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Gina Torres Opens Up About Her Experience as a Caretaker, Her Role on ‘9-1-1: Lone Star’ and Her Powerful New PSA (EXCLUSIVE)

Learn how she's found strength and courage both on and off the screen

Gina Torres has been a strong and charismatic TV presence since the ’90s, and has starred in everything from cult space Westerns like Firefly to popular legal dramas like Suits.

She currently plays EMS captain Tommy Vega on the intense procedural series 9-1-1: Lone Star, and as with all her roles, she brings a sense of quiet authority and competence that makes it impossible to look away from her.

Off the screen, Torres has just partnered with the American Academy of Family Physicians and Amgen as the face of a powerful PSA about the importance of checking your LDL cholesterol levels.

LDL cholesterol is known as the “bad” cholesterol, and high levels are known to disproportionately impact Hispanic Americans and African Americans, putting them at an increased risk for heart attacks, strokes and other medical issues.

As an Afro-Latina woman, Torres saw the impact of these issues firsthand, when her parents both struggled with high LDL levels near the end of their lives, and she found herself serving as their primary caretaker. In the new PSA, she opens up about her family’s health issues for the first time, and urges people to get their LDL cholesterol levels tested.

Gina Torres spoke with FIRST for Women about her experience as a caretaker, what she’s learned from the many dynamic characters she’s played and more.

FIRST for Women: How did being a caretaker for your parents inspire you to join this campaign?

Gina Torres: My parents were monolingual, mostly. They did understand some English, but of course, when you go into a medical atmosphere like a clinic or a hospital, very often the stress and the fear of what you may hear or may not understand takes over.

Gina Torres' parents in 1959
Gina Torres’ parents in 1959Amgen

I was often their translator. I helped them understand what was happening to them on a medical level and then I was able to express their own fears and translate their own questions to the doctors. It was daunting, to say the least.

I am fluent in the Spanish language, but I am not fluent in medical Spanish. Still, every little bit helps, and at the same time, the more we knew, the easier it was for us to take a breath and understand that there were treatments and actual changes that we could all make in lifestyle and diet.

Having had that experience personally made this campaign all the more important to me. It’s important to be able to be your own best advocate and ask for the things that you need to, to better serve your own health and have a better experience of these situations.

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FFW: How did you stay positive while dealing with so much stress?

Gina Torres: There were actually fun times too, because I got to really get in there with them and help them live their best lives as they got later on in their lives, simply by doing things like cooking for them. I’d cook some of their favorite Cuban dishes, but in a different way so that they had less oil and less salt, and had them realize that it was just as delicious.

I’d take my mom out for a walk and my dad always took his daily walks. Things like moving their bodies and dancing, these lifestyle changes were not seismic shifts in their existence, but they can make a huge difference.

Gina Torres in 2024
Gina Torres in 2024Amgen

FFW: Do you have any self-care routines that you follow?

Gina Torres: Being around my parents during that time really helped me to recommit to what I’ve always felt, which is to be ready and stay ready. Being an actor, my body and my health is my tool. That’s my weapon of choice. If that’s not working, then I’m going to have a hard time either way.

I really do my best to eat well, to exercise consistently, to watch the kinds of things that I eat and eat the rainbow, as they say. It’s super important.

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Gina Torres in 2024
Gina Torres in 2024Amgen

FFW: What do you hope is the main takeaway from your PSA?

Gina Torres: I really want to drive home the point that we can’t take anything for granted. It is so important to get yourself checked, to get to know what your numbers are, to make sure that your LDL cholesterol levels are not out of control. The sooner you have that information, the faster you can make changes. 

Gina Torres during the filming of her PSA in 2024
Gina Torres during the filming of her PSA Amgen

FFW: You’ve played so many dynamic women. What have you learned from these characters?

Gina Torres: I’ve played these incredibly strong women who walk into a room and pretty much take over. The greatest lesson from these women, after being blessed to walk in their shoes for so many years, is to advocate for yourself, ask for what you want and live the life you want to live with no apology.

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FFW: Where does your current character fit in with others you’ve played?

Gina Torres: I’m really loving Tommy Vega on 9-1-1: Lone Star. She’s like this great mixture of pretty much everybody that I’ve played.

You never really got too personal with Jessica Pearson on Suits. She was who she was and she means what she means to that firm. But with Tommy, you get all of that in terms of her being the master of her universe, as well as having a very thoughtful, soulful personal life and a connection to children and partners and friends. She’s a fully thought-out human being.  

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FFW: What kinds of changes have you seen in the entertainment industry since you started out?

Gina Torres: Being a woman of color, being someone with a commanding presence who is very tall, there were certain roles that were not available to me and others that absolutely were — the strong woman, the cop, the lawyer, the space cowboy. All of those things saved me from not really being available for certain roles that were relegated specifically for women of color.

Gina Torres' first headshot (1987)
Gina Torres’ first headshot (1987)Amgen

I’m happy to say that in the years since I’ve started, more avenues have started to open up. There are more opportunities. There still need to be even more opportunities, unfortunately, and it’s not where we would like it to be, but things are happening and I’m certainly doing my best to make those changes as well.

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