We all know the world has changed in the last few years, and, like everyone else, Gina Torres is acutely aware of that.
Her Suits spinoff, Pearson, was a casualty of the changing face of television. She notes, "I loved where we were going. I honestly loved the show. I loved doing it. I love being a part of the creative process of it. I think we put together a really beautiful show that deserved a longer life. We had really sketched out a couple of really beautiful seasons. Season one was just the launch into moving further into those rooms that I wanted to go into.
"But it was a perfect storm. When something's not working, a lot of executives just sort of pass the buck or whoever draws the short straw is the one that you get the call from. You know, 'I'm sorry, but it's not - but it was great working on that. Bye.'
And I would say that with "Pearson," I got a call from everybody, everyone that was involved, everyone at those top levels from Bill McGoldrick, to Chris McCumber, to Dawn Olmstead, to Bonnie Hammer. I mean, all the guys at Hypnotic. Every single last one of them called me and made time to say it wasn't you. It wasn't the show.
"They believed in the show. They loved the show. It was that perfect storm that we find ourselves in at this moment in time where, where does traditional cable go? Because it's never had the same numbers that broadcasters had.
And then when you're not really part of a streaming thing - because streaming has completely taken over how anybody watches TV - when you're on a cable show that still depends on broadcast numbers, and you have an audience that has become accustomed to, 'oh, well, I'll get around to that when I get around to it. ' Then how do you seduce and get an audience of several million people in 10 weeks, not even 10 weeks? In like, three weeks.
"It's hard. And it's so much more crowded now than it was when we started Suits.
'And so we kind of fell into that no man's land of 'oh yeah, I love the show. I'll get around to it. Or you could sort of see it on the weekly ratings where like, every third week, there would be like a [surge]- because people were stocking up, and then catching up and then watching So there would be a little surge when they finally sat down to watch everything.
'So we just fell into that sort of no man's land and it's unfortunate. But hopefully everybody will learn and figure this out. I mean, there's so much out there. There's so much content out there. It's kind of crazy. You could live your whole life and just sit in front of the TV and not get through it.'
Torres had just found out that Pearson was being cancelled and was shooting a pilot when, as she says, "The world came to a full stop. And I, like so many people, certainly actors in general - I was in New York at the time - just thought, 'well, we'll never work again. It's all going to be animation. We're never going to work again.'
"I don't think most people really understand the scope of production, the hundreds of people it takes to make a movie, or a television show, or a Broadway show. It's the thing that generates economies."
And, just when the world stopped, Torres explains, "I would say in May, June, when it was obvious that the pilot wasn't going to go on, and producers and studios everywhere were trying to figure out what our world was going to look like, I got a call. And it's my agent. The manager said 'Tim Minear needs to talk to you about a character on 9-1-1 Lone Star, and they will be going back into production in the fall, as soon as they figure it out.'
"And I had worked with Tim on Firefly 18 years ago and followed him, and him going into the Ryan Murphy world and American Horror Story and the incredible things that he's in. Feud, obviously, which is right in my wheelhouse of things I love to watch and people that I love to see."
And so it was that Torres was cast in 9-1-1 Lone Star as Tommie Vega, a paramedic captain reluctantly returning to work because her husband is out of work due to the pandemic.
Torres describes the process, "And there was this new thing called a Zoom conference. Newfangled Zoom conference that I was called into. And he pitched the character to me and her place in the show. I had actually prepared before the Zoom. I had watched some. I said, 'ah, I'll watch a couple of episodes and see,' and ended up watching all 10 of the first season and thought, well, this isn't just fun. They're doing something, and refreshingly so.
"One of the things that I loved about it was right out of the gate, it wasn't like, 'oh, we're going to subliminally invite you into a diverse world.' No. They said, 'this is what we are and who we are. This is what we're doing. Suck it up. Get used to it. And by the way, you're going to love us.' And I just I loved that. I love that it's pretending to be a procedural, but it's not. It's character-driven.
"And the way Tommy Vega was laid out to me, she was, is absolutely all the things that I had hoped to play, and realize, and embody on screen in a character in ways that I really haven't gotten to before. I mean, she's just a real chick. And she's got an extraordinary skill set, but she's just a real chick. She's scared, she's unsure, she's in love.
"She has to figure out how to balance her life, her work life, and her home life, and all of those things. It's complicated. And how do we work it through?"
Off screen, the production also addresses the pandemic. Torres says, "Production has been incredible. I mean. We laugh. We say we have to COVID police on set, and we do because positions have actually been created on set to make sure that guidelines are being followed, that we keep our masks on in between shots. There's so many levels of protection for us.
"We started shooting in October. And just before break, we were able to catch just a couple of cases very early on. Never had to shut down production. Thankfully everybody's been fine and OK. Now, we're trying to figure out when we come back from winter break because California, it's just beyond hot right now, as most of the country is coming out of the holidays and whatever folks weren't doing or doing."
The pandemic takes its toll on everyone, including those working in television. Torres says, "We're exhausted, and we're oppressed, and depressed, and missing people. That piece hasn't hurt me so much because I have a teenage daughter and I'm a bit of a hermit anyway. I'm not 'little miss party. let's go hang out,' so I've actually been OK, but I understand.
"But there's a point between - there's gotta be a happy medium, and there is a happy medium between reconnecting with people and being reckless. And there was a whole lot of recklessness going on. And yeah, I just want to listen. I'm in my 50s now, and I don't feel as bulletproof as I did when I was 25 or even 35.
"I will say that we have an incredible crew. We have an incredible staff. We have a beautiful cast, and they're all gorgeous, and they're all young, and they're all so well-behaved and doing the right thing because we all want to work. And like I said, hundreds of people depend on us staying in production and working. It's not just the actors that you see. It's not a selfish act.
"I know it weighs heavy on my head what the ripple effect of being stupid can be. And so we're all feeling that way. And we're all anxious to get back to work, and get back to work safely, and bring our cool stories to people."