When Suits premiered a little over eight years ago, it launched the careers of many actors—including that of a then unknown Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex. But for Gina Torres, the USA Network series was another stop on an already robust IMDb page. With roles in major shows (Alias, Angel, and 24) and movies (The Matrix Reloaded), plus some time on Broadway, Torres was a veteran of the industry.
Even so, she says she didn't feel like her career clicked until she hit her 40s. (Torres joined the series when she was 42.) "I think any actor goes through [a stage]…where you go, 'Did I miss it? Is that it?'" she tells Glamour. "Like, 'I'm not going to be a movie star?'" The series turned her—and the rest of the cast—into a household name. Now, at 50, she's leading Pearson, a spin-off series based on her Suits character that she pitched and is executive-producing. It premieres tonight.
Pearson will follow the tough-as-nails Jessica Pearson, a former powerhouse attorney from New York City who's moved to Chicago to be the mayor's fixer. "I thought, How interesting would it be to take Jessica out of the private sector—the law practice thing—and throw her into political life?" Torres explains. She adds that this new series will differentiate itself from Suits in "a much more aggressive way" than people might expect.
Here, Torres opens up further about her journey from supporting player to pitching and starring in her own series. ("Believe it or not, it pays to be nice, and it pays to be professional.") The Manhattan native breaks down how she learned to accept the uncertainty of her career, turning 50, why she doesn't stay in touch with Meghan Markle, and more.
Glamour: You just turned 50. Did you approach this new decade of your life with a certain mind-set?
Gina Torres: Joy. I had a midlife crisis early, around 34 or 35. It took me the whole year of being 34 to ease into turning 35. I was in love and good, but the career was just fine and I didn’t have my daughter yet. It was one of those things that I think any actor goes through—particularly a woman, particularly a woman of color—where you go, "Did I miss it? Is that it?" Like, "I’m not going to be a movie star, and my face isn’t going to be on the side of a building to promote something? Also, I don’t have kids…." It was all of these milestones you create for yourself when you’re 25. [Laughs.] You sort of reshuffle the deck every 10 years and go, "What the hell? If not that, then what? If not this, then when and how?" So that was 35.
When did things start to change for you?
GT: By the time I got to 40, I had my daughter, who is now 12. I was doing a show that was very important to me for ABC Family from Winnie Holzman and her daughter called Huge that I loved. [Editors' note: The show followed the lives of teens and staff at a weight-loss camp.] It was the same year they shot the pilot of Pretty Little Liars, and it crushed me that our show didn’t get picked up [for a second season]. We had so many important things to say. It was such an important show. It felt like, "Oh, pretty and sensational wins again."
How did you deal with that disappointment, since it came at a time when you felt things were starting to click?
GT: By the time I got to 40, I had already gotten to the place of real acceptance and gratitude. I felt like, if this is what it is, this is fucking fantastic. I’m healthy, I’m happy, and I get to do something that I love doing. How many people get to say that? And I get to make a living at it. My focus was to achieve excellence in an arena that I had great respect and awe for and to find my place in it. That’s what I wanted to do.
Will you set goals for yourself in this next decade, or do you want to live in the moment?
GT: It’s a combination. I set goals, but there’s no timeline to any of it. With Pearson I’ve taken on this new title of executive producer, which is always something I wanted to do. Even in my 20s, I wanted to go into producing. It's exciting now because it feels like I’m starting something new. I get to be a 50-year-old student who’s not afraid to ask questions. And I get to throw my weight around—I’m not typically a weight thrower. [Laughs.] Somebody once said—and I love this—that "I’m low enough in the saddle now that my motives aren't questioned." I get to work with people who have worked with me, know what motivates me, and understand what I’m really about. This is the next chapter in what I hope will be a long and meaningful career.
You said you used to dream of being a movie star on a poster on the side of a building. Now you’re leading your own show. You are on posters. What would you say to your younger self now?
GT: "Hang in there." I would tell that to my 35-year-old self. The messaging is the same, which is: What is yours is yours. It doesn’t matter the road you choose to get there, you’re going to get there. You can get there quick, or you can take the scenic route, and that’s all about choice. I firmly believe your blessings are yours, and we get them when we’re ready. We get them when we’re supposed to.
How do you stop from looking at someone else when they have what you're working so hard to get? How do you stay in your own lane?
GT: I fail. I do. Not as often as I used to. It’s not a gut punch anymore. It used to be a gut punch, especially when you’re young. You look at something you want and think, That’s a game changer. That could have changed my life. But it might not have. Maybe it was meant to change that person’s life, but it may not have changed mine.
That’s a great way to look at it.
GT: It was my mother who taught me that. It sounds better in Spanish. [Laughs.] The gist of it is "No cow can eat your grass." My grass is my grass. This cow has a lot of great grass. I’ve had a lot of great grass, and I look forward to a lot more great grass. I’m really good with that. But I’ll tell you about my most recent failures….
Lay it on me.
GT: So here comes movies like Wonder Woman, Black Panther, etc., and I’m looking at these movies and they're spectacular and so much fun. I spent half of my career being an action hero and, not for nothing, I’m still looking pretty cute. I’m still in great shape. I say that with humility. I work hard, and I’m aware of it. So there’s a combination of that and my street cred where I look at those movies and think, Did anybody think to call me? Anybody? I do fan conventions. Thousands of people would have had a blast if I showed up on the screen in service to these movies for, like, two minutes. Did anyone think to call? So that’s where I’ve failed recently.
You can make yourself crazy trying to manifest something…
GT: It’s all logistics and timing. I’m here to tell you anything can happen at any given time. I think part of not making yourself crazy is to check in and be kind with yourself and say, "Yeah, I felt that way, and I can move on. I can be happy for those people because they’re amazing." Black Panther was such a seminal moment in our movie history, and to witness that was extraordinary. To be able to take my daughter to that movie and see that—that’s her world. That meant everything. So you can’t be bitter. I can’t be bitter about that.
In the first episode of Pearson, Jessica says, “I spent years doing nothing but making money and fighting to keep my name up on a wall. My life needs to be about more than that.” How did you relate to that?
GT: For actors in particular, we work and then we don’t, and the process repeats itself. Our lives are so often focused forward. What’s next? We hardly ever look back. It’s a paycheck-to-paycheck mentality. If you have the luxury of looking around and wanting more, what does that look like? And what does it mean? Is it more for the sake of more? Is it more for the sake of security? Like, okay, my kids are taken care of, my house is paid off. Does more mean it’s not enough? If that’s the answer, then it’s never enough. I think wanting more, you have to ask yourself all of those questions. What does more mean? What does it look like? And at the end of the day, that Jessica quote in particular, you’ve got to feed your soul. What’s going to feed your soul? Because more is just more.
You’re an executive producer on Pearson. Will that allow you to do more? Have you made a mental note in the past where you thought, If I was an executive producer, I'd do this…?
GT: The first order of business was creating a world familiar to me. And not just me but millions of people in the country. It’s not something that’s been watered down for mass consumption. The writers and network have been really great about doing that and allowing us the freedom to create those spaces. I’m so proud of what our show looks like and what it sounds like.
Do you sit in on castings? Do you say, "I want to see these kinds of stories on the page"?
GT: Yes, I sat down with our head writer and showrunner Daniel Arkin, who had worked on Suits for years. We were on the same page of what we wanted to do and how we wanted to differentiate and separate ourselves from the mother ship, and probably do so in a much more aggressive way than most people might be prepared for. We’re very much aware of the world we’re living in right now, and we wanted that to inform the stories we told. And to do it in a way that isn’t preachy but isn’t soft either. I love the show because it’s really about the why. How did you get so far down the rabbit hole, and how do you get out?
The spin-off was your idea, but how much did your pitch change from conception to reality?
GT: It was a very loose pitch when I presented it back in 2016. I didn’t come to anybody with a script or outline. I had already optioned property that I had hired a few writers to flesh out and was trying to pitch and work on a script. I'd gone back to Suits briefly so Jessica could let Mike off the hook. It was so fun to put Jessica's shoes back on, so to speak. Later, I was watching Kellyanne Conway on the day she coined “alternative facts” and my head exploded. I think the only way to gain any sort of objectivity on it was to start breaking her down like a character I might play. [Laughs.] How do you trot that messaging out into the world? For some reason I thought, Oh wait, Jessica does that.
And I love Jessica. Jessica does what's in the best interest of her firm and her people, and you love her for it. You understand what her motivation is. She’s not trying to kill anybody, but she does jump on both sides of the line. She’s 17 steps ahead of everybody else, and she tap-dances on the line sometimes and makes it look effortless. How interesting would it be to take her out of the private sector law practice and throw her into political life? I told my friend, who knew I was working on something, and he said, "That’s your show. You need to work on that."
And then what happened?
GT: I started fleshing it out. We started contacting people who were in a position to do something about it at USA, and it sort of started going up the [ladder of executives]. Here’s what I will tell people in case they are curious: It pays to be nice. It pays to be professional. It pays to be the person they can count on to deliver. My realization was that people miss Jessica, and they missed the woman that plays Jessica. It takes forever to get things made, but they had the confidence in me to listen. They believed in this story and this idea to keep taking it further down the road.
Had USA ever said they wanted to do a Suits spin-off?
GT: No. No. It all worked out.
Earlier this year you were asked at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour if you'd be bringing any former cast mates along. You had the best response.
GT: They asked if any of my Suits friends were coming with me, and I said, "Yes, Prada and Armani!"
But you're close friends in real life with your Suits costar Sarah Rafferty [Donna]. Would you like her to come on Pearson?
GT: If it makes sense and there’s a way we can make that happen, I would love that. I would love for her to come and play, of course.
Looking back, are you glad you left Suits when you did? [Editors' note: Torres left the series in 2016.] Or do you wish you had stayed?
GT: No, I left to take care of my father during his last year. He was in L.A. [and Suits films in Toronto], so I’m not taking that back.
Around the time you were leaving Suits, it became an even bigger phenomenon when word leaked that Meghan Markle was dating Prince Harry. Was that exciting to see the show get such global recognition in ways it hadn’t before?
GT: I honestly don’t know if that’s true. I think people watch the shows they watch because they love the shows they watch. The show was a global phenomenon because it was a good show, during, before, and after.
But more people became aware of it when Meghan and Harry became public.
GT: I think people tuned into it out of curiosity because everybody was certainly curious about it. I love my cast, so if it added another few years to the show, then great for the fans and great for them.
Did Meghan reach out to wish you good luck before Pearson started filming?
GT: No, I’m not in touch with Meghan. There’s no story in why I’m not in touch with Meghan. What I will say is—if I could offer a window into what it is to be an actor and live this crazy life—when you’re an actor, you meet hundreds of people during your career. The public only sees the characters that are on TV, but there are hundreds of people that make a show happen. If you’re as fortunate enough of an actor as I am, that has had a varied career, you can’t bring all those people with you.
There are people you have immediate and incredible chemistry with that you align with throughout the years, that are sustainable relationships. I enjoyed Meghan when we worked together. We had a great time as we worked together. We bore witness to a great many things in each other's lives while we worked together. But we were also in very different places in our lives and in our careers. Would she have been one of the people I would have had a sustainable relationship with years later had this phenomenon not happened? I don’t know. Perhaps not, because we were on such different trajectories. And there are others that you do, and there are others that you don’t. It’s a no-harm-no-foul thing. I got to absolutely give her my love and my best and wish her nothing but happiness at the wedding, and that’s the end of that story.
What made you and Sarah Rafferty connect and be one of those "sustainable relationships"?
GT: We have daughters that are the same age, so playdates were inevitable. Gabriel [Macht], Sarah, and I all have daughters that are the same age, so that was amazing and fun from the beginning. She makes me laugh out loud, and I think I do the same for her. We support each other. We are each other’s cheerleaders, and that’s always been the case.
Was there any advice you’re glad you didn’t listen to earlier in your career?
GT: I’m glad I never got my tits done!
Who told you that?
GT: It was somebody stupid. [Laughs.] I was in my early 20s.
Was it something you considered?
GT: I think any small-breasted woman considers it at some point in her life, but I knew enough then that it wasn’t going to help me. [Laughs.] That’s not what I was going for. It has to be driven from you, not someone else.
Now that Pearson is here, have you had a chance to sit back and reflect on what this project and this time in your life means to you?
GT: It’s massive, but I don’t often think about it because there’s more to do. It’s too early for that kind of reflection. If nothing else, the gift of being an executive producer really drives the point home that we don’t do this by ourselves. We don’t get here by ourselves. There are hundreds of people that are going into this, and I’m so proud and grateful for every last one of them.
Pearson premieres July 17 on USA Network.
Originally Appeared on Glamour