The Stunning Transformation Of Gina Torres

Gina Torres is a strong, formidable woman, not unlike her character in the popular legal drama "Suits." Jessica Pearson isn't someone you mess with, and when she puts her mind to something, she does whatever it takes to accomplish her goals. Torres is much the same. Born on April 25, 1969, and raised in the Bronx, she didn't grow up your typical New York City girl. Her family originally hailed from Cuba but migrated to the United States amid political tensions that eventually led to the Cuban Revolution. "[I was] living in an apartment with all kinds of culture, every language and smell imaginable, and a sense of community," Torres told USA Today.

Torres navigated city life along with her two older siblings, and even though their parents were raising their kids in the States, they didn't let them forget their roots. But Torres was soon faced with the conundrum of being put in a box, especially when she started working as an actress. Suddenly, she was seen as Black and only Black, despite her Cuban heritage, she told MSNBC. She had to adapt to survive in the industry, but that doesn't mean she blended into the background quietly.

Since her ascent to fame, Torres has taken some notable strides when it comes to fighting for representation in Hollywood. If you're wondering where she got her badass attitude and resolve from, read on as we take a look at the actress' childhood and her life up to this point.

Gina Torres dreamed of becoming a musical theater star

Gina Torres might be a famous TV and movie actress today, but when she was a little girl, all she wanted to do was musical theater. This isn't surprising given that she attended the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York. Before she honed her acting skills, Torres trained in jazz and opera and had big dreams of gracing a Broadway stage in a musical one day.

"Singing was definitely one of my loves," Torres told The Blade. "Then, as life does, it took a turn, and other great things have happened," she added. While making an appearance on The Kelly Clarkson Show, Torres told Clarkson that she couldn't imagine herself doing anything else but musical theater when she was young. "I just wanted to live and die on the musical theater stage," she said. Speaking to USA Today, Torres explained that her dream of doing musical theater was born after watching "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg" on Broadway with her classmates. She was moved by Stockard Channing's performance in the show and found herself wanting to impact others in the same way. "I just remembered thinking, I want to do that. I want other people to feel the way she made me feel," Torres recalled.

Gina Torres was taller than her peers from a young age

Gina Torres didn't quite fit in when she was a kid. For starters, she was taller than most of her peers, and while that certainly made her stand out, it's also been her secret superpower over the course of her acting career.

During an interview with The Blade, Torres explained that, as a kid, people always thought she was older than she really was because of her height. "[T]hey project onto you a kind of maturity. You either step up to it or you don't. I just stepped up into that, into a kind of authority, a kind of maturity that was expected of me," she said. This has led to Torres' no-nonsense attitude and quiet strength, which many think is all there is to her. But she revealed that she's really one big goofball behind all that emotional armor. She doesn't show that side of her to just anyone, however. "It used to be a very well-kept secret," she quipped.

Speaking to Bustle, Torres credited her tall physique with some of the roles she's been able to land over the years, especially those for which she portrays strong women like her "Suits" character Jessica Pearson. "Because of my physicality, because I tower over people, because I have a deep voice, because I have this innate authority, it was easy to hang those characters on me early on, really before I could cut my teeth," she said.

She was teased about her appearance in school

Gina Torres knows what it's like to be the odd one out. Not only was she the daughter of immigrant parents, but she didn't exactly look like most of her classmates. Speaking to Today Style in 2019, Torres said that she was self-conscious about her appearance when she was young, admitting that she used to hate her lips. "[G]rowing up with this set of soup coolers, as we called them, I got a lot, a lot of flack. Kids were merciless. They teased me constantly," Torres said.

Luckily, despite all the teasing she had to endure, Torres eventually realized that her lips were nothing to be ashamed of. "[A]s I grew older, I couldn't imagine my face without them," she admitted, adding that she realized how much it made her look like her parents. "I have my mom's old bow up on the top and my dad's fullness. I think of them every time I look in the mirror," she said.

The teasing in high school prepared Torres for Hollywood's brutal industry, where she once again stuck out on many occasions. "I had too much of everything," Torres told Bustle. "My eyes were just a little bigger than everybody else's, my lips were just fuller than everybody's, I was taller than everybody else, my booty was a little bit harder," she added. As we all know, things have changed since then, and many Hollywood stars strive for Torres' appearance.

Gina Torres once got feisty during an audition

Gina Torres believes in speaking up for what's right, and during one of her theater auditions when she was still a young girl, she did just that. After putting a lot of hard work into preparing a song for the musical she was auditioning for, she arrived at the audition only to be told to parade up and down the stage. "There's this disembodied voice coming from a dark theater and it's telling you to do this and that. And I'm standing there thinking, 'You've got to be kidding me. I'm not really living this right now,'" Torres told Backstage. To make matters worse, she and the other participants were dismissed without being asked to perform the songs they prepared.

While most people would probably chalk it up to a bad audition and call it a day, Torres wasn't about to let her hard work go to waste. "I walked down center stage and shouted over the footlights, 'Excuse me! I was told to prepare a song — would you like me to sing?' 'Oh! Yes, oh of course!' And I did," she recalled. Looking back, Torres admitted that she didn't quite know where she got the courage to speak up in that moment, but she did it, and it paid off. That doesn't mean she recommends everyone do it, however. "The moral of that story is, you choose your battles. And sometimes wonderful things happen. You find your voice" she said.

Her parents didn't initially support her dream to pursue a career in entertainment

When Gina Torres was 5, she told her father that she wanted to be a doctor. He was thrilled. But as we all know, we rarely stick with our 5-year-old self's dreams, and instead of jetting off to med school after graduating high school, Torres started going on auditions and trying to make a name for herself as an actress. Her parents weren't exactly happy with her decision. Torres told USA Today that they envisioned her getting a traditional, stable, prestigious job. "Doctors, engineers, something with a title. That was not where I ended up," Torres told the outlet.

Despite her parents' disapproval, Torres still went ahead and pursued acting. She told The Blade that she knew, in her heart, that it was her calling. She didn't even have a backup plan and still doesn't. "Even when it makes me miserable, there is no Plan B," she admitted. That doesn't mean that she didn't understand her parents' hesitation. "It's a very scary prospect to have your child go into this industry, especially when we are talking about two very traditional Latino parents who had no frame of reference for the madness. Nor did I," she explained. But even back then, Torres knew that she had to do what made her happy, and her perseverance eventually paid off.

Auditions were challenging for Gina Torres early in her career

Because Gina Torres is Afro-Latina, auditions weren't exactly a breeze when she was just starting her career. Even now, Hollywood is criticized for its lack of diverse representation. When Torres was a young actress, producers noticed that she was talented, but they had doubts about casting her because of her appearance. "I was told by producers that they didn't want to 'confuse' their audience [with my Afro-Latina identity], so there was some issue as to whether they wanted to hire me because my surname is Torres and they felt like that would be too confronting and confusing for middle America," she told Bustle. Others told her that she was "too exotic," as Torres told CNN.

During an interview with John Leguizamo for MSNBC, Torres spoke candidly about the entertainment industry and the value it places on looks. "They did not know what the hell to do with me," Torres quipped, adding that it was a challenge to find roles that allowed her to truly be herself and embrace her Afro-Latina identity. She was often considered neither Black enough for certain roles nor Latina enough for others. Torres experienced what she described as "complete erasure" and suddenly found herself having to let go of her Latina roots in order to fit the mold for Black roles.

She had to make many sacrifices to pursue her dreams

To outsiders, it might seem as if Gina Torres became an overnight success, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. She dedicated her 20s to building her career, and she told Bustle that she had to give up many of the things people normally do at that age. What might be even more surprising to some is that Torres still makes big sacrifices for her career to this day.

Being an actress might be a cool job, but it isn't always the easiest one. Torres recalled what her life looked like at 28 when she was busy paving her way to Hollywood fame, and it required saying no to many things she desired at the time. "Being away from my family, being disciplined enough to not see my friends and stay out as late as I actually wanted to, not having a B-plan, not being sensible about it all, which meant pursuing that backup career that meant my rent wouldn't be late and that I wouldn't be hungry," she told Bustle.

As if being away from your family for extended periods of time isn't hard enough already, Torres also had to deal with the fact that she couldn't be at her mother's side as much as she wanted to be while she was sick. "That was hard," she recalled. Now, Torres has a daughter of her own whom she has to leave behind whenever she travels for work.

Gina Torres used to feel like everyone's life was on track except hers

We've all been there: scrolling through social media and feeling like everyone's got their lives together except us. Gina Torres might not have had Instagram in the '90s, but she still went through a phase when she felt like she had fallen behind her peers.

Speaking to Bustle in 2022, Torres recalled the first time she questioned her career and life choices. She was in New Zealand shooting "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" when an excited friend called her to inform her she was pregnant. "I hung up the phone, and I burst into tears," Torres recalled. "I'm thinking, 'She's having a real life and I'm sitting in a bus in the middle of nowhere, in a brass bra, playing pretend! This is my life! What am I doing?'" she added.

By the time she hit her 30s, Torres was already having a midlife crisis, so to speak. She was questioning where her career was headed and unsure if she would ever get her big break. She had yet to realize any of the goals she had set for herself and was starting to doubt whether she'd ever reach them. "[Y]ou go, 'Did I miss it? Is that it?' Like, 'I'm not going to be a movie star, and my face isn't going to be on the side of a building to promote something?'" she told Glamour. Of course, in the end, everything worked out.

Gina married her first husband in 2002

Despite her extremely busy schedule, Gina Torres managed to find love at 28 when she met Laurence Fishburne. The two of them worked together on "The Matrix" franchise, and Torres told Bustle that, even though many media outlets have claimed that they met on the set of "The Matrix Reloaded," they already knew each other by then. 

Torres met Fishburne in 1997, and the two tied the knot in 2002. It appeared that they would be one of those Hollywood power couples who last for life; they even went on to work together again on the "Hannibal" TV series, which ran between 2013 and 2015. But two years after the show ended, they broke hearts across the globe when they announced their divorce. The couple had been married for 14 years at that point and released a statement to People to announce the news to the public. "With heavy hearts, Laurence and I quietly separated and began the dissolution of our marriage in the early fall of last year," Torres said in the statement, adding, "There are no bad guys here. Only a love story with a different ending than either one of us had expected."

Torres assured fans that she and Fishburne we parting on good terms and were still planning on co-parenting their daughter, Delilah, adding that the split had not divided their family.

Gina Torres and her then-husband had a baby girl in 2007

Five years after tying the knot, Gina Torres and Lauren Fishburne welcomed their daughter, Delilah Fishburne, into the world. The couple first confirmed to People that they were expecting on January 6, 2007. They kept their daughter's birth and life pretty private, but Torres has talked about how she hopes her daughter can learn from her mistakes.

During a candid conversation with Today Style in 2019, Torres was very open about how she struggled to embrace her appearance when she was young, especially her full lips, and now she wants to make sure her daughter never feels self-conscious about her own looks. "My daughter has a version of my lips. She is also the beautiful and perfect combination of her dad and her mom," Torres told the outlet, adding, "The most important thing I can teach my daughter about self-confidence and beauty is that it starts inside. It starts with self-love. It starts with self-acceptance. And when you get to that point, it's unstoppable. Because the world sees what you see when you accept it in yourself."

Self-acceptance isn't the only thing Torres wishes for her daughter — in 2016, she told Hola! that she hopes Delilah will follow her dreams one day, use her failures as learning opportunities, and believe that she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to.

She became a household name starring on Suits

Gina Torres kick-started her acting career in the '90s when she appeared on "Law & Order" in the roles of Charlene and (later) Laura Elkin. Between 1995 and 1996, she played the roles of Magdalena and Nell on the soap opera "One Life to Live." She later bagged bigger roles, starring on "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys," "Cleopatra 2525," and in "The Matrix Revolutions" before landing the part of Zoë Washburne on "Firefly." Torres was starting to become a well-known name in the industry, but it may be safe to say that the show that made her a household name was the 2011 legal drama "Suits." In fact, her bold, no-nonsense character Jessica Pearson made such an impression on fans of the show that she ended up getting her own spin-off series, "Pearson," which ran for one season in 2019.

Speaking with Trevor Noah on "The Daily Show" in 2019, Torres said that no one quite "typifies excellence" like Jessica Pearson. "Everything about her was impeccable. She had a Harvard law degree, she was the smartest person in the room, she knew how to get things done. ... [S]he was ridiculously perfect and she was fearless," Torres said when asked how it happened that her character managed to get her own spin-off series. She added that her character also never led with the fact that she's a woman of color. "She always led with her intelligence, her integrity, her balls," Torres quipped.

Gina Torres has learned to accept failure

Surviving in Hollywood takes growing a thick skin. But during a 2019 interview with Glamour, Gina Torres admitted that it's not nearly as easy as it sounds. She confessed that not landing a part she really wanted was a "gut punch" when she was younger. "You look at something you want and think, 'That's a game changer. That could have changed my life,'" she said.

Of course, actors can't afford to be crushed by every rejection, and Torres learned how to deal with failure in a more productive way as she got older. "What is yours is yours. It doesn't matter the road you choose to get there, you're going to get there," Torres said when asked what she would tell her younger self. "I firmly believe your blessings are yours, and we get them when we're ready. We get them when we're supposed to," she added. She owes this frame of mind to her mother, who had the perfect Spanish phrase handy whenever failure struck. "The gist of it is, 'No cow can eat your grass.' My grass is my grass," Torres said, adding that the phrase is way catchier in Spanish.

Now, she tackles every rejection with this mindset, and when envy tries to creep in when a project she didn't get is a massive success, Torres simply tells herself, "Maybe it was meant to change that person's life, but it may not have changed mine." Hear! Hear!

She turned her dream of becoming a producer into a reality

In some ways, Gina Torres is a lot like her "Suits" character, Jessica Pearson. When she wants something, she goes for it, and if the chance to doesn't present itself, she makes it happen.

When Torres started working on the idea of a spin-off series centered around Jessica Pearson, she created an opportunity to fulfill her longtime dream of becoming a producer. While she loved working in front of the camera, Torres has always wanted to flip the script a bit and do the behind-the-scenes work of creating a fictional world and the characters that inhabit it. Enter "Pearson," the "Suits" spin-off featuring Torres' character. "Producing is something that I've always wanted to do, shortly after I realized how much fun being an actor is and how much I enjoy that," Torres told Collider in 2019.

Trying her hand at producing meant that Torres had to step out of her comfort zone. "I knew a lot more than I thought I did. But I had to think about finding my voice, using it, and expressing it in such a way that wasn't personal, it was just what's best for the show," she told Leading Ladies Africa. The biggest lesson she learned during this time? "To pick my battles and not to belabor the point. It really is letting people know and making them understand [what you want] — as a woman, and especially as the title character," Torres explained.

She's learned to see exercise as self-care

While it can be easy to overdo it with exercise and diet when you're on the Hollywood scene, Gina Torres has embraced exercise as a form of self-care instead of seeing it as something she has to do to stay in shape for the camera.

"I work out so I can feel good," she told Health in 2019. "With working out, it's about strength — being able to run up the stairs and just feeling like I can get myself out of a situation," she explained, adding that while being able to wear certain clothes is a bonus, it's not her main goal.

As much as she loves a good workout, Torres also loves food, and sometimes, her self-care routine consists of eating all the yummy stuff. "I love food. I like all the no-nos. I love buttery, cinnamony, caramelly, and sometimes lemony things. And I love fried chicken and bacon!" she told the outlet. Torres also enjoys having a meal with her friends, and sometimes she'll skip her workout and sleep in. For her, it's all about listening to what her body needs on a given day and then doing her best to honor it.

Gina Torres is very vocal about diverse representation in Hollywood

Anyone who keeps up with Gina Torres knows she's an avid advocate for diverse representation in Hollywood. When she first stepped into the acting world, Afro-Latina roles were few and far between. Instead of blending into the background and pretending to be someone she's not, Torres quietly rebelled by just being herself. "I knew I didn't fit in, so the best I could do was be myself, do my job, and let that speak for itself," Torres said during an appearance on "The Kelly Clarkson Show" in 2021. This approach eventually paid off. Torres told Bustle that on "Suits," a writer eventually asked about her race, and the show started to write Jessica Pearson with that in mind.

On one of Torres' newer projects, "9-1-1: Lone Star," she plays the role of Tommy Vega. Torres told CNN that when the show's co-creator, Tim Minear, asked her to play the lead, she had a discussion with him about her character possibly being Afro-Latina. And just like that, there was finally a TV show with an Afro-Latina woman as the main character. "That was incredibly important for me because so often marginalized people aren't really depicted as being fully human. They're not given the same attention, they're not given the same time, they're not given families," Torres said. She may be in her 50s, but Torres is just getting started, and we can't wait to see what barriers she breaks down next.