The stage, film and TV actress catches us up on her latest projects, including the legal drama, Suits, on the USA Network.
Actress Gina Torres
Tavis: Strong, complex women characters are defining many of the best series on TV these days and actress, Gina Torres, plays one of the most interesting and, might I add, best dressed – so she didn’t disappoint today – Jessica Pearson, a partner in a top law firm that specializes in tackling difficult cases in “Suits,” a drama now in its third season on USA. Gina’s appeared in dozens of movies, including “The Matrix” franchise as well as the cult TV series, “Firefly” and “Angel.”
Let’s take a look now, though, at a clip from “Suits.”
Tavis: Well, all righty then.
Gina Torres: She’s such a delicate little flower, isn’t she?
Tavis: It looks like you enjoy playing this character.
Torres: Very much so.
Tavis: You enjoy most what?
Torres: I love how smart she is. I love how she doesn’t shortchange her femininity. She doesn’t shortchange her intelligence just to make it in a man’s world. I love that I am the physical embodiment of power today in this law firm. I think she’s important. She’s important to have on the air and for people to see.
Tavis: Why important to have on the air? I think I get both. I get why you like it and I think I get why it’s important to have on the air, but you tell me.
Torres: There aren’t very many women of color in positions of power, period. Much less on television. You know, we have Kerry Washington and we have me [laugh].
Tavis: There’s two.
Torres: There’s two, there’s two. I think it’s important, and what’s important really about it is that we make the point just by being present. We don’t make the point by hammering it home every day. This is just our lives. We’re just living our lives as intelligent, capable, cutthroat in some instances, women, and I think that’s great.
Tavis: I’m gonna be very clear. I’ll look in the camera. This is me saying this, not Gina. I don’t want you in no trouble. I’m saying this. But you are as good as anything on television and, as I said earlier, certainly as well-dressed as anybody on television.
Since you mentioned Kerry, though, that show has gotten so much buzz in part, I think, because of where it’s placed on the network that it’s on. This is not in any way slamming USA. I love USA.
Torres: I do too [laugh].
Tavis: I know you do, I know you do. I’m just wondering, though, whether or not you think that this show would even get – it’s such a great show – whether or not it would get more play if it were someplace else. I mean, it’s not like “Scandal” is any better than the show that you do, but it’s sometimes just where you’re placed. Does that make sense?
Torres: It does make sense.
Tavis: That’s the strange way for me to [inaudible]. That’s my way of saying I love the show.
Torres: Thank you.
Tavis: I think it ought to get more play than it gets and I’m just trying to figure out why it doesn’t. Okay.
Torres: Right, yes. I think this advent of as much as we’ve been living with cable and cable shows and now original scripted programs for cable shows, HBO, you know, blazed that trail. You have Showtime, you have AMC, you have all of these, you know, incredible networks that are now bringing forth their product without the handcuffs, if you will, of trying to sell soap to the entire country.
Tavis: I got you.
Torres: And I think what we’re up against is a kind of habit of television watching. We still, by and large, look to the big four for our programming. What’s new? When I say the big four, it’s those networks that we all grew up with when there were only four channels [laughs] on TV.
So you look there first and then you look to the tried and true because HBO has now this incredible reputation for bringing incredible programming. USA is coming up and surpassing, I think, a lot of that. I think it’s just a matter of time. You know, you don’t get the same big numbers as you used to because there is so much diversity in channel watching now.
Tavis: Yeah. How much say-so do you have? I mean, obviously, you got a bunch of great writers. That’s clear by what we just saw. You got great writers. How much say-so do you have or, put another way, how much input do you have to engage for the kind of character that you want to play?
Torres: I have been very, very fortunate on this show, on “Suits,” where the writers do come to me and they ask my comfort level and, if they want to push an envelope in a certain direction, if I’m okay with that. And, by and large, I am. I think it’s important. I think I lend myself.
I know I lend myself, my aesthetic, my standards, to this part. And seeing what they see, the work that I do week in and week out, you know, we meet, we meet. So they write for me and I bring things to them, they bring things to me. So it’s really been a beautiful marriage.
Tavis: Is my read correct that you aren’t just oftentimes smarter than everybody else in all the things that you bring, but that you are sometimes intimidating to these other characters on the show?
Torres: That’s a good read [laugh].
Tavis: I think somebody just got intimidated by you.
Torres: Yes, yes. As well they should be, as well they should be. So much of that as well, I think, has to do with – there’s a huge chunk of this character, of this woman, that’s a mystery. When you see her, you really don’t know her personal life. You don’t know what’s going on when she goes home.
Her life as we know it is that firm and keeping that firm together, keeping that firm current and in the black. And what she does to keep that happening week to week, we’re just not sure. We’re just not sure.
Tavis: I only ask the intimidating question because, again, I love the character, but I ask in part because I wonder for you how you do this high-wire act, this balancing act of being who you’re supposed to be as the character, but not being the brassy, sassy woman of color who can sometimes go beyond intimidating to turning people off. There’s a fine line between intimidation, which can be good in a law firm…
Torres: Yes, it’s important.
Tavis: Am I making sense?
Torres: Yes, you are, yes.
Tavis: How do you balance that with this character?
Torres: I think with a heavy dose of femininity. You know, I mentioned before that she is unapologetic in how she dresses and how she dresses is sometimes it’s provocative. It is not business attire. I certainly came up in an era where women were really making strides and making a point to beat down doors and find their place and crash through the glass ceiling.
And a lot of them did that believing that they had to trade on their femininity and that they had to be a man and tap into whatever they believed was a masculine trait to hang in the boys’ room, to get the keys to the kingdom, as it were.
And what’s beautiful about Jessica Pearson is that she is the next level to that where, you know, really feminism is about being all that you are and not having to trade one thing for another on your way up.
Tavis: Or apologize.
Torres: Or apologize.
Tavis: Yeah. You have a six-year-old daughter.
Torres: I do.
Tavis: Ever anything in the script that you look at and say, “I know she’s not watching this now ’cause she’s only six, but when she’s old enough and she looks back on these episodes, this ain’t something I want her to see, so I’m not gonna do this”?
Torres: No, not yet. Not so far, no.
Tavis: That’s good.
Torres: Yeah, it’s great. It’s a good feeling.
Tavis: How is Mr. Fishburne doing?
Torres: Oh, he’s fine [laugh]. He’s doing great, yes. He’s a busy man.
Tavis: So as your daughter gets older, how are you finding the balancing act over the wife, the actress, the mother?
Torres: Oh, it’s exhausting [laugh]. I’m not even gonna sugarcoat it. I can’t sugarcoat it. Any working mother out there knows it’s, you know, if you want to do a good job on any and all of those fronts, it means not sleeping sometimes or, you know, not sleeping a full night.
Tavis: But for a minute, though, Fish – I mean, Mr. Fishburne, your husband – for a minute, he was on a TV series. So at least both of you all were in town.
Torres: Yes, yes. And now we’re back in town together actually. He just went back to Toronto to shoot a second season of “Hannibal”…
Tavis: Oh, cool.
Torres: And then I go back to Toronto because we shoot “Suits” in Toronto as well. So we’re both there.
Tavis: How cool is that? Wow.
Torres: How great, I know. We did something right. The gods smiled upon us once again.
Tavis: So we know there’s love in Toronto.
Torres: There’s love in Toronto, enduring, wonderful love in Toronto.
Tavis: I’m always honored to have you on the program.
Torres: Thank you.
Tavis: Glad to have you. The show is “Suits” on USA wrapping up now its third season. I hope many, many more.
Torres: Thank you, sir, as do I.
Tavis: And if you get more, you got to come back and see us more.
Torres: I hope so.
Tavis: Good to see you.
Torres: Invite me [laugh].
Tavis: You have been invited. It’s official.
Tavis: You have a seat here anytime you want.
Torres: Thank you.
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