It happens fairly often. You’re watching a show, minding your own business, and someone with that face comes on screen. You know you’ve seen them before. They were in that show, with that plot, and those other actors. You know the one. Right? You might be thinking of one of TV’s most underrated stars: Gina Torres.
Where Have I Seen Her Before? Gina Torres
It is almost strange that Torres is probably best known for her ass-kicking role as Malcolm Reynolds’ second-in-command and war buddy (Zoe Washburne) in Joss Whedon’s Firefly – the show only aired for one season. While her work as Zoe was memorable, her flexibility as an actress has had her all over the map; she is an underrated queen of genre TV.
With bit parts on procedurals like N.Y.P.D. Blue, Law & Order, CSI, and Criminal Minds, it’s clear that she is fully capable of assuming a role in short order. She even had a lengthy episode arc on ABC’s One Life to Live. The majority of her work, however, has been in creating strong female characters on the classic sci-fi and fantasy shows of the late 90s and early 2000s. She appeared in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. She played a tough woman warrior in the short-lived, quickly syndicated Cleopatra 2525, and was recognized with an American Latino Media Arts Award for the role. Torres’ character, Helen Carter, was a leader in the human resistance against machines that had taken over Earth’s surface. If this sounds eerily like The Matrix universe, don’t worry, you aren’t going crazy – she was involved in that franchise as well, as Dozer’s widow in Reloaded and Revolutions (fun fact: she met husband Laurence Fishburne during filming).
Cleopatra 2525 was followed quickly by a recurring role on J.J. Abrams’ Alias as the feisty and dangerous Russian operative Anna Espinosa and a stint in the Buffyverse on the spinoff Angel. It was only then that she landed the role that would propel her into her current standing as a cult-TV icon. Torres owes quite a bit to the sci-fi genre and its die-hards; after Firefly, she appeared on 24 and her work expanded more consistently beyond sci-fi, developing into roles on YA-dramas Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries. She has recently appeared on Castle and Hannibal, and currently stars on USA Network’s Suits as Jessica Pearson, a savvy and successful partner in a top law firm.
Even Torres’ voice work follows her tendency to choose roles that involve defining strong female characters on both sides of the good-to-evil spectrum. She’s voiced Vixen/Mari McCabe on Justice League, Airachnid in Transformers Prime (TV and video game), Wonder Woman for DC Universe Online, and others.
So when you settle in to catch up on your shows on a low-key Saturday night or binge-watch an older series on Netflix and you see a strong female character who is about to save the world or rip someone to shreds (verbally or physically, it doesn’t matter – she can do both), and you wonder where you’ve seen her before you’ll know: it’s probably Gina Torres, doing her thing.