It's been 20 years since Princess Gillian Andrassy was tragically shot and killed, but for All My Children fans, the shocking and unbelievable moment feels like it just happened yesterday. The character and her portrayer, South African actress Esta TerBlanche, had won viewers' hearts during her four years in Pine Valley, and the princess' death was a stunning turn of events that ended both her time on the show and her fairytale romance with Ryan Lavery (Cameron Mathison), with whom she shares the title of one of the most popular Pine Valley supercouples.
Though AMC fans have continued to mourn Gillian's death, and TerBlanche has been in the thoughts of millions, the actress was noticeably absent in the flurry of nostalgic All My Children reunions that happened during the pandemic (some of which you can view here, here, and here). She rarely does interviews, and she doesn't have much of a social media presence, so fans have spent the past two decades wondering what TerBlanche has been up to since leaving the soap world two decades ago. She did make a brief return to All My Children when the series was ending its ABC run in 2011, and she has revealed that she opened a spa after her time as Gillian came to a close, but other than that, her life has mostly remained a mystery -- until now!
In a new interview with Soap Central, TerBlanche reveals that after an extended break from acting, she is finally ready to return to the public eye. Keep reading to find out where she'd like her career to go, and hear some memories from her time on All My Children -- including why she purposely messed up at her audition, why she was initially annoyed by Cameron Mathison (really!), her craziest fan encounter, and more.
Soap Central: I am so happy to be speaking with you because out of all the actors from All My Children, I think fans wonder about you the most, as far as what you've been up to since leaving the show. You've been kind of elusive!
Esta TerBlanche: [Laughs] Yeah, I haven't been in the public eye that much, and I think it's about time that I make myself available again!
Soap Central: I'd love to start at the beginning with All My Children. You had found fame in South Africa and then decided to move to the US and see if you could be successful in the States. Was that a scary decision for you, to take off to a foreign country and try your luck?
TerBlanche: It was very scary, but I always knew I wanted to come to America, so it was not even a negotiation for me -- it was something I knew I had to do. Even if I was scared, I just knew I had to do it. But I was terribly scared, and the two weeks before I had to go, I was crying non-stop, thinking, "Why am I doing this?!" I was really questioning myself, like, "Why am I putting myself through this? Why?!" But I just knew I had a deeper calling, that I had to come. But all the way on the plane I cried, and I remember I walked out of LAX with a suitcase in each hand and I just looked out and I saw the city in the front of me, and I literally put my suitcases down and turned around, took a couple steps back toward the airport, thinking, "I'm going right back to South Africa," but then I stopped, and I thought, "No, you're here now. You can't go back." So, yes, I was very scared!
Soap Central: I'll bet you're so proud of yourself for staying, though, because obviously you found success on AMC, which completely changed your life!
TerBlanche: Yeah, you know what, it really did change my life. I don't really sit back and think about it that much, but when you ask me like this, then yes, I am very proud of myself, and I am grateful that I stayed.
Soap Central: You said you landed in Los Angeles, so did you move to New York City for All My Children, or did something else bring you to NYC first?
TerBlanche: No, I moved out to New York City for All My Children, so that was another scary move! I had just found my feet in Los Angeles and knew where everything was, and I had kind of settled down in L.A. and was happy and had made friends, and then [AMC] wanted to fly me out to New York to screen test, and I thought, "No way. I'm not moving again!" [Laughs] But I went, and I remember that when I did my screen test, I purposely messed up, because I was like, "No, I'm not moving again. Let me make a mistake. I don't want this." But after I did, I thought to myself, "If you have to move, you move. Just do a good job now." So, I said, "Can I start again?" And then I did my thing, and I got the job.
Soap Central: As AMC fans know, Gillian was always messing up her words and stuff, so maybe your decision to intentionally mess up worked in your favor! Perhaps the casting department was charmed and thought, "That's actually really cute! We like that aspect!"
TerBlanche: [Laughs] I don't know, maybe! But that is funny, because I do always make mistakes with my language, because my first language is Afrikaans. So, on set, I made a lot of mistakes with my language, and the writers could see on the monitor what I was doing, and they thought I was funny, and they started to write it on purpose into the show.
Soap Central: How did you feel about that? Were you okay with it?
TerBlanche: Yeah, I laughed about it. I was like, "Okay, you guys, you make fun of me -- that's fine! I get it." So, they just wrote into the script what was happening in real life, because I was constantly making mistakes, and they just made real life work in the scripts, because they thought it was funny.
Soap Central: It worked, obviously, because people fell in love with Gillian. She was a troublemaker, and she had this hilarious history of being with all these different men in Europe, which was pretty entertaining. Do you remember what you loved about the character and the kind of girl that she was?
TerBlanche: I think even though she was this sassy girl and she had her way with men, she was also kind of insecure, especially when it came to Ryan, because she loved him so much. She wasn't really sure [of herself with him] because she really loved this guy. She had this cute side to her when it came to Ryan; there was this "in control" part and this totally other part that was nice about her that I liked to play.
Soap Central: Do you remember meeting Cameron Mathison for the first time?
TerBlanche: Yes, I absolutely do remember! The first thought that went through my head was, "Oh, wow. He is so cute -- I can't believe I just got married! I hope this isn't going to be a difficult situation." [Laughs] To be honest, that is the real thing that went through my head. So, I must have thought he was really cute!
Soap Central: How did your then-husband react to you having such a sexy guy as your big love interest?!
TerBlanche: Not good! [Laughs] But, no, really, he didn't meet Cameron until much, much later, and they were fine. They were good friends and they got along really great.
Soap Central: As an actor you have to be able to create chemistry with everybody that you work with, but obviously, you and Cameron had something really special. Did you guys notice that you had something unique together?
TerBlanche: No, not at all. At first, he was kind of annoying to me because he was so perfect! I was like, "Dude, you eat right, you exercise, you're kind of a pain in my butt!" [Laughs] So, to be honest, no. And then one day, the executive producer [Jean Dadario Burke] called us in, and she said, "I just want to prepare you: you're going to be the next big supercouple." And I didn't know what she was saying, really. And I said, "What do you mean? I don't understand." And she said, "You're going to be a well-known couple." So, I didn't really understand too much what she was trying to tell us, but then, at some point, I just started to feel really comfortable working with Cameron, and I started to enjoy our scenes -- they became so much fun -- and that's when maybe the chemistry started to show? I'm really not sure what exactly it was.
Soap Central: It's hard to put a finger on what makes a TV couple work as well as you two did together -- if there was a formula, every show would be doing it!
TerBlanche: Right! I just think our souls connected on a level that was magical. It's hard to describe. It was a soul connection; it was something deeper than just a surface connection, definitely.
Soap Central: This was a time when soap operas were still really, really huge and reaching millions and millions of people. Did you notice a difference in your fame during that time?
TerBlanche: Yes, definitely. It did happen. Especially when we used to go to the Midwest sometimes, or when we went to places like Chicago. If we went out, especially to those places, there was a big difference, because in New York, people are more used to seeing actors and well-known people.
Soap Central: Did you have any crazy fan encounters? Anything that is really memorable?
TerBlanche: I actually do -- a fan tried to steal my wedding ring.
Soap Central: What? Are you serious?!
TerBlanche: Unfortunately, I am.
Soap Central: In all my years of conversations with actors, that is one of the craziest -- and scariest -- fan encounters that I've heard. Really. Wow.
TerBlanche: It was a bizarre experience... but luckily, most of the fans were absolutely amazing.
Soap Central: Cameron Mathison shared a funny story about how, after you two had your first kissing scene, the director took him aside and had to tell him how to kiss on television because he was doing it all wrong. Do you have any moments like that, where the directors were like, "Esta, you need to do it this way!" Not love scenes, necessarily, just in general...
TerBlanche: No, but I can tell you that I think I was for sure the highest paid actress on the Dick Clark blooper show [TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes], that showed when actors make mistakes, because I was the klutziest. I would always trip and fall, and fall down the stairs, and when I was wearing high heels and had to sexily walk to Ryan in my high heels in a love scene, I would trip and fall. All these hilarious moments would always happen to me! So, basically, when something goes wrong, they would put it on the Dick Clark show, so scenes like that, like a blooper. The directors didn't tell me to do something different, because I obviously messed scenes up completely, so we'd just have to redo them all the time. So, yeah, there was a running joke that I am probably the highest paid actress on that TV show because I was constantly messing up and tripping! [Laughs]
Soap Central: Are you like that in normal life?! Like, klutzy off set, as well?
TerBlanche: Let me tell you, I just came back from Mexico, where I broke two pairs of shoes! So, yes, I am! I walk into walls. But our executive producer was the exact same, so, I researched it, and they say that people who are extremely smart, their brains are ahead, so we started to joke about this, Jean and I, we'd say, "Yeah, well, we are so smart, that's why!" It became a big joke. Every time I would trip, I would just say on the monitors to the directors, "Yeah, yeah, sorry -- I'm just so smart, you know." It was always a joke. But they couldn't get mad at me because I would just laugh. It wasn't a serious thing, but yeah, I'm a big klutz.
Soap Central: People probably appreciated it, because you have long days on soap operas. If you can laugh at yourself and you can allow others to laugh, too, it's a nice relief from the stress.
TerBlanche: Yeah, you know, you gotta picture this, here I am in this sexy ball gown or something, running to Ryan, where we're going to have this love scene, and I'm all flirting with him, but the next thing you know, I trip on my dress. It's so unsexy, and the fact that I can laugh about it, you're right, people should just laugh about these things and not take themselves so seriously and see the funniness in things.
Soap Central: While you were on the show, you got to work with some really amazing actors. I'm going to name a few, and I'd love it if you could share some memories you might have? To start, Michael Nader, who played Dimitri Marick?
TerBlanche: Oh, my God, what a gentleman. I loved him. I was a little star-struck when I met him, but he was always so kind, a gentleman, just generous and warm and such a lovely, lovely person. He played my cousin, and I loved him.
Soap Central: There was also John Callahan, who played Edmund Grey.
TerBlanche: Aw, such a nice guy. I would hang out in his dressing room sometimes with him and talk. He was a sweet sweetheart, always giving advice. I was so sorry that he passed away. He was very kind, full of advice, full of life. Beautiful, beautiful heart.
Soap Central: I always feel like you could see so much life in John's eyes -- they were always so bright and kind and full of love.
TerBlanche: Yes, whereas Michael was a dark soul. He had sadness in his eyes.
Soap Central: You also worked with Vincent Irizarry, who played everyone's favorite villain, David Hayward!
TerBlanche: Oh, yes! We had tons of love scenes and fights and stuff! He's a great guy. I love Vincent. He's a good man.
Soap Central: The list goes on, because you worked with so many of AMC's most beloved actors: Michael E. Knight (Tad Martin), Kelly Ripa (Hayley Santos), Susan Lucci (Erica Kane)...
TerBlanche: Oh, my gosh, what a fantastic guy, Michael E. Knight. He is the salt of the earth. Amazing, amazing man. Kelly Ripa, yes, she is amazing, as well. The day of the Emmys, she was in the makeup room, and she was wearing a very tight dress, and I said, "How come you don't have panty lines?" And she said, "I'm not wearing any panties." And I said, "No, I don't believe you! Let me feel." And she said, "Okay, if you want to stick your hand up my crotch, you can feel it." And I said, "Yeah, I would love to stick my hand up your crotch!" [Laughs] So, I did, I stuck my hand up her crotch, and I said, "Yep, you're not wearing panties!"... And that became the big joke between me and Kelly. But she is such a sweetheart. Kelly is awesome. She is a natural talker; she would come in and sit in the makeup room and just talk and tell us about her night, so her talk show is such a natural extension of her personality. It's perfect for her. And Susan Lucci, she is just a class act. She is just classy, kind, all the great things that you can say -- that is Susan Lucci.
Soap Central: To this day, I think Susan Lucci has been the classiest actress that I've interviewed. You don't know what to expect, being that she is the queen of soaps, but she was so personable and kind.
TerBlanche: Yes, she is! She was always kind to me, always friendly to me. She's unbelievable, really. I'm getting goosebumps saying this; she's an extraordinary woman.
Soap Central: Speaking of goosebumps, Gillian's death was one of the most difficult things for All My Children fans to experience -- many of us still get sad when we think about that tragic ending for her and for Ryan and Gillian's relationship. Was it your decision to leave the show, or was it the writers' decision to kill off Gillian?
TerBlanche: It was a combination of things. I feel like they killed my character because they really needed the ratings to go up, but I did think at the time that I was probably going to end my contract. I was maybe going to stay a bit longer, but I wasn't really sure. But I probably would have come back if my character wasn't dead! It is unfortunate that they killed her, in retrospect, looking back now.
Soap Central: Yes, because they killed her in a way that was hard to come back from, even for a soap. Getting shot in the head and then the heart transplant...
TerBlanche: Yeah! They took her heart out and everything. I was also shocked that it was like that.
Soap Central: Did they ever try to get you back? Obviously you returned in 2011 for the show's end on ABC, but before that point, did they ever approach you about bringing Gillian back?
TerBlanche: No. I think they couldn't [because of the finality of her death].
Soap Central: After you left All My Children, it seemed like you disappeared from the acting world, but did you, in fact, continue acting back in South Africa?
TerBlanche: I did a few things -- I hosted a supermodel television series in South Africa, and I did a short film and a few documentaries -- but I did take a break from acting for a while. I did do a lot of things, though, now that I think about it! But back in South Africa.
Soap Central: Are you coming back to into the public eye because you hope to get back into acting again?
TerBlanche: Yes! I would love to act again.
Soap Central: Would you be open to doing another soap opera? Perhaps reuniting with Cameron Mathison on General Hospital?
TerBlanche: Cameron and I were talking about it, and we said that! We said, "Maybe we should reunite on General Hospital," and we both agreed that would be amazing. Wouldn't that be great?!
Soap Central: Your fans would love it. Either that or for the All My Children primetime reboot that is supposedly happening in the future. Would you be open to bringing Gillian back for a show like that?
TerBlanche: Absolutely. Cameron and I also spoke about that possibility, as well.
Soap Central: Have you kept in contact with Cameron over the years, then?
TerBlanche: No. We never stayed in contact. I didn't even have his number, but we saw each other recently, and I didn't even know about his cancer! It was lovely to see him, and I would love to work with him again.
How much do you miss Esta TerBlanche in the role of AMC's Gillian? What are your favorite memories of her time in Pine Valley? Would you like to see the actress return to soap operas? If so, which one and as what type of character? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.