Gina Torres talks about USA's new show 'Suits'

Gina Torres stars as Jessica Pearson, the woman behind the man of USA Network's newest legal show 'Suits.'

Dio Dipasupil/Splash News/Newscom
Gina Torres heads to the set during the filming of Gossip Girl in 2009. Torres stars in the new show 'Suits,' Thursdays at 10 p.m. on USA Network.

In the new USA Network series SUITS, Gina Torres portrays Jessica Pearson, a name partner at a New York City law office, whose hot-shot legal protege Harvey Specter has just hired a savant con man to pose as a new lawyer at their office. The ensuing legal gamesmanship and high-powered chess match leads them all down a path, which either leads to their redemption or an ethical morass that could jeopardize them all.

In portraying Jessica, the woman who mentored Harvey, what do you think motivated her to take on such an endeavor? Was she motivated by an altruistic reason, personal reason or just plain curiosity?
Gina: I think what moves anybody to mentor somebody, who turns out to be as big a pain in the ass as Harvey, is potential. You see an undeniable potential in someone and if you feel that you can bring it forth, if you can nurture it in some way and have this person realize have this self-realization and the professional realization that they deserve, then I don’t see how you can turn away from that challenge or that experience.

How would you describe Jessica and Harvey’s professional and/or personal relationship?
Gina: Oh God. Harvey. It’s complicated, as the movie says. I think like all great relationships, and I’m hoping that we have the time to prove that this is one of those great relationships that we can in later years turn to and go, ‘Oh God, that’s like – that so Jessica and Harvey.’ It is more than just one thing. It is both deeply intimate and personal, as well as mysterious. I’m his mother, I’m his sister, I’m his priest, I’m his confidante. I’m all of those things, as he is for me.

On the surface this is a series about the relationship between two men. But then we have other people that come into play, like Donna and Jessica. How do you see, like, the role of women in this show?

Gina: I think and I believe — as has been my experience in life in general — that a strong man doesn’t get very far without a strong woman beside him – not behind him, beside him. I think Donna is a fantastic example of that. And Jessica is certainly a fantastic example of that, as we establish very early on that Harvey would not have the career that he has now if Jessica didn’t believe in him. So, having said that, I, Aaron Korsh and all the other writers on the show have done nothing to shortchange that reality. I think the women in this series are depicted very intelligently, powerfully and also without shortchanging their femininity. I mean, [Mike and Harvey] are all-men and [Donna and Jessica] are all women, and they’re all in this together.

You’ve played a whole history of strong female characters. Have you drawn on any of that to prepare for this role as Jessica?
Gina: Jessica is kind of a culmination of so many characters and women and just the life experience that I’ve had over the years. It’s great at this point in my career to sort of arrive at [this character] at this moment in time. It all goes into the pot.

To follow-up on the whole strong female character thing. That seems to the theme on USA shows. Did you take that into account when you took this role, that you were going to be playing the strong female character?

Gina: I believe my initial reaction was, ‘Oh, another strong female character.’ More strong female character questions. It is something that follows me. I’m so happy that it does, I have to say. They are great fun to depict. It’s also great fun to find the chink in the armor. As much as I am enjoying playing Jessica and in all of her unapologetic feminine fabulous authority, it’s just as much fun to unearth and find those things that make her vulnerable – that make her human – and I think ultimately make her more interesting.

What do you think female viewers will learn from Jessica?
Gina: Oh gosh. I think that’s a very personal sort of individual thing. Certainly on the surface, if you work hard and if you’re committed and if you really believe in what you’re doing and conduct yourself with a kind of grace and conviction that you can get as far as you want to. It’s about choices in your life. Sometimes you make good choices, sometimes you make bad choices, and you just have to wait and see which ones turn out to be which.

What I did want to know is how did you get this role? Was it one of those things where you had to go out for it and audition and really fight for it, or were you lucky enough to have it offered to you?
Gina: I was lucky enough to have it offered to me. That’s not to say that I didn’t have to jump through a couple of hoops. But having said that, I was on a very short list. I had, because of my long list of strong female portrayals that that preceded me, I’d already had a kind of a relationship and a rapport with USA Network based on some things that I had done with them previously. So my name came up for this part and they asked if I was interested. And I was. I was really only interested because she’s not a gatekeeper. She’s just not the babysitter watching these guys swing, as it were. She plays an important part in their consciousness — which I’d like to believe, since I go to work every day. . . .There is also a promise of developing [Jessica] as a fully realized woman and what makes her tick, and what makes her interesting. So that’s that’s what I’m hoping viewers will get to see.

In the pilot Harvey comes in and he pretty much blackmails Jessica to get his senior partnership back. And Jessica almost seems proud of the fact that he used this maneuver to get his position back. Is that a correct interpretation of that scene and how does that play into the relationship between Harvey and Jessica?
Gina: I think as the series starts to unfold, more and more about that particular scene is revealed. It’s less about pride and more about knowing and expecting Harvey to react in a certain way. I think she’s very familiar with how he plays ball, and she needs him to play ball in a certain way. So Jessica sort of has a plan and and Jessica’s plan for Harvey is that she really needs him to grow a soul. I think as the series progresses more of that is revealed as you get to know how they relate to each other and what the work actually means to them as individuals. As much as she respects the kind of lawyer that he is, I think she’s still on the fence a little bit about the kind of a man that he is. So we’ll be seeing that play out over the season.

Will we be meeting the other named partner at any time and will there be kind of some other interoffice politics and we will we be delving into more of the personnel at the law firm?
Gina: We’ll definitely be looking into more of the people and certainly delving into more of the regular cast and getting to know them and what those interrelationships are. As far as the silent partner, we have yet to meet him. But there’s still a few episodes that we have yet to shoot, so who knows? Mr. Harden or Ms. Harden might show up.

According to Gabriel Macht, in Harvey’s backstory, he’s kind of created for his character and he said that Jessica likely had a really big hand in creating him as the man that he is. Would you say that that is true to his backstory? Is that the reason why Jessica lets him away with so much that most other people would not let a lawyer like that get away with?
Gina: Yes, I think that’s actually very true that Jessica had a great deal to do with who he is and where he is. And she’s not done raising him. Though it might appear that she lets him get away with a lot. What’s so interesting and fascinating about this world that we are in is that there are no absolutes. There’s no black and white. You have to take each case and each situation as it comes. It’s really much like life — take each individual case for its merit and the job that needs to be done. We all become guilty of blurring the lines and the boundaries. So who’s to say what is right and what is wrong? We’re all just trying to figure it out.

The thorny world of Pearson Harden, the games just got murkier and yet more intriguing. How long can this ‘house of cards’ last? Tune in to find out. SUITS airs Thursdays at 10:00PM on USA Network.

Tiffany Vogt blogs at The TV Addict.


The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of music, film, and television bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by The Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own and they are responsible for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.