This interview originally appeared in the June 20, 1995 issue of Soap Opera Digest.
Very little in life is guaranteed, but for ONE LIFE TO LIVE’s Gina Tognoni, soap success was written in the stars. Long before she ever dreamed of moving to Manhattan from the West Coast (where she was studying liberal arts at Santa Monica College and working part-time in a tanning salon for $5.25 an hour), a psychic told her she was headed for showbiz. “She said I was going to go into drama,” Tognoni recalls, “which is interesting, because at that time in my life, I really didn’t know what I was going to do.”
But not even Jeanne Dixon could have foretold the roundabout way that Tognoni landed in Llanview. Born in St. Louis, Tognoni left the Midwest at the tender age of 3, when her family upped and moved to Syracuse, NY. The Tognonis relocated once again, to Bristol, RI, when the actress was 13. “That’s where I went to high school. I got sent to an all-girls Catholic high school because I was getting a little wild in middle school,” she grins. “I had nuns as teachers, which was a little rough.”
Catholic school got Tognoni back in the habit, academically speaking, and she was accepted into a journalism program at Emerson College in Boston. Then fate intervened. “I represented Rhode Island in the Miss Teen USA pageant in 1992 and won Miss Photogenic,” she begins. “Then, right after I gradated in high school, I entered the Miss Teen All-American beauty pageant in Miami. I won first runner-up.” One of the judges, the manager of actress Halle Berry, encouraged her to sign up with him and pursue and acting career in California. “My parents were cool about that,” she enthuses. “Don’t ask me why.”
Not much acting work came her was in L.A., which is how Tognoni ended up going back to school and working at the tanning salon. “I was auditioning a heck of a lot, but mostly for pilots,” she says. Then she told her agent that she wanted to try out for soaps. Soon afterward, OLTL flew her to New York to see if she had any chemistry with Nathan Fillion (Joey). She did — although today, five months later, she is hesitant to take all the credit for snagging her role. “I’m a Sagittarian,” she shrugs. “Sagittarians are ruled by Jupiter, and Jupiter is the planet of luck.”
The first few days at OLTL were rough, the actress admits. “I’m Italian, I grew up in an Italian family, and we all use our hands a lot,” she smiles. “Now when we’re taping, I have to tell myself, ‘Keep your hands down and don’t use them unless you have to.’ My mom was funny, though. I told her about the hands and she said, ‘Maybe it could be a Kelly thing.’ I said, ‘I think it’ll have to be, because it’s a Gina thing for sure.’ “
So far, Tognoni’s on-set pals include Fillion and his on-screen sis, Erin Torpey (Jessica). And then there’s Mari Morrow (Rachel) and Krista Tesreau (Tina), who live in Tognoni’s apartment building. “The other night, Mari and I went down to Krista’s apartment. IT was about 11 p.m. I figured that nobody would be around, so I just threw on my bathrobe. Then the elevator opened and there were all these great-looking people in it,” she sighs. “Oh well.”
Tognoni has also made friends with Erika Slezak (Viki/Niki/Tori et al), who imparted some valuable advice: study the script. “I was so overwhlemed with everything and I asked her, ‘How do you deal with the pressure?’ And she said, ‘Really, all you have to do is know your lines.’ And I thought about it, and she’s right. If you know your lines, you can worry about the acting in the morning. Because the acting you’ve already got. It’s in here,’ she says, pointing at her heart.
For now, though, Tognoni is being careful not to tempt fate. “When you’re an actor, it’s so hard to get any job. But it’s so great playing Kelly, because there are no boundaries to what she might or might not do. I don’t have to be so serious. Work is like my playground.” She smiles. “Every day, I thank my lucky stars I got this job.”
JUST THE FACTS
Birthday: November 28
Hails From: Rhode Island
Family Matters: Her mom, Sharon, is a paralegal, and her dad, Edward, and brother, Dean, are shoe manufacturers.
She Can Imitate: Tim Conway
School Ties: Tognoni took acting classes at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, where castmates Jack Armstrong (Kevin) and Robin Strasser (Dorian) also studied.