Having played Cleopatra on “Xena: Warrior Princess,” Jasmine in the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” spinoff “Angel,” Cas in the two Matrix sequels and the spy Anna Espinosa on “Alias,” among many other great roles, Gina Torres has spent the last two years in the comforts of a law office on USA’s hit summer series, “Suits.”
Playing Jessica Pearson, she personifies everything about a woman in charge. Her name is on the firm, after all – Pearson Hardman. Incredibly intelligent, savvy and meticulous, even a bit cunning, she balances it all with a fantastic splash of sarcasm, wit and charm. Jessica can lure you in and spit you out, all with the squint of her eyes and arch of a brow.
Here’s a look at her in action:
On tonight’s Season Two finale (USA, 10pm EST), the fate of the firm is in the hands of Louis (Rick Hoffman) who was just named a senior partner by Hardman (David Costabile). As the Hardman-orchestrated vote nears to remove Jessica, Louis’ vote is all the more important, and that means getting the awkward attorney on her side, which also means Harvey’s side, and Louis has never been the biggest fan of Harvey (Gabriel Macht).
Here’s a preview of the finale:
Torres recently told me she’s been looking forward to “finding out how Jessica is impossibly flawed,” plus we talked suits – Jessica’s power suits – and what she wants to see from the character, plus her memories of “Alias” and “Firefly.”
Gerrad Hall: There have been so many laws procedural shows on TV through the years, but “Suits” is so completely different.
Gina Torres: Yes, it’s a law show without the law. The law is a mere suggestion to what we’re doing. (laughs) It’s the frame for the show because we’re dealing with lawyers, but we’re also dealing with their humanity. It’s not a “case of the week.”
GH: Yes, and you’re dealing with some very big personalities, too, which is something I think Aaron Korsh and the writers have done so well in crafting these characters over these two seasons. It’s not uncommon for a show in its first season to lay the groundwork to get the second season renewal, and then the show really dives more into meat of the characters. Has that made for a more enjoyable second season for you?
GT: Absolutely! Part way through the first season, I had a long talk with Aaron because he was concerned that I was bored (laughs), and he [said], ‘I want to write for all of you,’ because we felt like we were just waiting at the gate for the gate to open so that we could run our race. I won’t say that it was frustrating particularly for me because when you have a family and you’re getting kids ready for school and your life is full, working two days a week is really all right. (laughs) If you can work, two, three days a week of an 18-hour day, then you live to pack another lunch.
Having said that, from an artistic standpoint, he promised that – because we all know it is absolutely my experience, it is not my first rodeo – if you have the luck and the good fortune to make it to a second season, you have to go to the other characters…you have to. And he laid such beautiful groundwork for everybody. I never felt abandoned by him at all; I think the Jessica he introduced in the first season left so much room for [asking], ‘Who is this woman?’ You were curious. I wasn’t just dressing; I think he piqued all of our curiosity to learn more, as he did with everyone else, as he did with Donna (Sarah Rafferty) and Rachel (Meghan Markle) and Louis, who’s [had] a great season. It just makes it richer and it gives you places to go. I maintain that there was always a character or two that everybody would be able to plug into.
GH: When it comes to Jessica, there is this greatly entertaining, matter-of-fact, dry sassiness about her … sassy in a, ‘Don’t mess with me!’ way. Is that something you brought to the character or is it in the writing?
GT: (laughs) It is something I love about her. It is something I have tried to infuse in her, which I’m so glad you’re telling me I’ve been successful at. I have often found that when women of great power are portrayed, often a pitfall is they sacrifice a kind of humor that is at times very specifically female. And I think that’s done because that still, by and large, a woman can’t make it in a man’s world without manning-up.
Personally, that’s not my philosophy. I think, let the men be men – they’re better at it.
GH: In a recent interview, Aaron revealed that your character was, in the original pilot script, male and that he wasn’t sure even you knew that. How much did you actually know?
GT: I did not know that [originally]. I just found that out.
GH: What do you think you bring to Jessica that wouldn’t have been there had the role remained male?
GT: I think I probably look better in a skirt. (laughs)
GH: That’s very true! And they do give you some good skirts to wear – Jessica is quite the sexy dresser.
GT: Yes! Yes…I have a great relationship with our costume designer. Jolie Andreatta is genius! Absolute genius. And she came on midway [first] season, and she got it, she got me, and she got the character. It’s sort of what we just talked about, but realized in clothing – she’s a woman, she likes being a woman, she enjoys being a powerful woman, and she can wear whatever the hell she wants to, and she does. You’ll never see me in the gray power suit unless it is cut in such a way, tailored in such a way, that enhances…it’s not armor. She’s not putting on armor. She is dressing for herself, not for anyone else. And there is great power in that.
GH: And you also give Jessica that great swagger…she moves through that office and people step out of the way.
GT: It’s the shoes. (laughs) There’s no other way to walk in 5-inch heels! Trust me, you’ve got to swagger! You’ve got to sell the whole thing!
But I agree with you, and I’m so glad that’s coming across. My goal was to create a character that both men and women like, that she didn’t alienate anybody that she didn’t chose to. This is her ballgame, this is her world. And she has a great sense of humor, which I appreciate the writers giving her. She has a sense of self, she knows who she is, she’s not searching for it. I think that’s great! It’s great to see in men and in women.
GH: She knows who she is in all of those aspects, but when it really comes to her background and defines her, the audiences hasn’t had the chance to see much of that yet. The return of Hardman was, of course, fairly telling. If you were writing Jessica’s story, is there something you have imagined in her past or anything specific you would like to see revealed?
GT: I think eventually we’ve got to see her family. Last season we met and ex-husband that caught I think all of us by surprise.
GH: Oh, did you have no warning? You were shocked when you got that script?
GT: Yeah, I was like, ‘Really? I was married? Ok, well what was that like?’
But I would love, love to see more of Jessica’s family life. She wasn’t grown in a pod somewhere of fabulous women. She’s got to come from incredible people.
GH: Your résumé is so full of different genres. Is there an area where you feel you’ve have found more interesting characters to take on?
GT: Well, law shows would be considered a genre, but as you [mentioned at the beginning] of this interview, it is unlike any other law show that we have. I think we’re breaking some ground in a lot of ways here.
Yes, I have a lot of action, I have a lot of fantasy, I have a lot of sci-fi on my résumé, which is great fun. But it’s all circumstantial in a way. I just find myself playing impossibly cool people, and some of them have guns and some of them have lasers, some of them have swords, and some of them have stilettos. (laughs) I’ve been fortunate enough to play impossibly wonderful people who are also impossibly flawed, and I look forward to finding out how Jessica is impossibly flawed. That’s what makes people interesting.
GH: One of those interesting characters in on the action was Anna Espinosa on “Alias.” When you think back to your time on that show, what immediately comes to mind?
GT: Running behind a rickshaw. (laughs)
GH: That will leave lasting memories!
GT: Yeah! Endlessly running, running, endlessly running behind a rickshaw either because I’m chasing Jennifer Garner or because she is chasing me and really just having a great time while [the crew was] setting up shots sitting in our director’s chairs and just laughing hysterically and creating a beautiful relationship with Jennifer, which I am so grateful for.
GH: One more character and show to ask you about … Zoë Washburn on “Firefly.” What comes to mind there?
GT: Ohhhh, being madly, truly, deeply in love with every single one of my castmates.
GH: I feel like I hear that a lot from people who were on that show, how much fun it was and about the family-like environment.
GT: Yeah. I recently saw “Entertainment Weekly” and I was working so I couldn’t get to Comic-Con – even though everybody thought I was [going to be there] because somebody said I would be – but I picked up “Entertainment Weekly” and there’s a picture in it of the cast reunion, and I burst into tears just seeing them all lined up there. And I was like, [as crying] ‘Why couldn’t I just get out…’ But Morena [Baccarin] was missing, and Ron [Glass], so the three of us – Ron, Morena and I – weren’t in the picture. I’m getting choked up now just talking about it … I love them all so very, very much. It is one of the best times and the safest times just as a human being and an actor with all of those people, and I miss them to this day. I wish we had just gotten to spend a little more time together.