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From Dreamwatch Magazine
Gina TorresInterview with Gina Torres - Dreamwatch Magazine 107
Transcribed by Katriena
Tuesday 9 September 2003, by Webmaster
After Firefly crashed and burned, Gina Torres escaped to become a villainous goddess on Angel...and in real life, she’s Morpheus’ missus too!
Words: K. Stoddard Hayes
Despite the cancellation of Firefly, in which she starred as the staunch first mate Zoe, Gina Torres has spent plenty of time in front of the camera recently. After her appearances on Angel, the biggest gigs for her are the two Matrix sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions.
With her charismatic screen presence and her long experience in action roles— not to mention her relationship with Matrix star Laurence Fishburne, whom she married last autumn—you might expect Torres to be a natural for the Matrix franchise. But this was not the case, as she recalls a tad ruefully.
"I actually auditioned for a different role that was quite action-heavy, and given my history, I thought, ’I’m a shoo-in. Please! How could they not hire me?’ And they didn’t!" she recalls with a chuckle. "They offered me this smaller role that has no action at all. I am a natural woman of Zion, so I’m in the real world. I’m not in the Matrix at all. It’s a very emotional, matriarchal role. I was shocked!"
Torres plays Cas, the widow of Dozer, who was betrayed and murdered by Cypher in the original Matrix film. It’s a role she soon came to embrace. "If the other thing had panned out it would have been great," she notes. "But it was nice to sit back and work out because I wanted to, and let everyone else worry about fitting into the latex and getting on the wire and working with the Chinese [Kung Fu experts] and being in pain and chucking back the Advil. I could just show up and put on my gauzy outfit and be real!"
The role is small enough that Torres spent only a couple of weeks shooting her scenes for both sequels, and is not sure how much will survive editing. However, because of her relationship with Fishburne (Morpheus), she was a frequent visitor to the set during the long months of shooting, as she had been during the making of The Matrix. She remembers a benchmark moment during the production of the then unknown first film. "The brothers [Matrix creators Larry and Andy Wachowski] threw a dinner party in Sydney. It was a small group of 12, and they premiered, to Laurence as Keanu [Reeves] and Carrie-Anne [Moss], the first eight minutes of The Matrix movie. Not all the special effects were in, so at some points they would go to the storyboards to illustrate where the effects would be. I saw those first eight minutes, as well as the rescue of Morpheus, which they shot first. I just sat there with my mouth open, and I remember thinking, ’This is going to be huge! And I am so jealous!’"
The difference between shooting an unknown film and shooting the sequels to a massive hit is considerable. The biggest difference, says Torres, is the pressure. "Consider where the bar was set [for the sequels]: the public’s expectations, their own expectations. It was not always a carefree set. Everything is bigger. Before, it was like everybody’s dirty little secret down in Sydney. Warner Bros. Didn’t know what was going on, nobody really knew what was going on. Only the brothers knew what was going on. It was their baby, and it was their little secret that turned out to be just this huge thing. Now it was out of the box. Everybody wanted a piece of it, everyone was knocking on their doors. Everybody was just so committed to making this happen, because nobody wanted to disappoint anybody, particularly themselves."
Torres believes that her experience working under Larry and Andy Wachowski is quite different from that of most of the Matrix cast. "As Dozer’s widow, I have two children. When you’re dealing with children on a set, the energy just shifts. I got to see a part of them that was really quite playful. They had to abandon that whole control thing, as kids force you to do. I saw a different part of them that was really quite sweet and wonderful.
"They’re very focused and single-minded—as you have to be in pulling off something of this magnitude—and they had a very clear idea in their heads about how they want to pull this off, who these characters are. It’s both challenging and freeing to be in the presence of that, because you want people manning the helm that have a clear idea as to what they want."
As well as appearing in the Matrix sequels, Torres has just finished wowing Angel viewers as the hypnotic goddess Jasmine, a part which was written specifically for her after the demise of Firefly.
"Over the few months that I worked with [producers] Joss [Whedon] and Tim [Minear] and Jeff Bell on Firefly, there were certain aspects of my personality that came forth on the set that we never got to really mine in the life of Zoe," she reveals. "Joss or anybody would go, ’I just didn’t know you had that in you!’ and I’m like, ’Yeah, baby, there’s a lot goin’ on here, a lotta people livin’ in this body!’ What I brought to [Jasmine] was just really more of who I am. It was stuff that we didn’t get to—not in terms of being the greatest evil," she notes with a chuckle, "but just a love for clothing and food, and a wicked sense of humour."
Every time Jasmine walked onto a set, the entire cast would gaze adoringly and fall down on their knees. Torres had a very down-to-earth reaction to being worshipped: "It was very funny. It took a minute—just a minute!—to get used to. You have a cast of 150 that are so committed to making it right, just really loving people, and some of them actually knew me from my previous work, so they were fans. It’s like being a rock star plus, for a couple of minutes. It was hard for me to keep a straight face in the very beginning."
Though Torres has plenty of experience with fight sequences, her battle with Angel presented a new challenge, especially in a night shoot. "I wear fright make-up in that fight, and I have to tell you that was very challenging. I have to wear these full eye contacts and that was not fun, because I don’t wear contacts. So to have something in my eye to begin with was hell, and then I couldn’t really see because they cut off your periphery. So I’m trying to hit marks that I can’t see, and I’m watching this fight sequence that [stunt co- ordinator] Mike Massa’s trying to work out, and I can barely see! I got used to them. I think I wore them for three or four nights." Incidentally, Torres previously knew Massa from The Matrix.
Since wrapping Angel, Torres has finished shooting a pilot called The Law and Henry Lee. "It’s wonderful," she says. "Danny Glover is a retired police detective, who is now a P.I. This is another show that’s character driven. I play his daughter-in-law. She’s a wife, she’s a mother, she owns a bookstore and has her own dreams. She has a strange relationship with her husband, Danny Glover’s son."
If playing a wife and mother sounds like a departure from Torres’ usual action characters, that’s a deliberate choice on her part. "I’m trying to segue into softer roles," she says, after her evil goddess and action-light role in The Matrix sequels. "I’m looking forward to doing more than throwing a punch. Throwing-a-punch roles come along and they’re exciting and they’re great, and I enjoy doing them. But I think the world is ready to see Gina do other things."