequence the final manifestation of your actions? 

For me, the “how” is as important as the “what” and the “why.” And joy is absolutely integral to the “how” of the creative process. Without joy, any creative act runs the risk of becoming a chore, a slog, or possibly even empty. I do not believe in creating from fear or from a lack of safety. I just don’t think that it yields work that is freeing. It may look like excellence, but it will feel intuitively constricting. I believe that joy is transformative on a molecular level — and in terms of the product or the art that results, it can make the difference between an experience that is impressive and an experience that is transcendent. 

● When you hear: “You can be, do and have anything you want,” words from the Abraham-Hicks teachings, what is your take on such a statement? 

I have experienced this to be true. My life and involvement with Queen Sugar have been evidence of this. I’m not saying that it’s super easy to live it — we all have beliefs that can get in the way of that statement’s power. But ultimately, that’s the opportunity: to let go of any belief in the way of that truth expressing itself in our lives abundantly. The question then becomes, What do you want? And why do you want it? Is what you want in alignment with your best and highest self-expression? That, to me, is the work of life. And I gladly do it.
Header Photo by Irvin Rivera