On January 7, 2010, ABC held a coming out party, of sorts, for One Life to Live's Cramer women. Seated at a conference table in the network's Manhattan headquarters, seven of the members of the legendary soap family gathered to talk about their all being in one place at one time. In fact, this was the first time -- on-screen or off -- that the seven actresses had ever appeared together.
Together, the alter egos of Kristen Alderson (Starr Manning), Laura Bonarrigo (Cassie Cramer), Kassie DePaiva (Blair Cramer), Melissa Fumero (Adriana Cramer), Robin Strasser (Dorian Lord), Gina Tognoni (Kelly Cramer), and Brittany Underwood (Langston Wilde) combine for nearly three-quarters of a century of Llanview history.
During a one-on-one interview session, two-time Daytime Emmy winner Tognoni and I had the chance to head to a secluded corner of the conference to talk about her return to One Life to Live after an eight-year absence. Tognoni was clearly eager to get back to work -- she was headed to film her first One Life to Live scenes immediately following our chat -- and was just as eager to talk about her return. Before I could ask my first question, I noticed that the actress was leaning over and peeking ahead at some of the questions that I had planned to pose.
Dan Kroll: If you can read them, you can feel free to read along and cheat. I wrote some of these as I was driving up here today.
Gina Tognoni: Really? (Laughs) You wrote these while you were driving? They're very neat.
Dan: Shh! Don't tell anybody.
Gina: (Reading aloud from the notepad) How would you describe your role among the Cramer women?
I would describe my role as… a piece of the tree. A part of the tree that… she doesn't take much crap. She's grown up in a way that she has been through difficult times. She's grown. She's matured, and she has even a greater appreciation for her family. She understands what family means. Family is very important for her. She is grateful for that and she protects it at all costs. I do feel that Kelly really cares, she has a heart. She's not as cold as Blair can be at times. She's not as, let's say, cerebral as Cassie can be at times. She's a bit a mix of fire and ice, and yet she moves on instinct. Kelly has excellent intuition, excellent instinct, and does well on the spot.
That's how she's a little different than the other girls. She uses everything she's got to protect what's important to her.
Dan: Is it unusual coming back to a role that…
Gina: … I played so long ago?
Dan: You know that's not what my question says! (Laughs) To a role that two other people have played since you left the show and that have sort of worked their own Play-Doh magic on?
Gina: (Laughs) Yeah, it is weird only in that if I analyze it too long, I start to go a little crazy with it. And I try not to do that. I know what they liked about Kelly. What they liked was this light-hearted, brightness. And she did all these wacky things. I love that she's still a child at heart. She still has a child's heart in a lot of ways. She sees the world in such a bright way, but at the same time she's smart about what she's doing. It's gonna be a nice balancing act for me. I know what the audience loved about her, but I think that they're going to appreciate how she's matured, and yet still has a zest for life. So that's gonna be a real fine line. She's not dippy. She's not dopey. She's not naďve.
Dan: She was, though.
Gina: Oh, she was because that was in a younger body, in a younger sense of itself. Now that [Kelly and I] have both become women, now it's gonna be a fun balance. And that's not going to be the easiest thing in the world, but I'm going to figure it out.
Dan: Do you think you'll be better able -- or at least more confident -- to find that balance because of the fact that you now have a couple of Emmy wins under your belt?
Gina: (Holding her arms out as if she were carrying two Emmy statuettes) Yeah. I just come in, walk in with them and say, there ya go. Have some! (Laughs)
Gina doesn't take life that seriously. I can tend to at times, but when I start taking it all too seriously, I say, "Oh my God, stop being so serious!" That sort of playfulness about Gina I can really put into Kelly. I can do that. The show will appreciate it and so will the audience. It's hard not to be dippy and still be funny, and take yourself too seriously.
Dan: Dippy… that's not a word that I'd use to describe your other daytime role, Dinah Marler. How are Dinah and Kelly different -- or alike, if that's easier for you to answer?
Gina: They're night and day. Dinah … I hope this makes sense… Dinah allowed the anger to come through her. She allowed the anger to contaminate her, to set the bar of what the scene was going to be. Kelly knows how to keep the fear at bay and do as she needs to do and work within the fear, but not let the fear consume her. She won't be poisoned by the fear as much, and I like that because that's a little easier to play. And yet, it has its difficulties because you still have to keep her interesting.
I learned a lot of strength from Dinah and I'll always put that into everything I do because I think the world needs to see good strong women. This character has a lot of similarities to Dinah: had a hard time, has hurt people in the past, a lot of judgment on her. That's similar, so I can still put the badass into Kelly that I had in Dinah. But it will be a different level. Does that make sense?
Dan: Oh, absolutely. And I think that a lot of people will be waiting to see that play out on screen.
Gina: I'm anxious to see that too. Again, I have to wait for those scenes where I can go, "Oh! This is where maybe we could do that."
Dan: You've had the ability to come back to this role, but you won't be able to do that with Dinah.
Gina: I can't go back to Dinah… but that's okay, though. I am so sad to see Guiding Light go, as many people are, after 72 years, but I like the way Dinah ended. Dinah ended with some sort of self-respect. She left and did the right thing. She always sabotaged herself -- that was her history. After a while that gets a little tough to play, but I enjoyed it because it was a challenge.
It's okay, though. It was almost like I had the opportunity to put her to rest. It was so cool. We were like the graduating class. Everybody who was a part of Guiding Light in those last months got to say, "We put this down." That, to me, was an honor, because I was like the fourth or fifth Dinah. I got to put her down and give her some glory -- and then have my community say, "Hey, good for you," and be nominated for and win an Emmy. It's nice to get an award.
Gina: Yeah, two!
Dan: And from that graduating class you've moved on to an interview with me!
Gina: And this is great! People have said to me, "Oh you're going back?" Yeah, kind of, but not really. I mean it's not really starting something new here. We have elements, yeah, but I'm not twenty! (Laughs) it's not about being older, it's about maturity. There are questions like, what has she been up to? So this will be new -- and I'm looking forward to it.
As the interview concluded, like any good soap opera, there were many questions that still needed answers. What exactly has Kelly been up to? Other than noting that her character has been raising her son, Zane, in London and is no longer married to Kevin Buchanan, Tognoni's lips are sealed. Viewers will start to get some answers when a "mysterious emergency" brings Kelly Cramer back to One Life to Live beginning February 12.
Photo: Steve Fenn/ABC