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Lunch With The Cramer Women - Gina Tognoni

We Love Soaps had the opportunity to sit down with the fabulous talents who portray the Cramer Women of Llanview.  Starting February 12, 2010, this complicated and tortured family will be reuniting on ONE LIFE TO LIVE, and we could not be happier! What follows is a series of articles and features about these courageous women and their legacy on daytime.

We Love Soaps: It is so great to meet you again.  I can’t tell you how glad I am you have come back ONE LIFE TO LIVE.
Gina Tognoni: I really can’t believe it.  It is a little weird, coming back seeing old faces and new faces.  Everyone is so welcoming.  I feel completely loved and at ease. 

We Love Soaps: Do you remember what it was like when you first started in 1995?
Gina Tognoni: Yes.  Let’s just say I was shaking in my boots. 

We Love Soaps: I never would have been able to tell.
Gina Tognoni: I was nervous, I was just letting it fly.  I felt I got confidence from Robin [Strasser] and Kassie [Depaiva] and Laura [Bonarrigo]  It’s more adrenaline now, whereas 10 years ago I was more terrified. 

We Love Soaps: When Kelly came on she was definitely a rule breaker.  She expressed herself outside the lines.  Do you still see her that way?
Gina Tognoni: Yes, I still see that in the scripts, they haven’t changed her.  I was curious about that before I said yes.  I asked, “Who is she?” She is still the same spirit, the same light.  She doesn’t take any crap, which I really like, that’s a fun thing to play. She keeps fear at a distance.  She’s very comfortable in her own skin.  That’s a fun thing to play because it’s nice to watch. Today is my first day.  I have a big bomb that is dropped as I arrive into Llanview, that is my first challenge to deal with. 

We Love Soaps: A lot of your early scenes were with Robin Strasser.  What was that like to start on daytime opposite this legend?
Gina Tognoni: I don’t think I knew how lucky I was.  I just thought, “Wow, what a hard worker.”  I was so impressed by her.  Then suddenly a good month to it I remember thinking, “This woman knows what she’s doing.”  She would just make what ever was on the page jump.  She was my first lead actress that I was exposed to.  She set the bar high, as she continues to do.  She just does wonderful things with the pages.  We haven’t rehearsed yet, I can’t wait!

We Love Soaps: What’s it like for you to come back to a role that had been played by someone else for awhile?
Gina Tognoni: Well I originated the role.  I literally remember talking to the headwriter Michael Malone, sitting there discussing who this girl was.  I could see how passionate he was about it.  I understood her.  I got lucky.  I brought her for about six years, then I said goodbye. This is going to be a process between me and the show and the writers to see where she is going, and who she is going to be.  She has the same characteristics of being strong, feisty, but now she has maturity under her.  I think that is going to be a fun thing to watch. 

We Love Soaps: Do you feel a gap given someone else has played her?
Gina Tognoni: As far as a historical point-of-view, that’s where my focus is.  What did the audience see last? Who did Kelly mingle with? Who did she like or not like and why?  I want to stay true to what the other Kelly’s did as far as the relationships.  I’m always to suggestions if anyone wants to write me at ABC.  I will read them. 

We Love Soaps: Kelly was tragically responsible for the loss of Blair’s child.  I wondered if you think that is something Kelly still carries with her?
Gina Tognoni: I think she has a lot of regret.  Whether it’s about that, or being impregnated by her ex-husband’s son, who was named Zane.  A lot of this I had to read up on.  It made sense, I understood it.  So now we’re going to explore the relationship between Kevin and Kelly.  There’s a lot of history.

We Love Soaps: Our West Coast correspondent Stephanie Burke interviewed you a few months ago on the set of VENICE.  Is that project still going to be going on for you?
Gina Tognoni: We hope . We’ll see what Crystal [Chappell] wants to do with the character of Sami.  I think it’s fantastic what she’s doing.  I know she has a season two envisioned.  I hope she asks me.

We Love Soaps: Those of us that have been watching the show for years perceive that at the bottom of her heart, Kelly will always love Joey. 
Gina Tognoni: Yes.  Joey was just a light in her life.  They haven’t recasted Joey yet, I don’t know what they’re going to do with that.  But we have so many incredible men on our show.  I’m okay trying a few out! 

We Love Soaps: We also loved GUIDING LIGHT.  How has that been for you?
Gina Tognoni: It really felt like a loss.  I loved Dinah, I loved that whole group, we became very close.  To be 72-years-old and to have say goodbye to such a huge entity like that, it was emotional.  When I left in June, folks kind of tapered off.  To say goodbye and to see it physically end, it was hard.  A group of us from GUIDING LIGHT were on a farewell tour.  We went to Pittsburgh, we went to Atlanta, we went to Vegas.  To talk to fans and hear what the show meant to them is something I will never forget.  I will always take that with me. 

We Love Soaps: What did it mean to them?
Gina Tognoni: It brought them through difficult times.  It gave their day a break.  It gave their life a break.  They had an hour of entertainment.  They could get lost in our zaniness and the character’s zaniness.  And that’s really the point.  Yes we’re exaggerating certain circumstances but we are putting our hearts and soul into it, we are relating to it.  That makes folks feel pretty good at the end of the hour, that maybe their life isn’t so bad.

We Love Soaps: I think also as the role of Kelly you do that.  I know it was helpful for me to see a young person who could fight back and survive some of the worst things life can throw your way. 
Gina Tognoni: Absolutely.  You go through it.  You feel like you kind of go through these experiences.  That’s a little trippy.  But when you’re on these shows for awhile, at the end of the day you are exhausted.  You’re like, why?  Well I killed my arch enemy, I jumped off a bridge, I did a somersault, and I had to do it three times, you start to feel exhausted!

We Love Soaps: How do you take care of yourself when you’re doing this intense drama day in and day out?
Gina Tognoni: You’ve got to eat right, you’ve go to sleep. 

We Love Soaps: What have you learned from Kelly over the years?
Gina Tognoni: You just gotta to be yourself.  You can give your fiery side some voice, you don’t have to worry what people think.  And you try to do it even when you’re afraid.

We Love Soaps: Does Gina incorporate those elements?
Gina Tognoni: Yes, every day.  It is similar.  I think there’s a reason why they pick certain actors for certain roles.  They’ve got something there that is really on the surface that can give life to the character.  I’m honored because there are a lot of great things about Kelly that I can hopefully give her.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  Please return tomorrow for my interviews with Robin Strasser and Melissa Fumero.  

RELATED: 
- Lunch with Cramer Women (transcriptions from the panel interview)
- WE LOVE SOAPS TV #9 - Cramer Women Special

Damon L. Jacobs is a Marriage Family Therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve". He is re-imagining a world without "shoulds" at www.shouldless.com.

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