While USA’s legal drama Suits is heading into its ninth and final season, the story isn’t over for Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres), who is embarking on a new adventure on the spin-off series Pearson. After being disbarred, the former powerhouse lawyer has headed to Chicago and becomes involved with politics in the Windy City. Once she’s appointed as the mayor’s right-hand fixer, she becomes embroiled in the contentious (and occasionally crooked) scene.
Torres, who is also an executive producer on the new series, spoke to Rotten Tomatoes about bringing the show she envisioned to life, getting to see new sides of a character she’s played for many years, and what she’s currently watching.
Oh, God! [I’m never home] and able to sit down in front of anything. The closest thing to appointment viewing I gotta say is … The View. I love The View! I’ll try to tape it if I know somebody wonderful is on. I love to watch those ladies debate, because they’re all smart and they all have a point of view. They’re all strong women with a point of view, and not just political but social. They cover such a wide ground and they keep it fun. They’ve got a great panel now. They’re all well-suited and interesting.
Streaming is The Handmaid’s Tale, The Crown — when that comes back. It’s been a while, right? I miss them! I started watching something the other day. It’s hard to get consistent with it. I do love Outlander. That’s on there. But, I’m like a season and a half behind. It took me so long to get out of France!
On my DVR is Yellowstone. I’m a Kevin Costner super-fan. I’ve just loved him since Field of Dreams. I would watch anything and everything and he’s been in. The thing about being an actor and you’re blessed with a long career is that you can see the arc of the man and the roles that they choose and the things that they put into place, and he’s been producing content for quite some time now. You can just see that this is something so close to his heart; the topics that he’s bringing up — the indigenous people and reservation life — and he’s bringing it up in such a way that you never see. He’s not an immediately likable character on the show, which I also love just in terms of the trajectory of an actor and what they choose to do in the course of their lives. It’s smart, intelligent storytelling with a fantastic cast and interesting characters.
I also have a bunch of old movies that if I see Turner Classic Movies is going to air way too late I’ll just record. “Oh, Network, I haven’t seen that in forever!” “The China Syndrome, I love that!” “Yes, love Barbara Stanwyck!” All of those things are on [my DVR too].
Jean Bentley for Rotten Tomatoes: When you left Suits you probably didn’t know that you were going to revisit Jessica Pearson on her very own series.
Torres: No, absolutely not. That was not part of the plan.
It seems that you were the driving force behind getting this series made. Why it was so important to you?
I needed a job! So, that’s a pretty strong driving force. You never really know how things are going to come together. I was already in the process of putting my foot into the producer pool and looking to partner with writers and create original content and put shows on the air that not only spoke to me but I believed would speak to people that were feeling underrepresented in telling stories that were reflective of the world that I live in. Really the 2016 election just changed everything. I was sitting there watching real drama play out, a really interesting cast of characters doing their thing day in and day out. I started thinking about Jessica, and I started thinking about Jessica in terms of politics and the similarities of her characteristics that were in line with those that I was watching. From an outsider’s perspective, she can be kind of shady . She can be a little manipulative and she’s incredibly powerful. She knows where a lot of bodies are buried, and she can at any given moment decide to use her powers for good — or evil. But she’s always chosen good.
When we last saw her, that was her choice. She was leaving corporate life and she wanted to get back to what was important to her, and I thought, well, what better way to do that than in the political arena, to bring all her skill sets to the political world? Because the last time we saw her, she was on her way to Chicago to be reunited with Jeff [D.B. Woodside]. That’s organically where this story leads us. I told the right people and they were super interested in this dynamic as well, and in the narrative, and we all got to work to make it happen.
What new sides of Jessica will we be able to see on the show that we didn’t really get to see on Suits?
We got to see very little of Jessica’s personal life and all the repercussions of the choices that she’s made. She was always so very busy saving the firm or saving somebody attached to the firm. We’re going to get to see a fully realized woman which I’m very, very excited about. She gets a family now — a family that she didn’t know she had and a family that doesn’t necessarily like her very much all the time, and how that shakes her up a little bit. Navigating the new world of the mayor’s office, of city hall. Whether or not her past will actually serve her for the better or whether it’s an impediment. She’s not coming in clean. So, there’s that — and she’s working alongside the woman who took her license. We also get into her relationship with Jeff, so there’s a lot of heart and soul and vulnerability to this Jessica.
What’s something about producing that has surprised you or been difficult to juggle alongside starring in the show?
Fortunately, a lot of the pre-production is where I get to roll up my sleeves and really get in there. It’s storylines and casting and making sure that our vision of the show stays as true and consistent throughout the season, and to find ways of pushing the envelope. That’s fun and that’s exciting and I love that.
The challenges of it are being new to this area, being new as an executive producer, and remembering that I actually have a say. That I can speak up and request or question or participate and add to the conversation things that may not have been heard if I were just an actress. Just remembering that you have that power is a new skill set. That’s a new muscle! And then learning how to make your voice heard in such a way that’s not defensive or alienating or none of it’s an argument. We’re all just sharing. I think just as actors we’re collaborative. You just have to remember that you have the power!
Yeah! You have the power and you know you have the competence, you know you have the skills. You just have to be able to do it.
Right! But that’s the thing — I’ve been doing it for so long you kind of forget how much you know. You’re in the room and you’re going, “Wait, I think it would be better if…” I have this conversation with people all the time — [as an actor] you’re so concerned about what the next job is going to be that it’s hard to lift your head up and see how far you’ve come. When you take stock of certainly all of my experience and all of the people that I’ve gotten to work with and all of the people that I’ve gotten to learn from, it’s all in there. It’s time to put it to use.
Pearson premieres on the same night as the final season of Suits. Do you feel bittersweet about that show ending? Jessica Pearson is alive and well and thriving in Chicago.
Well, I’m not saying goodbye to Jessica at all. I’m saying, “Hey girl, hey!” That’s a good feeling. It’s bittersweet. It was because of Suits I get to have Jessica and all her fabulousness forever more. I got to meet some incredible dear, dear people. Also, from a completely objective perspective, that was a really good run, and a rare one. I mean, we all know a lot of things don’t last that long at all, and so to have lightning strike in such a beautiful way is great. So, everybody, you can pat yourselves on the back and say job well done.
Pearson premieres Wednesday, July 17 at 10 p.m. on USA.