If the Suit Fits

This story appears in the Summer 2013 issue of Eidé Magazine. Read it here or click to read it in the issue below.

I have to admit I was anxious about speaking to Gina Torres. I had butterflies, the way one does when they meet a role model or lifelong heroine. Because as much as she’s the wife of Laurence Fishburne as well as Brenda Cooper in “I Think I Love My Wife,” Anna Espinosa in Alias, Nebula in Hercules, and Helen Carter in Cleopatra 2525 — she’s also undoubtedly Jessica Pearson on USA’s successful law drama Suits. A fearless female role, Jessica embodies power and intelligence as the managing partner of the show’s law firm “Pearson Hardman,” and Torres’ portrayal of this complex hard-headed woman is turning heads.

At 5’11, with covet-worthy curves to match her stature, Torres is all woman and it shows. When I first heard her voice filled with a sophisticated vocal inflection and rich tonality, it was hard not to call her Jessica, a character so defined by her powerful speech and articulate command of vocabulary — a feature Torres naturally has in scores. But her genuine kindness and gentle spirit instantly made me understand that Torres is not like any of her characters, but rather her roles are intrinsically a part of her.

Like most great women with life experience, she has an unspoken gratitude that presents itself through her storytelling as she recounts her life and her resulting insights. But above all, she’s wise in a way that we all wish to comprehend. She has a unique ability to see the world and the sum of its parts as a decipherable roadmap to the journey of her life. It’s the kind of cognizance that puts you at ease, and makes you secretly pray she’ll act as your own private sherpa.

Suits Gina Torres

EIDÉ MAGAZINE: You’re a talented mezzo soprano. When did you start to explore acting? Did you initially want to go into singing as a career? GINA TORRES: No, not at all. Singing has always been something I enjoyed doing, (but) my passion was always acting. Singing came into play with musical theatre. I fell in love with musicals. Fred Estaire and Ginger Rogers — I fell in love with that technicolor world. I wanted to crawl into the television and become a part of that. Growing up in NYC, I would see the commercials for the musicals on Broadway. I just wanted to be on the musical stage; I never wanted to do one without the other.

EM: Growing up in New York City; that’s a very unique experience. GT: In retrospect it was an incredible advantage and blessing. At the time, I didn’t realize this was not how the rest of the world is. I appreciate how potentially diverse [that was].

EM: You have an incredible body of work — you spent years working on so many films and TV shows. Is there anything that stands out to you as a favorite role you played? GT: They are all my children. They are all different parts of me. I have been so blessed [to] play so many characters. My first film role, “Bed of Roses,” that got my feet wet. [From there] the roles, have become iconic — dare I say it — in how people associate with me. Zoë on Firefly, Hercules, Alias — the cult aspect of these women have stayed with me all this time. I love them, that they are such a part of so many peoples’ characters. It’s overwhelming for me that I am here talking about all these characters with you. I was absolutely a lucky girl and had no idea how all of this would happen, going from Cleopatra 2525 to Jessica Pearson.

EM: Your husband is acclaimed actor Laurence Fishburne. Do you get to work with him often? What is that like? GT: Most recently, I got play with my husband in Hannibal. We support one another; we love what we do. We are both passionate, respectful and hardworking. [We are] excitable people when it comes to what we do ... regardless of the fact that we are married. But when we go home, we are Laurence and Gina, Delilah’s mom and dad. We leave it in the workplace. We talk about work in the extent of saying, “That was really good, I like that.” We are supportive in that way, but no, we don’t run lines.

EM: Let’s talk about Suits: How did this script come to you, and what was your initial reaction? GT: I had a little bit of history with the network. I had tested for another role on another show just a few months prior and I didn’t get that part. And then a few months later, this (Suits) script came, and they thought, “Well she’s a lot of fun.” Agents called, based on the test that didn’t go through, [they said] “USA thinks you are perfect for this!” And the creator just wanted to meet. Let that be a lesson to people ... you never know how the job is going to come about. All you can do is put your best foot forward and trust that someone is watching.

EM: Jessica Pearson is such an incredible character. She’s a strong, independent woman of color, with so much personality at the top of this company. How did you prepare for this role? GT: I read the script and I put on her clothes and her shoes, which is a huge part of her character and a huge clue in who she is. I always joke that we wear the same shoe size. This is the character I have been preparing for my whole life. I wouldn’t have had the life experience or swagger 20 years ago. She’s a woman. I could not have played her as a girl, as a 25-year-old pretending to be grown up. We think we know everything and we are just trying to figure things out. I have been the architect of some pretty extraordinary things and that’s who Jessica Pearson is, and it’s my joy bringing that person to screen. What I love about Jessica [is] she has a sense of humor and she is completely unapologetic about power, and her womanhood and her sexuality.

Gina Torres Suits

EM: In Suits, your character Jessica Pearson has a tremendous sense of style — especially in the workplace — how close is your personal style to your character? GT: I (just) watched the last three episodes of Season Two thinking that every costume change is an event. The wardrobe for all of us matched the stakes, the tone and the drama of the moment. Every time I walked on screen it was a wardrobe event. Our wardrobe de- signer understands it’s a heightened reality. When we first started with the show, we see the revolution of her wardrobe until now. They started off with her being what you expect, wearing this “power suit.” Our costume designer came in halfway through the first season, and I remember having a very frank conversation with the creators early on saying, “She is the top of the pyramid. If she mentored Harvey, then she taught him to dress. It all begins and ends with her, and she can wear whatever the fuck she wants.”

EM: On Suits, it seems like the seasons are not that far apart. How does that make the shooting schedule for you? GT: No, we shoot it all at once, we go straight through and shoot 16. The first season, we only shot 10. And then the network realized it was a long time to be away from of our fans. Then we do 10 through the summer and then the back (the writers pack it in). We are on cliffhangers every week! We get the script, which gets sent to us every 10 days. [There are times when] I have done 18-hour shoot days, but I am not in every scene. It’s much harder for Gabriel (Macht) and Patrick (J. Adams).

EM: There is a very important episode where Jessica’s lack of children is addressed. How was that for you? GT: I refer to that as the “bitter barren” episode, and I don’t believe that she is either. We don’t know a whole lot about Jessica and her personal life, but she has made choices. For any woman, you have to have the strength and the courage to make those choices. You also have the right to change your mind. We have more choices, and we want a bigger piece of the pie. There is more of you that needs to be expressed and fulfilled and then you play catch-up. Our lives are intricate fascinating things and you can’t control it.