From showrunner Daniel Arkin and executive produced by Suits creator Aaron Korsh, the USA Network drama series Pearson follows recently disbarred NYC powerhouse lawyer Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres), as she figures out exactly what she can bring to the world of Chicago politics. As the newly appointed right-hand fixer for Mayor Bobby Novak (Morgan Spector), Jessica is now in a crooked and dangerous world where she has to weigh doing the right thing with doing her job, especially when those two things don’t necessarily always line up. The series also stars Bethany Joy Lenz, Simon Kassianides, Eli Goree, Isabel Arraiza and Chantel Riley.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Gina Torres (Suits, Hannibal, Firefly) talked about being heavily involved with the creation and development of this series, how the spin-off came about, getting to more deeply explore Jessica Pearson, working on such incredible sets, her hope that they’ll get to continue to tell this story for further seasons, and why viewers can tune into this series, even if they’ve never seen an episode of Suits.
Collider: You said in one of the promos for the show that Jessica Pearson is known for getting things done, and so is Gina Torres, which is particularly true when it comes to this show. How cool is it to know that this TV series exists because of an idea that you came up with?
GINA TORRES: It’s very cool. It’s actually quite astonishing. Producing is something that I’ve always wanted to do, shortly after I realized how much fun being an actor is and how much I enjoy that. It was truly an evolution, in terms of, “What’s the next step in telling the story?” It’s finding the story, getting the story told, and creating worlds, and the only way that you can make the most impact and be as true to an original vision as you would like to be, is to be in the driver’s seat, or shotgun, as it were. There are so many hands that go into making a show, and I’m just so grateful that people saw what I saw. People who were in a position to actually make something happen saw what I saw, and were more than willing and excited about collaborating with me on it.
When you left Suits, had you hoped that there would be a spin-off, or did you walk away from that show believing that you were done, except for maybe some guest spots, here and there?
TORRES: I was done, and happily so. I didn’t burn any bridges, thank god for that. That’s Lesson 101. It was a character that I loved and loved playing. I felt like I was done, but absolutely left the door open for any possibilities, just to come in and out. And then, after about a year, it was just a perfect storm of events. I was already in that creative state of mind. I was writing, and I was meeting with other writers. I was looking at other projects and creating original content. I was also obsessed with the 2016 presidential election and all the people that inhabited that world, and I just became fascinated with the depth of the rabbit hole, in a way that I had never really seen before.
In my lifetime, I’ve never seen these circumstances, and I just kept thinking of Jessica. There was a commentator on CNN, and it was the first time that I had heard people in the intelligence community use the phrase, “He’s a bad actor.” I was like, “Wait, what’s going on?!” My actor brain started breaking down all of these people, in terms of a character study, and eventually, it got me to Jessica. Would she be considered a good actor or a bad actor? Here’s a woman that I played for the better part of six or seven years, who absolutely blurred the line between right and wrong, and did it with a ferocity and an intelligence, all for what she believed to be the greater good.
Those who are fans of the show were on board with her because my greater good was their greater good. It was about the survival of the firm and keeping her people protected. At the end of the day, she absolutely fell on her sword for what she believes in, which is the law and Mike Ross, and all of that. That’s a very long explanation, but that’s how Jessica Pearson ended up in the political arena. And because, when we last saw her, she was walking off into the sunset with Jeff Malone, towards Chicago, Chicago turned out to be the best and perfect place to set this show in. And then, I started talking to (executive producers) Aaron Korsh and Daniel Arkin, and we started throwing ideas back and forth, until it became what it is now.
One of the interesting things about this show is that you’re taking a character that we’re familiar with from another show, and you’re putting her in this new place with all of these new characters around her, and we get to see these new dynamics. After having finished a season of this show and digging deeper into all of the various aspects of her, are there things that you’ve learned about Jessica Pearson that you didn’t know, from playing her on Suits?
TORRES: I had to fill in a lot of blanks, when I played her on Suits, and a lot of those blanks were addressed in the creation of Pearson and the evolution of Jessica. What made her such a beautiful fit, I believe, for spin off, is that you really knew very little about her on Suits. She served a very specific purpose, and she did so beautifully. And so, when you’re thinking of opening up her world, there were so many doors to walk through, and windows to crawl through, and things to explore, that it really was almost like a new woman. I’m putting forth a completely new, fully realized woman. You don’t just get to see for save the day. You see what goes into saving the day. You see the sacrifices that go into saving the day. You see the moral conflict. You see the benefits and the rewards, and you also see what it costs, to live that kind of a life.
Do you think that she’s excited by the challenges that she has to face, or does she regret that she ended up here?
TORRES: Jessica really is a shark, in that sense of the word. She’s gotta keep moving. She’s gotta cut through the water and see what’s out there. I think that excites her and keeps her going. That keeps her energized. She loves a challenge, and she excels at finding her way out from behind the eight ball. She might not always like it, but she gets there.
On this show, it’s so interesting to see Jessica Pearson as both a boss and an employee. She has people that work for her and alongside of her, and she has people that she can send out to do things for her, but she also has to answer to the mayor. How does she feel about that?
TORRES: She’s not very good at it. She was top dog and at the top of the pyramid, for quite some time, so she’s learning. She has to re-learn and re-develop that skill set. But her goal is ultimately to not have too many people to answer to, if any, at all.
She strikes me as someone who would prefer not to have to answer to anyone.
TORRES: Yeah, it’s so much easier. But at the same time, for the audience, it will be great to see her humbled in that way because it’s not just coming from the mayor. It’s also coming from her seriously unimpressed co-workers and cousins and family. She’s got a long road to travel, in terms of proving her worth and proving her sincerity. They’re like, “Who is this woman?” She’s come out of nowhere. I love that part of it. I love that aspect of it. She’s learning, and it’s never too late. If I’ve learned anything, in my 50 years on the planet, it’s that it’s never, ever too late to learn something new, and to learn something of value. If nothing else, you’re actually more ready to accept those lessons, and be grateful for the lessons.
On a little bit more superficial level, you have some beautiful sets on this show. What is it like to walk onto these sets, especially a working replica of City Hall? Does it ever get old, or is it always mind-blowing?
TORRES: It never gets old, shooting in pretend City Hall, not ever. Being able to do this show, and having this show even exist, is incredible. When I walked onto the set, for the first time, and it was in the process of being built, I don’t think that the public at large really understands and really takes in just how many people it takes to put a show together. Those 45 minutes that you’re engaged in involves hundreds of people. When I walk onto the sound stage and I saw the delicacy and the intricacy with which the construction crew created City Hall, and there’s the bull pen, and then there’s Jessica apartment, I quite literally burst into tears, not just to see the world that I imagined being created, but knowing that all of these people were working and had jobs because of something that I thought up. They got to stay in L.A. with their families. To be able to provide a level of security for hundreds of people, for the five months that we shot, is so overwhelmingly beautiful. It’s really hard to explain it. It’s so much bigger than just what everybody gets to see. The hours that the writers put in, the hours that construction puts in, the hours that the crew puts in, the hours that the tailors in the costume department put in and the thought process behind every stitch of clothing that we wear, and the actors showing up, and we did so with such pride and joy, it makes everything worth it.
Because you are so heavily involved with this series, have you already had discussions about what a second season could look like and what you might explore? Have you thought about where things could go next for her?
TORRES: Oh, absolutely. Those are all on-going conversations that we’re having, with bated breath. We don’t know if we’re gonna get a second season yet. We’ve gotta get people to watch first. I hope we do. The world is vast and complicated, and it’s fascinating right now. We touch on so many important issues, and we did so, in a way that never forgets that we want to keep the audience interested and entertained, but we also want to take full advantage of the fact that we have a powerful platform. What television and film does at its best is really mirror where we are, as human beings in society. I believe that we were able to touch on a great many topics that are affecting us all, at a national level and on a global level, in some instances. To be able to continue to do that would be an incredible honor.s
As a fan of Suits, since the beginning, and Jessica Pearson, and always thinking that you were a bad-ass yourself, this show is perfect for me, but some people will be introduced to Jessica Pearson, for the first time, when they tune into this show. What most excites you about those new viewers?
TORRES: I’m excited for them. First of all, I really hope that they don’t feel like they have to catch up on eight or nine seasons of Suits, to be qualified to watch the show. It is its own animal with its own feel, and will, I pray, take its own space in the very, very crowded arena of television. If you love a mystery, Pearson is for you. If you love bad-ass women, Pearson is for you. If you love complicated interpersonal relationships, Pearson is for you. If you love sexy romance and good looking people, Pearson is for you. And if you love intelligent storytelling, Pearson is for you.
Pearson airs on Wednesday nights on the USA Network, starting July 17th.