Actress Gina Torres Talks Her Chicago-Set 'Suits' Spinoff, 'Pearson'
By Heidi Mitchell, portrait by John Russo| July 8, 2019 |
Suits veteran Gina Torres takes the lead as the star and Executive Producer of Pearson, the show’s Second City-set spinoff.
Like many people, actor Gina Torres found herself confounded by the twists and turns of 2016. The Suits star was fascinated with “characters” coming out of the woodwork to speak on CNN (of which she admits she watched far too much), the riveting political “theater,” and intelligence experts talking about “bad actors.” “As an actor myself, it was like they were talking directly to me when they used those terms,” she recalls.
Torres began to analyze every player being beamed into her living room, considering if they were true believers, guns for hire, or “just riding this train until they get to the stop they wanted to get off on,” she recalls.
And as she pondered what kind of a person would do whatever it takes to stay afloat, to say anything to protect their livelihood, a lightbulb went off. “I thought, ‘Oh my god, Jessica Pearson [of Suits] has been doing that for six and a half years,’” says Torres, 50. “She walked that line, she jumped on either side of it, she blurred it, for what she believed was the greater good and the survival of her family and firm. Obviously, this character needed her own show. And it needed to be a political one."
So as Suits winds down, kicking off its ninth and final season on July 17, Pearson will make its debut on USA Networks (where swearing is allowed!). Pitched by Torres to Suits producer/creator Aaron Korsh following the presidential election (but before Rahm Emanuel announced he was not seeking reelection as mayor of Chicago), the show follows disbarred lawyer Jessica Pearson as she returns to her family’s hometown of Chicago to work as the mayor’s fixer—alongside the very woman who stripped the heroine of her license to practice. It’s a tense game of conflicting allegiances, complex family loyalties, office politics and the corruption that’s become all too familiar in municipal governance. But most of all, it’s a smart political drama with quick-witted dialogue that explores an enigmatic, unapologetic, successful attorney as she teeters on the thin line of justice for all.
Gina Torres steps back into her former Suits character, Jessica Pearson, a disbarred lawyer now making waves in Chicago, in her new USA Network series. (Photo by Adrian Burrows/courtesy of USA Network)
“Pearson is about how the decisions that the 5-percenters make affect the other 95 percent,” explains Torres, the executive producer and star of the prime-time show. There are teachers strikes and union bosses and office affairs and dirty money flying every which way— and then there is Jessica Pearson, trying to finally do the right thing. “I think it’s important to have Jessica be this incredibly visible, successful woman. It says it’s OK to be ambitious, it’s OK to want more. Haters are always gonna hate.”
When Torres isn’t romping around Grant Park, City Hall and the Loop backchanneling for the fictitious mayor (who looks a lot like Rahm), she’s chillaxing at the Thompson Hotel and reveling in the thrum of the city that’s similar but different to her own home of New York. “There’s a kind of diversity across all lines here—not just cultural or socioeconomic or racial—and you are bombarded by it, you can’t escape it, and I love it,” she says. She walks a lot, eats a lot and bumps into too many strangers as she looks toward the buildings that pierce the sky. “The architecture here is gorgeous and the people are cool, and we really wanted to film a city that looks like itself,” Torres says. “In that, I think we’ve succeeded.”
There’s a gritty, noir quality to the show, which wrestles with Jessica’s newfound drive to wear the white hat, even if her path strays into gray zones. Torres won’t give away any spoilers, but for Suits fans keen to make the leap to Pearson, she offers a warning. “I will quote one of my favorite movies, All About Eve: Fasten your seat belts. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.”