At home with a gun slung over her back or in five-inch heels, actress Gina Torres brings an easy confidence to whatever role she’s playing. Her career has already been a diverse one. Beloved by sci-fi fans for her work in Firefly, Alias and the Matrix Trilogy among many others, these days, Torres is spearheading her own law firm as the sharp-witted Jessica Pearson in USA’s legal drama, Suits, now in its third season.
“The longer that you’re on the air, there’s a sweeter sort of wonderful shorthand and rhythm that the actors get into, and that’s lovely,” Torres said, in a recent exclusive interview with us at Entertainista. “And you know a family just gets deeper and grows.”
For those who may be unfamiliar, Suits follows the story of a young lawyer, Mike Ross (played by Patrick J. Adams), who never actually went to law school. This forces Jessica’s law firm, Pearson Darby, to travel through that mucky gray area in keeping Mike aboard. This season, Jessica’s now fully aware of Mike’s duplicitous situation, and though she decides to keep him, it’s not without cost to him. The ambitious Jessica is far more complicated than a two-dimensional do-gooder. “Playing a fully realized character and woman, you really just try to keep it based in some kind of human reality,” Torres said, “and what I love about this show is that it lends itself to that. As sort of fantastical as all these characters are, you know, [they’re] still, at the end of the day, quite human and quite flawed. And I think that’s what ultimately makes them the most intriguing.”
Indeed, despite Suits tempting us with its richly pressed wardrobes and its complex legal cases, the show is far more about the multifaceted, often tense relationships between its characters. On this subject, Torres seemed to agree: “You know, it’s great that I wear the clothes that I wear and that I say the things that I say, but how [Jessica] processes what’s going on around her is what people are interested in, I think.”
And Suits is far from the only interesting show on her resume. When asked to reveal the favorite project she’s worked on, Torres admitted with a laugh, “Obviously, people are maybe waiting for me to say Firefly.” But her real favorite, she said, was Huge, a short-lived ABC Family television drama following eight teens sent to a summer weight-loss camp, which was cancelled after only one season. “I thought that was an incredible show. I thought it should’ve had a longer life,” she lamented, adding that Firefly deserved a longer life as well.
Like Huge, Joss Whedon’s sci-fi-western drama, Firefly, was also cancelled after only one season, though its cult following’s demands did eventually give rise to a sequel feature film, Serenity. “I had a great time on that as well as working with the people on it,” Torres said of Firefly, for whom she played the gun-slinging “warrior woman” Zoë Washburne, a role much beloved by fans. “And that’s the best part about going to work. If you like the people that you’re going to work with… then it makes everything so much easier.”
When asked how working on Suits compares to Firefly, Torres laughed, saying, “Well, we have a third season.” Otherwise, with Suits, which takes place inside lavish New York City high-rise offices: “The wardrobe is a lot prettier and more expensive… The locations are a lot friendlier as well. We’re not out in the middle of the desert either in the middle of the night.”
Both the desert and Manhattan skyscrapers are still a far cry from where she started. After graduating from a New York performing arts high school, she began her acting career onstage in a modest dinner theater before making the transition to the screen. “I think beginning onstage gave me an incredible foundation in terms of having a work ethic and building a character that I would not change for anything,” she said. “And [I] really look forward to a time when I can go back and do that, should the right thing at the right time come up. I think the stage is very important for an actor because it is an actor’s medium.”
Despite her reputation for portraying strong female characters — even having a fan following petitioning to see her play the new Wonder Woman — Torres denies necessarily targeting the creation of that image for herself. “When you’re starting out as an actor, you want to work. You’re not concerned with being a role model for anybody. You’re just interested in getting your feet wet and working and what does that mean. And the best you can do is be true to yourself.”
Acting, she says, “makes sense for me. For some people, math makes sense and makes them happy, and they find a way to make that work for them. Trafficking in emotion makes sense for me, and the fact that I can actually have a career doing that is astonishing and an incredible gift.” To her fans, we’re sure, the feeling is mutual.
So what is this fearless and talented actress looking for next? “I think it’s a rule of thumb for an actor — not to speak for all actors — but when you’ve been doing one kind of character for a long time, you sort of look for the character that’s diametrically opposed to where you are now. So, you know, homeless crack whore? Sure,” she said with a laugh. “Why not? Bring it.”