Y&R’s Jason Thompson and Gina Tognoni Have Found Their Groove On-Screen And Off

Soap Opera Digest: Since you both have been on ABC shows, Gina on ONE LIFE TO LIVE as Kelly and Jason on GH as Patrick, did you meet before Y&R?

Jason Thompson: I’ll let Gina answer that because she’s going to say no, but we have.

Gina Tognoni: It was at the [Daytime] Emmys, right?

Thompson: Yes, but it was very quick.

Tognoni: I was East Coast, and he was West Coast.

Thompson: Right, but we never really talked before Y&R.

Tognoni: But I knew his face and I knew he was a really good actor.

Digest: Prior to Jason showing up on Y&R, Gina, did you know what was coming down the pike for Billy and Phyllis?

Tognoni: No, but when Burgess [Jenkins] was playing Billy, the last few months, the dialogue was a little flirty and Burgess and I joked about it off set and how crazy that would make Jack. When Jason walked in, I don’t remember anything official being said to us.

Thompson: Even when I would talk to the writers about the future of my character and where Billy was going, nothing was said to me of an affair. When it started to happen, it was a bit surprising. I was fairly new when it started to kick off.

Digest: What was your reaction?

Tognoni: I just kept thinking, “Oh, my gosh, I love working with Jason!” and that it was a how-lucky-am-I? kind of thing. I’m not just saying that, I really felt that. I loved his style, the way he worked. It was very fresh and in the moment.

Thompson: She said “worked” because now that she’s used to me, she’s not that excited anymore.

Tognoni: Every performance, he surprises me, and I love his presence in scenes.

Digest: When Jason officially came to Y&R, do you remember what your first meeting was like?

Thompson: I came in a week before I started, and Gina, Peter [Bergman, Jack] and Amelia [Heinle, Victoria] were finishing a scene where they were standing around an extra in bed, who was supposed to be [a comatose] Billy. [Then-Executive Producer] Jill Farren Phelps brought me over and introduced me. I was very nervous, obviously, but they were very sweet and made me feel welcome. They helped me out a lot with the story and who Billy is. To come into a well-oiled machine and to be helped to fit in was very much appreciated. This role was daunting, because it’s a big character and I have big shoes to fill. I’m just so grateful that I had amazing partners and I feel it’s been a very positive thing. Personally, I’ve been having such a great time.

Digest: Gina, what was your first impression of Jason?

Tognoni: I thought, “Wow, he’s super-handsome. The ladies will love him.” I had already heard from Peter that Jason does wonderful things with even small scenes, so I was already looking for that. And Peter was right! I was immediately drawn to Jason’s tremendous depth. After the first few days I thought, “This is going to be very cool.”

Digest: Jason, since you were receiving a crash course on your character’s history, did you realize this story with Phyllis was going to be a big deal?

Thompson: Yeah, I think it was apparent. When Billy and Phyllis first came together behind everybody’s back about Pass Key, I felt like this could be really big, scary and dangerous! It’s been a process for the last six months, slowly letting the story evolve and not paying too much attention to where it’s going or what it might lead to. And I think for me, it’s helped me stay connected to Gina.

Digest: Is it fun for you to be involved in a story that you know will get people talking?

Tognoni: Yes, but in this case, Phyllis is wrecking her own home. She is listening to her heart, even though it’s very destructive. I am not a big lover of infidelity and it’s hard for me to watch sometimes, so to play it has been challenging, but when I play it, I get it. I understand it. It’s a cool story because it’s relatable, and at the end of the day, that’s what I want to feel good about, touching people, along with Jason, Peter and Amelia. But it hasn’t been super-easy.

Thompson: What is delicate about these kind of stories is that you have to find those little personal moments in-between because the audience has to believe that these two people really want to be together.

Tognoni: It’s not about sex.

Thompson: Right, because when you play the big, grand story, it can get lost. It’s about the connection between those two and it starts to evolve from there. At the same time, it’s a perfect, big old soap story because everybody in Genoa City will be affected when the affair comes out. Everybody is going to feel the ripple.

Digest: Does the fact that you are both happily married make playing the affair a challenge?

Thompson: Not really, because it’s interesting to me. On a psychological level, we know what this looks like. We’ve seen it in TV and movies, but as far as coming to work and doing this thing, I love my wife, so I know what love is. I think you can understand what it means to love someone like that, so you can interpret it that way. It’s a weird kind of crazy. And I go home and tell my wife how much fun it’s been to work here.

Tognoni: We are both incredibly grateful and blessed to have the partners we have. My husband is an angel to me and such stability in my life and I adore him. While I fly back and forth, he holds down the fort and that gives me an amount of freedom that is hard to articulate, and so when I’m here, I’m here doing what I love.

Digest: As you both started working together more, did you ever set aside time to get to know each other, like hanging out in a dressing room or going out to lunch?

Tognoni: No. I really do wish we all had more time to socialize, but when we get here, it’s off to the races. With the amount of dialogue we have to run with one another, going to hair and makeup, and then getting out there and doing it, very often our day is gone. We wrap around 4 or 5 and it’s time to go home to our other life. You get to know each other during the day, like grabbing lunch together, but it’s rare.

Thompson: When you are working with people you trust, a lot less has to be said in a way. You can just be there and get to know the person, slowly but surely. We don’t get to spend a lot of down time together, but I think we have become comfortable with each other quickly.

Digest: What qualities do you admire about Gina?

Thompson: I love that she has been able to stay working in this business with the same amount of enthusiasm, passion and professionalism. She never takes a day off. She’s always excited about making it better. To be able to go back and forth every single weekend and then come back here and dedicate herself to being Phyllis is amazing. This show relies on Gina a lot and I don’t think it would work without her dedication. And she’s just a really fun person to be around. I’m so grateful I find myself in this position where I love what I do and love the people I do it with.

Digest: What qualities do you admire in Jason?

Tognoni: When he first got here, his beautiful wife, Paloma, was pregnant and due in May. Jason would light up when he talked about his baby coming and his beautiful wife and I saw right away what a good person he is. When it comes to work, he isn’t thinking about anything else but what is in the moment and that selfishly is the most awesome thing to work with because it forces you to do the same thing. Jason knows who he is and he is tremendously interesting, so I always want to talk to him. He is the gift that keeps giving.

Digest: You’re both working a lot with Jess Walton (Jill). How do you like that?

Tognoni: Jess is a powerhouse, a joy to watch and a joy to work with. I would love to keep working with her. What an amazing history she has with this show. She is always laughing. I just love her!

Thompson: I love working with her, too. I never had an on-screen mother and it’s been a wonderful relationship. I love being around her. She is like a high school girl; so endearing and so cute.

Digest: Finish this sentence: When I crack open my script and I have scenes with Gina/Jason, I …

Tognoni: Smile, giggle and I’m psyched. 

Thompson: Love it! When I don’t work with Gina for three or four days, I get annoyed. Across the board, I’m so excited!