'Pearson's Gina Torres on 'Bending and Blurring the Line' in the Edgy 'Suits' Spinoff
When fans of Suits last saw former lead character Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres), the high-powered attorney had been disbarred and was headed to Chicago for a new role helping that city's mayor. The show's Season 7 finale served as a backdoor pilot for a Jessica Pearson spinoff, and that drama, appropriately titled Pearson, debuts this month on the same evening that Suits begins its ninth and final season.
Moving her story to Chicago presents a new life with new challenges for Jessica — as well as for star Torres, who takes on the mantle of executive producer for the first time with this project.
"This was my baby, actually," Torres says. "This was my pitch, my idea, to go into the world of Jessica… I always wanted to know more about Jessica, what made her tick. And then I left [Suits], and I thought, 'Well, that was fun. That was great.' And I started developing and looking at stories and writing down my own ideas about what I thought would be the next step for me as a producer, not necessarily for me as an actor."
Real-life events started leading Torres toward revisiting Jessica right away as her first producing project and placing the character into the down-and-dirty world of Chicago politics.
"I was completely obsessed with the 2016 election," says Torres, "and that world, and all the people that inhabit it. I started thinking of Jessica Pearson in that world, and how she was able to walk that line — incredibly stylishly, but also bending and blurring the line, for what she believed to be the greater good."
In New York City, Jessica largely ruled the roost as managing partner at a high-profile corporate law firm. In her new environment and role in Chicago, she maintains the confidence that viewers came to love about the character in her capacity as a political "fixer" to the mayor.
"When I started talking about the tone of the show, I wanted to see how it would be different from the tone of Suits," Torres explains. "And I absolutely thought Ray Donovan. Damages was also something [of an inspiration], but [also] sexy like Scandal and sexy like Suits in that kind of way.”
In Pearson, Jessica certainly carries her familiar Suits swagger while going toe-to-toe with shady aldermen, the city attorney (Bethany Joy Lenz), the mayor's press secretary (Eli Goree) and even the mayor himself (Morgan Spector). But her boldness is refreshingly tempered by the "bending and blurring the line" Torres referenced earlier, giving us new insights into the woman and her vulnerability.
"For me, that's certainly the beauty of being able to have this character and just open her up," Torres agrees. "So often we saw her at the top of the food chain, at the top of her game, always seven moves ahead of everybody else on the chessboard. Now, we get to see what it cost her. We get to see a fully fleshed-out human being. You don't get to where she is without the sacrifice, without the hurt, without the bad choices."
Some of what Jessica's previous decisions seem to have cost her is a relationship with certain family members, like her aunt, her cousin Angela (Chantel Riley) and Angela's two sons. They inhabit an entirely different reality than Jessica has, often struggling to make ends meet.
"It's not going to be easy," Torres says of Jessica's efforts to get back into her family's life. "She's just starting to get to know them, and there's an inherent distrust from somebody that comes from [Jessica's upscale] world."
This family dynamic is a nice counterbalance to the political intrigue and drama of Pearson. That element, not to mention the series' Chicago setting itself, additionally gives Torres a welcome storytelling chance to further explore not only Jessica's life but also wider issues and themes that weren't necessarily addressed much on Suits, which had its action largely set in a well-heeled world high above the streets of Manhattan.
"The stakes are definitely higher," she says, "because we're dealing with real-life issues. It's not this glossy world, [and that] was incredibly important to me. The look of it — not just in terms of the lighting and the landscape, but also the inhabitants of this world — are much more realistic and much more in tune with the kind of world that you would encounter in a big city. Far more diverse [than Suits] in that way."
Ultimately, despite agreeing that she is busy juggling many "balls in the air" with Pearson as both star and first-time executive producer, Torres has been finding the experience creatively and professionally satisfying thanks to her team's understanding of what she wants to achieve with this spinoff.
"My producing partners are fantastic," she says, referring to the team that includes Suits creator Aaron Korsh and Suits executive producer Daniel Arkin. "They know that this is real for me. This isn't a vanity project for me."
Pearson, Series Premiere, Wednesday, July 17, 10/9c, USA