For six seasons, Jessica Pearson was always the biggest fish on the USA legal drama. Being the boss meant that she was almost always in control. Her purpose was mainly to keep her subordinates in line and her law firm afloat. In the new series, she's been stripped of her law license and works for a mayor she can't quite tell is on the right side of the law. But now that Jessica's name isn't on the wall but is the title of the show, viewers will get to see a new side — in fact, many sides — of the attorney they weren't privy to before.
TV Guide spoke to Torres during the most recent Television Critics Association press tour about what it was like to dig into Jessica's more personal side and the struggles we'll see her face in the upcoming series. Warning: You should buckle up, because everyone is in for a ride.
Walk me through the timeline a little bit of your decision to leave Suits and then series creator Aaron Korsh coming to you with the spin-off. How did that come to be?
Gina Torres: Gosh. I left Suits halfway through Season 6 for personal reasons. My dad was not well, and so I needed to be with him. That's why I said, "I got to go. I'm too far away from where he is," because they shoot in Toronto, and my dad was in California. They were kind enough to let me go, and I ended up going back a couple of times, as everyone knows.
It wasn't Aaron that came to me with the spin-off. I came to Aaron. Actually, I went to Bonnie Hammer, [chairman of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group] ... I was just at home watching how the presidential race was going in 2016 and became completely obsessed with politics and the machinations of politics and Kellyanne Conway and her particular take on things. I just kept thinking of the kind of people that would inhabit this very specific world ... and Jessica came to mind. It'd been about a year, and I thought, "Well, Jessica did that all the time. Jessica Pearson did that all the time on Suits. She walked that very, very fine razor's edge and then hopped on either side of it in service to the firm." ... I started writing some ideas down. I was having lunch with Bonnie Hammer one afternoon, and I pitched it to her, and she loved the idea. Then Aaron called me, and then he and I hashed out a rough version of it. Then he brought on Daniel Arkin, and here we are.
We're getting a lot more of a personal side of Jessica than we ever got on Suits. For that storyline, what did you want to show there and what did you want to reveal to people about this character that we thought we knew so well?
Torres: [On Suits], Jessica was the boss, and she knew how to manipulate her family, her work family around her. She had this extraordinary skill set to dominate and get it done and look great in the process, but you very, very, if ever, got to go home with her. You never got to see what running a firm cost her, what the sacrifices were that she made along the way, how it affects her interpersonal relationships — a little bit towards the end, but really not so much. It wasn't her story to tell. It was Mike and Harvey's story by and large.
This spin-off is an opportunity to get to know Jessica for all those reasons. What makes her tick? What's important to her? Are her priorities changing? Yes. Does she still have her special skill set? Absolutely. How is she going to use it in this new world that is completely alien to her? We also have a family that she's just getting to know that the audience will get to know along with her.
Was there anything that came up while you were developing the spin-off that surprised you about her, or did everything that you guys come up with feel natural?
Torres: No. It's absolutely natural, and it's growing in a very organic way. We had a set of goals, which was to see Jessica be an entire woman, like a fully, realized, entire human being, not just — I often joke that she was like this pod person, that she would just plug herself in at the end of the night because she just lived in the office. But we needed to see more of her. We needed to see what makes her cry, what makes her laugh, what warms her heart, what drives her into the next level, through the next challenge. All of those things.
Jessica is not the boss in this new series. She has people to answer to. What was that adjustment like when going to play her again?
Torres: I think anybody who's a fan of Suits, who's familiar with that character — not necessarily that you have to be a fan of Suits — but anyone that's used to being the king of their world, now they have to take a backseat or they're taking on a partner, that's a difficult adjustment to make. You're just not used to answering to anybody. You will see her go up against and hit that wall kind of fiercely a couple of different times.
I also believe that her nature is that of a collaborative. She has a collaborative nature in a way. She wants to work with other people, and she wants to learn. She understands that. She hits a lot of walls. She doesn't know everything, and she wants to learn how to best function in this world, and the only way to do that is sometime to follow.
What are you most excited for fans to see when they finally get to watch Pearson?
Torres: If they're a fan of Suits and if they're a fan of Jessica's, I hope that they stick with us and just see this next chapter. If they're coming to me fresh, I want viewers to become immediately invested in this fantastic world, in this world that is so beautifully represented in so many ways, that is absolutely representative of the world that we live in, with characters fully fleshed out, interesting characters that are complicated and funny and charming, and they've got stuff. They've got stuff that they're dealing with.
Pearson premieres Wednesday, July 17 at 10/9c on USA.