Gina Torres Biography
Attracted Notice While Answering Phones, Studied Martial Arts, Married Laurence Fishburne, Selected works
Learning her craft through appearances in high-quality live theater, New York City-born actress Gina Torres became known for the well-crafted characterizations she brought to a series of television and film roles in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Those roles brought Torres before the public in some of the most stylish and widely publicized productions of the day, including two of the Matrix films and the Alias and 24 television series. Torres specialized in action parts, and she needed no stunt doubles to do her fight scenes–scenes in which she drew on the feelings generated by her own experiences as an artist. "You have to have a spirit of warrior in you," she explained to Robert Bianco of USA Today. "You're going to be facing battles as a woman in this industry and a woman of color. You have to be prepared to face battles of respect and pride and sexuality, and you can't tire of fighting."
The youngest of three children, Gina Torres was born on April 25, 1969, in Manhattan, New York, but her family soon moved to the Bronx borough of the city. Her father was a newspaper typesetter. Both her parents were natives of Cuba and Latin jazz enthusiasts. Torres attended the elite High School of Music and Art in New York's public school system, gravitating toward music and pursuing a vocal curriculum. She sang opera, jazz, and gospel, finding special inspiration in the classes of a jazz percussion teacher. Torres applied to several colleges and was admitted, but her family finances didn't permit her to enroll.
Torres took that setback in stride, resolving instead to win a place on stage as quickly as she could. She landed a clerical job at New York's Lincoln Center, hoping to get noticed. A casting director for a Cole Porter musical asked her whether she could dance, and Torres (according to her Web site) replied, "Nope. But I move well." That comeback led to a role in a different musical, a Bridgeport, Connecticut, production of Dreamgirls. Back in New York, Torres appeared in a series of classic plays including the ancient Greek classic Antigone and Federico Garcia Lorca's Spanish tragedy Blood Wedding, the latter at the prestigious Public Theatre.
Building on this solid foundation, Torres began to audition for television roles. She showed up in small parts–a different one each time–on the durable daytime soap opera One Life to Live, and in 1992 she broke into prime time with an appearance on the NBC show Law & Order. A part in the British Broadcasting Company mini-series Unnatural Pursuits followed, and then, in 1994, a more prominent appearance in the much-discussed pilot of M.A.N.T.I.S., a science-fiction detective drama featuring future Alias star Carl Lumbly.
Torres returned to Broadway in The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public and continued to seek out television parts. After a slow start, she scored recurring roles in 1997 and 1998 on the syndicated action series Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules. The producers of those shows then cast Torres in the lead role of Hel, one of a trio of female fighters, in their futuristic action series Cleopatra 2525. The series lasted only one season, but Torres threw herself into the conditioning regime required by the highly physical part and got high marks for her performance. To Jefferson Graham of the Chicago Sun-Times she described the concept of the series as "three great-looking chicks keeping the world safe from evil."
Studied Martial Arts
The actress was conscious of the subtler effects of these entertainment vehicles. "There's a degree of responsibility to it, of course," Torres noted while discussing her Xena and Cleopatra roles with Xena Magazine. "I think that these characters can't help but be empowering to women because of their strengths and convictions. In Cleo, for instance, it's a community supporting each other, watching each other's backs and pulling each other up when the time is right." Prior to taking on the Cleopatra 2525 part, Torres took martial arts classes and sought out instruction in stunt fighting.
These roles raised Torres's profile among network casting personnel, and her parts became more substantial. On Alias, one of the most fashion forward of 2001's new shows, Torres played Russian intelligence agent Anna Espinosa, who emerged as an ongoing thorn in the side of series heroine Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) and returned to the series in later subplots. In 2002, she had another one-season starring role in the Firefly series, helmed by hot producer Joss Whedon. USA Today named Torres one of "five prime-time faces to watch" that year. She was also cast in The Matrix: Revolutions and The Matrix: Reloaded, blockbuster sequels to the inventive science-fiction film The Matrix.
Married Laurence Fishburne
The big news in Torres's life that year, however, was personal: she married Matrix star Laurence Fishburne on September 29, 2002. Their relationship had begun long before The Matrix, however, getting underway with a few dates in 1995. One of those occurred during a blizzard, when the pair went to New York's Fort Tryon Park for a walk that turned into a snowball fight. After that, Torres told InStyle, "we sat on a bench, knee-deep in snow, overlooking the Hudson River. Laurence pulled out his harmonica and serenaded me. At that moment I knew he was a good candidate." The wedding at Fort Tryon Park was a lavish affair featuring a range of music from classical to Afro-Cuban jazz to "Dream a Little Dream of Me" by the Mamas and the Papas. "When Laurence is away on location, I sing that to him at night to tuck him in long distance," Torres told InStyle.
In 2003 Torres had a recurring role on 24 and was cast several times in Whedon's Angel series. The following year she had her first film starring role opposite comedienne Mo'Nique in the hair-styling comedy-drama Hair Show. In 2005, Torres's Anna Espinosa character was revived on Alias, and she had two new films, Serenity (another futuristic Western directed by Whedon) and Fair Game, ready to open. Several more projects were in the works. Torres broke into the popular animation genre with a voice part in the Cartoon Network series Justice League. And her role as a terrorist opposite Fishburne in the thriller Five Fingers promised to bring together her action-series experience with her natural chemistry with Fishburne. With solid training, good looks, and an instinct for fitting in to hot new entertainment genres, Gina Torres was definitely a star on the rise.
Bed of Roses, 1996.
The Substance of Fire, 1996.
The Matrix: Reloaded, 2002.
The Matrix: Revolutions, 2003.
Hair Show, 2004.
Dreamgirls (musical), Bridgeport, CT.
The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, New York City, 1994.
Face Value, 1997.
Law & Order, 1992 and 1995.
M.A.N.T.I.S. (pilot), 1994.
NYPD Blue, 1995.
Dark Angel (television movie), 1996.
Xena: Warrior Princess, 1997.
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, 1997-99.
La Femme Nikita, 1998.
Cleopatra 2525, 2000.
Alias, 2001 and 2005.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 15, 2004, p. H5.
Chicago Sun-Times, January 28, 2000, p. 18.
InStyle, February 2003, p. 256.
Jet, May 14, 2001, p. 45.
Knight Ridder Tribune News Service, December 8, 2003, p. 1.
USA Today, September 18, 2002, p. D1; February 23, 2005, p. D8.
"Biography," Gina Torres, www.gina-torres.com (March 13, 2005).
"Gina Torres," All Movie Guide, www.allmovie.com (March 13, 2005).
"Gina Torres Interviewed," Xena Magazine #16, www.xenaville.com/articles/titan_torres.html (March 13, 2005).
—James M. Manheim
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