Actress Gina Torres inspires descriptive adjectives like fierce, strong and powerful. She always gets casts as women who are a force to be reckoned with, be it the warrior Zoe on ‘Firefly‘, powerful goddess Jasmine on ‘Angel’ or even Vanessa’s overbearing, politically correct mother on ‘Gossip Girl.’ So it initially comes as a surprise that she is starring as a summer camp owner in ABC Family’s new dramedy, ‘Huge‘ about a group of teenagers at a weight loss camp. Torres explained that confounding everyone’s expectations was part of the appeal of the role. She revealed why ‘Huge’ is a show everybody needs to watch, which of her characters she’d like to see come back from the dead and the secrets of a successful celebrity marriage.
Tell me about the character you’re going to be playing on ‘Huge.’
Her name is Dr. Dorothy Rand. On the outside she may appear to be like some of the other characters I’ve played that people are familiar with: strong, determined and righteous. But on the inside she’s an absolute mess. She is a knot of insecurities and she’s quite vulnerable at times and not sure for herself where she should go and what she should do, which is like most people. I think they have the answers for everybody else but when it comes to their own lives they’re a bit stymied.
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Why is she a neurotic mess on the inside?
She’s the director of a camp for overweight teenagers and we come to find out that she herself was one of these kids. She’s what you’d call a late bloomer. A lot of those years that we spend in high school and our twenties figuring ourselves out, kissing boys and getting our hearts broken, she was encased in this cocoon of weight so she never really fully got to explore herself. So she’s still this very stunted seventeen year old when it comes to her beauty and her security, her intelligence and what she has to offer.
‘Huge’ is a lot different from most of your other projects. Why did you decide to take on this role?
First of all, I think it’s an issue that’s extremely important and timely right now, childhood obesity. Just before I read the script, I had heard that this generation of children may not outlive their own parents because of the health issues that their overweight status the that wreak havoc with their health and their everyday lives. That was an incredibly disturbing statistic to me. Then this script came and addressed that in a way that was universal for everyone. You don’t have to be an overweight teenager to appreciate this show because it really touches on just how human we all are and that we’re beautiful in every way in that we want to be and access the best of ourselves. As an actor it was very interesting for me to do something completely different and not be the kick ass assassin woman with all the answers who knows exactly what she’s going to do all the time. That’s fine to do, but you want to show different parts of yourself and explore different parts of humanity. This will afford me the opportunity to do that.
Your character has a lot of conflict with Nikki Blonsky’s character, Will.
Nikki’s character really likes to push buttons. She leads with her anger. My character is quite non-confrontational. So I think that initially she doesn’t quite know what to do with that. This anger, this need to get on top pushes her buttons. I think there are parts of Will that she completely understands and wants to help her. There are parts that may be reflective of her own shortcomings that make her uncomfortable. There haven’t been too many lovey gooey moments between the characters.
Is there a scene that defines Dr. Dorothy Rand?
There is a scene that is coming up in episode two that takes place around a campfire. I believe that scene shows who she is. I think you see a lot of her in that moment. It’s something I’m proud of. I loved it when I read it. Then I got nervous about it because I wanted to get it right because it’s an important scene.
There was a lot of fan speculation that your character on ‘Vampire Diaries‘ was Bonnie’s mother. Is there any truth to that rumor?
I have not heard that. When did this creep up? The actors are always the last to know. Tell me!
You have a physical resemblance to the actress who plays Bonnie, Katerina Graham. Your characters are both witches. Her mother is AWOL. So fans put two and two together…
Interesting. I would love that. I like that storyline. What do we have to do to make that happen? Let’s get me a new heart!
You also played Vanessa’s mother on ‘Gossip Girl.’ Will we see her again? The last time we saw her she still had her heart.
I think Vanessa’s going to have to call Mom. If her heart gets broken or just to talk, every girl needs her Mom. Everybody else seems to have access to their Mom. I would love to revisit that character. Jessica [Szohr] and I had a great time working together. We had great chemistry as mother and daughter. I loved the storyline. I loved playing this wacky woman, which is another fabulous departure from a lot of the roles I’ve played.
Catch Gina Torres in ‘Huge’:
What’s the difference between acting in a fantasy series and acting in something more realistic?
Before I did ‘Firefly’ I swore I would never be on another spaceship. I was not going to do sci-fi because it’s easy to get pigeonholed. Suddenly I’m the action fantasy girl. Although the fanbase is incredibly loyal. It also depends on the writing. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be on shows where the writing was really fun or they were doing something different. As my life changed, and I became a wife and a mother, there are certain things that are more opportunities to express that part of myself. In a couple years I might want to put another laser on my hip and go to town on some aliens but right now I’m really, really enjoying being rooted in reality — and playing a witch every now and then.
Perhaps Dr. Rand is a witch.
We don’t know her backstory. That is entirely possible. We could catch her in the woods one night.
I’ve read that this show has a similar tone to ‘Glee.’
Exactly. It’s very humorous. There’s stuff I’m hoping will have people laughing out loud. Then we’ll turn around and have you crying. It’s very heartfelt topic during a time in people’s lives that’s so emotional, so sensitive, and so vulnerable. To be a teenager especially now is so charged. You don’t know whether you are coming or going. There’s so much that you want to do but you can’t really quite wrap your brain around it.
You’ve now starred in series for two of television’s best known showrunners, Joss Whedon with ‘Firefly’ and now Winnie Holzman on ‘Huge’. What has that been like?
What’s great about them is not just their talent and their insight. They’re just wonderful observers of people who really write in a way that’s universal and gets to the heart of something immediately. An actor doesn’t have much if they don’t have the word. The word is where it begins. We put the skin and the bones and the muscle on it. It’s always a gift to have great words. Winnie and Joss do that. As interesting as they are as writers, they are as interesting as people.
You and your husband Laurence Fishburne are both starring in television series now. How do you spend time together with you both working so much?
You just do. I’m getting on a plane. I’m on my way to see him. He’s opening in a one man show on Thurgood Marshall called Thurgood in Washington D.C. I’m going to go and be with my man.
Do you two ever look at each other and say, “Wow, we are a kick ass couple.”?
Every day. But maybe not for the reasons that you might think.
When you two get stressed out do you ever get the urge to beat up some bad guys?
Never. That’s not what the Fishburne household is like. We are really low key. We’re all about having a really good time and enjoying life and enjoying our family.
You’re accustomed to crazy sci-fi fans. Are you prepared for crazy teen fans?
Bring ’em on! I’ve been a step-mom of teenagers. They’re cool.