It is not in Gina Torres’ nature to be late. When the 52-year-old arrives to our Santa Monica shooting location, she’s a glowing, statuesque, running-early vision against the sound of the Wilshire Boulevard traffic and the scrambling crew.
When we speak a few days later, she’s slightly flustered, a bit unsettled and very apologetic because her shoot day for FOX’s 9-1-1 Lone Star, making its third season premiere today, ran long. “You are now seeing the immediate effect of how hard we work on this one!” she shares with a laugh over Zoom, while simultaneously figuring out how to turn off the Do Not Disturb switch on her pinging email.
“It is hard, it is exhausting. On my days off, I suffer from adrenaline withdrawal—it’s like I have an adrenaline hangover. The thing about filmmaking and television-making is that it is a marathon of sprints. There’s action, and you’re going from 0 to 100, on-and-off, for quite a few hours during the day.”
For someone who has been performing for pretty much her entire life (as the daughter of Cuban immigrants, Torres grew up in the Bronx and attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, more commonly referred to as the “Fame” school) with a long resume to match, it comes across as an honest, not-so-glamorous glimpse into what it takes to be a working actor—even when your coworkers are names like Rob Lowe and Meghan Markle.
It feels good to be here, to be alive, to be viable and feel very much in my body.
“Baths help,” she shares. “Lavender, eucalyptus…there’s nothing better than a good Epsom salt bath at the end of the day to help with a little lactic acid buildup. Keeping it quiet or just listening to music helps. I love to cook; I love to hang out with my family. Just getting back to normal, getting to any kind of normalcy, and a human pace is what helps me.”
Can you give a glimpse into what viewers can look forward to in the new season?
“Well, the trailer says it all—the trailer is pretty amazing. We do have an ice storm that takes everybody by surprise, not unlike the ice storm that took everybody by surprise last year in Texas. Shooting this story arc was such an important reminder of how much we all need and depend on each other. We begin the season after they’ve taken away our firehouse. So we’re all spread out into these different stations, but find ourselves coming together in big and small ways. As first responders, we make it happen for the greater good. Lives need to be saved, people need to be taken out of harm’s way. That’s really the thrust of this season for me. That we’re there for each other—no matter what.”
A good message for the collective world.
“Yes! I’m almost afraid to say anything about the year 2022, because we came out of 2020 with a bang thinking things would be so much better. With all of us feeling like the world has gone sideways, my hope is we can find a larger sense of humanity and kindness within ourselves. How much worse does it have to get before we all finally realize and truly understand that we’re all in this together? Imagine what we could do then?”
You’ve had some very different roles over your career. Is there anything that really sticks out to you?
“There was no woman more glamorous than Jessica Pearson [in Suits], just from head-to-toe. I learned so much. I always loved fashion, but I learned so much about fashion and filmmaking from a wardrobe perspective—how that all plays into telling a complete story of a person being in a situation. The wardrobe is armor. She remains iconic to me, and she is just so much fun. I think, as an actor, you play dress up for a living a little bit, but she has stayed with me more than anyone.”
You did an interview with CNN last summer that was very honest with your thoughts on the hesitation of the industry to cast Afro-Latinos. Do you think that that’s gotten any better this year?
I feel sexy as hell sometimes, and I feel tired as hell sometimes.
“It’s hard to gauge year-to-year…but a perfect example right now would be West Side Story. You have the original West Side Story, which was made more than 60 years ago, and you have to look at it as a timepiece. How it was cast, some of the lyrics, are all a product of its time. And its time was one of sanctioned racism and misogyny. I’m not attempting to be apologetic about the ignorance that was so prevalent in our industry, but that’s how and what it was. It was ignorance and commerce serving the status quo—which meant that people of color were negotiable at best, but most often inconsequential, if not entirely invisible. Even in stories about themselves.
I still believe the original holds up, because the story—ironically, about the absurdity and danger of racism—still holds up, the music still holds up, it’s still a great way to spend two hours, and it gave us Rita Moreno! Now, flash-forward 60 years, and Steven Spielberg saw an opportunity to do better and right a wrong, because we have to do better. And I believe he did. Is it perfect? No. Is it enough? In the last 60 years, you would think, and you would hope, by now, that we would all have better representation, and so many more and different opportunities. One movie can’t do it all, but it’s another beautiful step in the right direction.
In the ’60s and the ’70s, so much headway was made, so much progress was made in how we tell stories and who is at the center of the narrative. But we pretty much continue to take four steps forward, and then three steps back. That is what’s infuriating and frustrating for those of us—Black, POC, Indigenous, Asian, LGBTQIA—in this industry, and not just in this industry, but across the board. We want to see sustained progress.
I’m not my mother’s 50, and I love it.
Can I tell you it’s a whole lot better this year, as opposed to it was last year? No, I can’t, but we continue to talk about it, and we’re having these conversations, and we can put some pressure on the thumbs that make the choices. We can open them up to all the possibilities that are out there. They can no longer use the excuse that the talent pool doesn’t exist, because it most definitely does.
Ultimately, it is about commerce and changing the status quo, and the film industry just hasn’t been as willing to take a chance on an unknown person of color as they’re willing to take a chance on a completely unknown white person. They need to start taking chances on other parts of the population. That’s what it comes down to.”
It’s a big conversation in beauty as well. Do you think it’s gotten better there?
“Absolutely! The faces of the supermodels certainly changed as I was coming up. Naomi [Campbell] was a revelation! Alek [Wek] was a revelation! All of these incredible women! I get giddy when I see Viola Davis in her beauty campaigns; I get excited when I see Eva Longoria in her ads for L’Oréal. It’s happening—and it’s not just happening in terms of culture and colorism, but also ageism. That’s changing, too. Look at what Helen Mirren is doing with L’Oréal. It’s fantastic.”
There’s so much talk about women and ageism being discussed right now. Do you feel that professionally and personally?
“I do very much, and I’m grateful to feel that way. I’m super grateful for it. I’m not my mother’s 50, and I love it. The older I get, the more I get to check off the boxes. And there are so many great boxes to check off.
I love the joy of not sweating the small stuff.
It feels good to be here and be alive and be viable and feel very much in my body. I feel sexy as hell sometimes, and I feel tired as hell sometimes—because I’ve earned that, too. There are so many great things that aging brings, including wisdom and a better sense of humor about yourself. Most of all, I love the joy of not sweating the small stuff. I think that’s the gift.”
Do you have any advice you’d like to give to your younger self when you were starting out?
“I always answer this question a lot of different ways; I guess it depends on my mood! But it really does get better, it really does gets easier. And no one can be a better you than you.”