You may have never heard of Gina Torres, but that doesn’t mean she’s not famous. In fact, it probably just means you’re not a sci-fi nerd. For TV heads with a taste for speculative fiction, the Washington Heights-born, Bronx-raised Cubana-Americana is revered as a goddess for her standout roles in everything from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys to Cleopatra 2525, Firefly, and even The Matrix sequels. But that doesn’t mean for a second that she’s not capable of taking on roles more clearly rooted in the here and now. Starting with her turns on daytime soaps like One Life to Live, and moving through recurring roles on action thrillers like Alias and 24, Torres has shown she’s capable of taking on any genre, any time, anywhere, all while bringing the unmistakable strength and badassery of a Caribeña from el Bronx to each role.
Now after over two decades in the television trenches, it seems the versatile 46-year-old thespian is finally poised to be front and center on a network drama that seems all but tailor made for her powerbroker swag. Written by Cuban-American playwright Charise Castro Smith and greenlit by ABC for a pilot episode, The Death of Eva Sofia Valdez will follow the series’ title character, a Cuban-American self-made entrepreneur who moonlights as a vocal immigrant’s rights activist. Despite her charmed life, things for Eva Sofía aren’t quite so hunky-dory as they appear on the surface as she struggles with unbridled ambition, a lust for vengeance, and some literal ghosts from her past.
Fans of the USA legal drama Suits may be quietly panicking at the prospect that Gina’s time as cutthroat attorney and astute chess master Jessica Pearson might be drawing to a close — and the truth is if the pilot moves to series, we might be seeing a steady phase-out of Ms. Pearson’s screen time. But fear not, for Gina Torres’ entire career arc seems to have been leading her to this moment, and it’s about time we got the image of a strong, complex, brown-skinned Cubana on primetime network TV. Here’s a look back at some of the roles that got her there.
UPDATE 1/6/2017: In May of 2016, ABC announced it passed on the pilot and won’t produce The Death of Eva Sofia Valdez as a series.
This bizarre sci-fi series had a brief, two-season run and gave Torres her first role in the main cast after playing recurring characters and one-offs in a number of television series. Executive produced by Sam Raimi, Cleopatra 2525 tells the story of an exotic dancer named Cleo who falls into coma during breast augmentation surgery and wakes up from suspended animation 525 years in the future. There she falls in with a small group of women led by Hel who lead the resistance against the “Baileys”: drone-like armed flying machines that terrorize humanity, forcing them to live in a network of underground shafts and tunnels.
Apparently Torres’ run on Cleopatra 2525 landed her in the sights of iconic show creator Joss Whedon, who offered her a role in the main cast for his short-lived “sci-fi western” Firefly. Now a cult classic, Firefly told the story of a group of pioneers living on the fringes of galactic society after losing a civil war to an unholy alliance between the United States and China. Torres plays the first mate of the “firefly class” ship Serenity, an unflaggingly faithful companion to the ships captain, Mal.
Whedon apparently wasn’t through with Torres after Firefly kicked the bucket, and the super-producer quickly snatched her up for a recurring role on his Buffy-spinoff Angel. Angel follows the work of a vampire who was returned to human form by vengeful gypsies and purges his guilt by saving lost souls and battling evil demons. Jasmine is one of those demons. Known as the “Devourer” she takes on human form with the intent of turning humanity into an army of super slaves. The role won Torres a Sattelite Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Phyllis “Bella” Crawford
While she was squeezing into her futuristic wardrobe in the early 2000s, Torres also happened to marry an up-and-coming actor by the name of Laurence Fishburne (insert irony emoji). Just about a decade after their marriage, the husband-and-wife duo finally had the chance to act side by side in this uncommonly artistic show about a cultured serial killer and the mad law enforcement rush to stop him. Torres plays the dying wife of Special Agent in charge of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, played by Fishburne.
Jessica Lourdes Pearson
USA’s critically acclaimed legal drama follows the day-to-day inner workings of a high powered New York City law form, focusing on a legal wunderkind and college dropout name Mike Ross who constantly struggles to hide his lack of formal law education. The show has garnered much praise for Torres’ performance as the co-founding and managing partner at the fictional Pearson Specter Litt, where she serves as a mentor for young associates as well as a cutthroat operator who’s not afraid to oust other partners to serve her interests.