August 24th, 2011  |  Leave a comment

The Gina Tognoni Interview – One Life to Live

Courtesy/ABC

It is always hard to say goodbye…and this week on One Life to Live, the first of the early exits that viewers have known about for some time is coming to fruition.  It affects one of Llanview’s most famous cliques and families, the fabulous Cramer women.  First up, two-time Daytime Emmy winner Gina Tognoni bids farewell to Llanview as Kelly heads off to London with her man Joey Buchanan in tow to reunite with her son, Zane.  Today’s episode signals the dwindling down of some of the key members of the cast with Gina first, and Robin Strasser (Dorian) set to exit tomorrow.

On-Air On-Soaps had the opportunity to speak with Gina in this exclusive interview to get her thoughts on the end of her run as Kelly Cramer, a role that started her soap career.  Gina also acknowledges that her second time around was not as easy finding Kelly’s groove, and is having a difficult time like many of you, processing the upcoming network television loss of One Life.

And while one door closes another one, as they say, always opens.  Gina is ready to spread her wings either on a hit primetime show or a hit daytime soap.  You will learn which ones strike her fancy and what daytime bad boy she would love to be paired with. Now, while Gina has wrapped OLTL, she still feels there is more work that she wants to do to bring the fans closer to their Llanview favorites.  That is why Gina is spearheading the efforts for a very special upcoming benefit concert for the American Red Cross in October that is a must-attend for all soap fans.  We will fill you in on all the details!

So what makes Gina Tognoni so special to us, and we hope to you?  She has heart, she has depth, she has guts, she is a fighter, and she is a master communicator.  And with that, we bring you this farewell interview with Gina!  Spoiler: You might need a hankie or two.

MICHAEL:

Courtesy/ABC

Looking at the photographic images of your final day on the set of One Life to Live, they brought in a cake, and you cried a bit, and you were with Michael Easton (John).  How did you feel during those final moments in Llanview?

GINA:

That was on June 24th, and it was not a heavy day as far as material.  There were a few scenes with Michael, and I cannot tell you how happy I was to have my final day with him.  I am such a big fan of his.  I think he has one of the most generous awesome souls to work with, and I didn’t get to work enough with him. But I was always happy to see him on the script, because that meant we would be working together. That was always a really positive thing.  I did not get to see Robin Strasser (Dorian) very much that day, but I know she was wrapping up as well.  In fact, she was wrapping up right around the same time I was, but I was not able to connect with her that much and neither was Kassie DePaiva (Blair) around that much.  So the Cramer women stuff happened a week or so before I taped my last scenes.  So we did get some time to bond together, but you know what?  I was thinking about it today.  It is so hard to put into words everything that I feel, but One Life to Live was just a great place to work.  It was a great group of people and everyone wanted this show to succeed, and it so sad that it is going away as we know it.  And as far as what it does online, that is yet to be seen.  But as far as the years and what they have put together as a team at a television studio, this was something really special.

MICHAEL:

What about the remarkable team at One Life to Live made it even that more a special place to work for you, especially being a part of the A-list cast?

GINA:

Courtesy/ABC

Everybody seemed to have each other’s back and that was sort of the energy there. Nobody was really hurtful to one another.  If anyone did say or do anything that was hurtful, everybody would be able to talk to one another.  It was a terrific environment, and as an actor I was able to always kind of do my best, be who I am, and not feel like I have to put on any airs or anything.  So that is why in the picture you saw, I was getting so choked up in the end.  I was extremely grateful to spend 18 months there this past go-around.  It was not long enough in many ways, and there were so many things about Kelly I wanted to see developed.  I think a lot of the development of Kelly and her coming back on the canvas happened when unfortunately there was so much going on in Llanview.  It is what it is.  There were many things going on that the fans loved about Llanview, and Kelly was one of them. They integrated me into the 18 months I was on the show in lots of different ways and it had its high points! There was finding her mother’s killer, Joey coming back in town, and hooking up with McBain, and in each one of these events people were kind of getting to know Kelly again.  When I left the show before I was a young woman, then I came back as a full on woman.  The one thing about Kelly’s energy was that it was quirky and goofy and naïve at times.  But as a woman, it is very hard to play those qualities and still be a mother, and a responsible editor at The Sun, and someone who you take relatively seriously as a love interest.

MICHAEL:

I think fans at times, had a difficult time trying to invest in Kelly, as she would be paired with certain people for a while or be in certain storylines, and then things were dropped.  And you are one helluva actress!  So I think people were waiting for a story to take hold and take off big-time.  Now at the end of your run, Kelly is consumed with getting back to her son Zane, who is in London!

GINA:

I think Ron Carlivati (OLTL, head writer) was trying to find this balance with her.  We needed to talk more about Kelly’s son, Zane, and we were starting to do that.  At the end of my run they decided to push the Zane angle.  Some fans liked that, and some fans thought, “Oh please… Give me a break.”  So there was a little bit of criticism to that, and I get it.  But I just think the bigger picture was we had to get to know Kelly, and over the last 18 months, I think there was some positive and negative about that.

© JPI Studios

MICHAEL:

I think it looked a bit manic; that after wanting to get back together with her true love Joey for so long, and she did, that now suddenly she has this overwhelming need to get back to her child in London, pronto!  Were those scenes hard to play or pull off, because quickly her agenda became getting to Zane?

GINA:

First of all, you have to make it work, and I think I did.  Yes, it was like we got to scene A without getting to Scene B, and we jumped from A to C, and it was disjointed.  I can’t “un-joint” words, but I can try to make it come from an emotional place.  I know we never really explored why all of a sudden she needed to go see Zane.  Can the audience believe it?  Yes, that is plausible, but it leaves you questioning, “Where did that come from?”  And of course, we never saw it answered because it was time to go.  Yes, it is hard and can be difficult, and it has made me very sensitive to what the viewers are being fed when you have been doing this for awhile.

MICHAEL:

I want to go back to our discussion at the Moving Down the Block Party in February 2010, when OLTL moved into AMC’s old digs.  You had recently returned to the show, and when I asked you who would you like to play Kelly’s love interest, you told me you wanted to be paired with Michael Easton.  You wanted to see Kelly and McBain.  You obviously must have been elated when it actually did happen!

GINA:

© JPI Studios

I loved the scenes with the two of them in the Minute Man Hotel.  You talk about brilliant writing?  It was great!  You put two people in the same room who should not be doing something like that, and then you watch it and can go, “Hey, wait a minute. That does kind of work.”  The only reason I thought Kelly and McBain were so great together is they both have a checkered past.  They have such a deep availability emotionally, and there are lots of positives there, and that was me saying, “Hey guys, that could work.”  I am telling you, Michael Easton is a lovely person to work with.  But I think they wanted to hang Kelly’s hat with Joey.  And that is tough, because you are filling Nathan Fillion’s (Ex-Joey) shoes, and that does not in anyway take away from Tom Degnan and what he brought to the role.  We were uphill in a lot of areas, and in my experience in doing soaps, at times I felt like I had to keep my mouth shut, because I needed them to find it as much as me.  It was a very tight line to walk.  I am not there to write, I am there to act.

MICHAEL:

I think perhaps, it was difficult for you as Kelly to be come anchored. You had so many people coming and going in and out of the show, and so many old and new characters they needed to write for, and then Tom Degnan appears as the new Joey, who nobody had seen before in the role.

GINA:

Problem number one: I think nobody knew this Joey, so it gave Tom Degnan an uphill battle.  Tom did a great job and I really dug him.  I loved Tom and working with Robin and Kassie.  I also loved watching Bree Williamson (Jessica) who is adorable and really fun to watch, and Florencia Lozano (Tea) is just a little firecracker, but I think we really had not found Kelly’s voice yet, and I will say that as an actress, because it is a process.  I think we would have found it if we had more time.  I said that to Ron Carlivati, “I think we needed more time.”  And he sort of agreed with me.

MICHAEL:

Courtesy/TrevorStJohn.com

I thought Trevor St. John (Todd now Victor Jr.) and you could have made an exciting couple there for a while.  When the two of you were working at The Sun together, I thought the sparks would really start to fly, but then …it fizzled.

GINA:

Talk about your heavy-hitters!  I know!  But then, “boom” no manifestation.  Working with Trevor was fabulous and really fun.  I think he takes chances.  It is hard to do daytime because there is so little rehearsal and we move so fast.  Trevor really goes for it, and he really makes a choice.  He gives you a lot to react off of.  Kassie DePaiva was fun energy, and Robin Strasser will work a scene from every angle you can possibly think of. So every single one of these people at One Life, including all the actors, and Ron and Frank Valentini, our executive producer, were doing their best trying to keep this thing going, and that is what I take from the show.  Not necessarily that we did not quite find my voice.  When I walked away, and it was my last time, I had some sadness.  I did not come back so I could win more Emmys.  I mean, yes, you want to keep accomplishing things in your life, but I wanted to come back and really give Kelly a wonderful voice. Trying to be in the process of finding that, and then having the show cancelled, was a real heartbreaker!

MICHAEL:

How did you get the news that One Life to Live was cancelled?  Were you at the studio that day when ABC Daytime President Brian Frons gave his bi-coastal video conference with the bad news to both OLTL and AMC?

GINA:

No, I was off that day.  I was in between episodes, and my agent texted me and she said, “Oh my goodness.  I just heard.  I will call you in five minutes.”  And I am like, “Oh man.”  And I am thinking, “I can’t imagine it’s just All My Children, because she wouldn’t be texting like this.”  I just could not quite believe it; to have both shows cancelled at once!  It is like this big gaping hole.  I am sorry, it really is, and it just does not make any sense.  It made sense to someone, because someone pulled the plug.  Daytime has been so good to me. I have invested more than a few years in it.  I have had nurses come up to me who I know, and whether it is in a nursing home or whatever it is, and they tell me for people who are watching daytime, it brightens their day.  I know, I have seen it.  We were a part of that, and to see that deteriorate is sad.

MICHAEL:

Photo Credit: Steven Bergman

What does this mean for you in terms of the future, and if you fit into the picture when OLTL moves online?  Since you were written off early, did you not receive a proposal from Prospect Park like the other actors?

GINA:

I really don’t know where I fit within this new Prospect Park venture.  I also don’t know what will happen with any other perspective daytime jobs.  We will see.  Yes, I have spoken to other shows since the cancellation of OLTL.  I am flattered and we will see where that all leads.  At the moment, I am in New Jersey with my husband.  I love the east coast and it’s my home.  There is quite a bit of acting opportunity here in the Northeast, which I am extremely excited about.  There are over 22 shows being produced in New York over the next year; including pilots and existing shows.  So there is so much going on and I am excited about the new chapter in my life.  I have no idea of what is coming around the corner.  So you talk about having faith?  This is when I truly have to have faith in the process.  And, it is not the easiest thing to do every day.  I am here to say, it is possible.  It is about taking a moment and trying not to act out of fear or scarcity.  You have to remember, you have been taking care of yourself this far and you will get yourself to the next place.  But, it is about staying centered, relaxed, and grateful.

MICHAEL:

When you look at the different network primetime shows, is there somewhere you can see yourself fitting in?  And, what would you like to play?

GINA:

I absolutely would love to play a role on The Good Wife and Blue Bloods.  I would love to play a detective or an investigative reporter.  I like the police procedural aspect of those shows.  I really dig it!

MICHAEL:

What about the four remaining network daytime soap operas?   Is there one you sort of fancy and could see yourself on?

GINA:

© JPI Studios

I would say Y&R has always been the most glam, well-done soap.  I think Maria Arena Bell (Y&R executive producer and head writer) is terrific.  I am also a fan of B&B.  I think it is an adorable show and it’s out there, and it does not try to be more than it is.  I think Brad Bell (B&B executive producer and head writer) is really neat, too.  I would love to play opposite Billy Miller (Billy Abbott, Y&R)!  I think he is so adorable and vivacious.  I have known him from various events we have both been at.  He is really cool and I dig him.  I think he is a great young talent.  So I think it would be really fun to run around with him on Y&R.  I gotta tell you, CBS is a great place. It would be hilarious if we could bring Dinah from Guiding Light to Genoa City!  Wouldn’t that be interesting?  And can they do that?  And if not, maybe have me come on as a distant cousin of Dinah.

MICHAEL:

Where are those two Daytime Emmys that you won as Dinah on Guiding Light housed?

GINA:

They are in my office in my home.  That office is where I do a lot of my thinking and a lot of my quiet time.  I think and look at them.  And let me tell you something, I wish I could drag them along to every audition. (Laughs)  So I would go in and say, “OK, before we start, here they are and let me act around them.” (Laughs) They are such a reminder of what hard work and being honest can manifest for you.  Those were the most awesome storylines on Guiding Light. Those were issues that were emotional and people could connect to them, and they were earned.  It reminded me of what good soap can be.  If it is written on the page that is one thing, but you have got to play it.  In 2004 when I joined Guiding Light, I actually asked my mother, “Well, should I do this?  Should I move back to New York?”  And she said, “Absolutely.  Don’t think twice.”  And I remember thinking, “Oh, I don’t know.  I am out here in L.A….”  And for one minute I was regretting it, but I was so wrong.  It was the best and richest experience I have ever had in daytime.  I loved working with Rob Bogue (Ex-Mallet, GL).  He was so funny and joyous.  I look back at it now and realize what an awesome time that was.  It is so funny that we don’t realize how great things were sometimes, until we look back and have some distance from them.  There is one thing I can say and that is, appreciate every moment that you are in.

MICHAEL:

You left early from Guiding Light, too!

© JPI Studios

GINA:

Yes.  I took off to Bosnia in a Helicopter!  Now I could not figure out how I would get to Bosnia in a Helicopter? (Laughs)  That was a little strange.  At Guiding Light, my contract was up, and it was my first exit storyline, and it was very similar to OLTL.  The difference was at One Life, I actually had the desire to stay till the very end.

MICHAEL:

So to clarify; at One Life your contract was up and the show decided to have you exit at this point.  Did you want to stay on?

GINA:

They needed to shut things down, and start to have people exit story, but I would have been open to staying on and be with my friends and the audience.  But it was time to go. And for them it was a financial thing, and it was tough being the first to go.  I felt sad.  Now Guiding Light was a little hairier.  It was right at the end, and my contract was up and things were unclear, and it was time to go.  And the fact that we were in Peapack at that time, and things were kind of going south, and the wheels were coming off, and as much as I admire the people that I was working for and with; it was time to go.  OLTL, that was sad… that was sad.

MICHAEL:

And while there is sadness, you are putting some of your incredible Gina T. energy into a very special and big benefit coming up with lots of soap stars.  Fill me in!

GINA:

Courtesy/AmericanRedCross

It’s the American Red Cross benefit, The Rock Show for Charity on October 8th in New York City.  People can get tickets online at www.rockshowforcharity.org.  Tickets are approximately $ 115.00, and a portion of the proceeds goes to the American Red Cross Relief Fund.  The benefit will be a concert like we have had for the last three years, where Bradley Cole (Ex-Jeffrey, GL) leads the band. Then, we will have incredible performers from OLTL including: David Gregory (Ford), Kristen Alderson (Starr), Kelley Missal (Dani), Josh Kelly (Cutter) and Kim Zimmer (Echo) who will all sing. We will also have auction items that will be going up September 1st online through eBay.  People can bid on some very cool things, like a vintage twenty-year-old jacket that Bob Woods (Bo, OLTL) wore around 1985.  It is a fabulous leather jacket! There will be a signed script from the entire cast of OLTL, and signed cowboy hats, and Todd Manning Sun newspapers, too.  Those proceeds from the eBay auction will go 100% to the American Red Cross Relief fund.

MICHAEL:

Why did you decide to get involved with this benefit?

GINA:

I am the bridge between Bradley, the American Red Cross, and One Life to Live. Since I worked at OLTL, I had available resources and the talent, and Bradley got the band.  So I am the middle guy or the facilitator, if you will.  And believe me, I have asked myself many times, how did I fall into this?  But because it’s for a good cause and it’s a chance for everyone to say goodbye, I said to myself, “Why not?  Lets see if we can do it.”  We did the event last year and it had a really great turnout, and I think this year will even be  bigger!

MICHAEL:

Where is the event going to be held?

GINA:

Photo Credit: Steven Bergman

This year we have it at the historical Soho Playhouse, and it’s about a 200-seat theatre.  So it is set-up for a really great show.  We are going to rock it out, and I am not going to sing, but I may do a little back-up. (Laughs)  We will leave the singing to Kristen and Kelley and Kim.  But, I am going to be the host introducing the folks along with Kristen. There is a bar downstairs and people can get their drinks and bring them into the seating area. We really want to get people out, so we can say goodbye to them.

MICHAEL:

So if fans come to The Rock Show for Charity, there will definitely be an opportunity for people to say goodbye for now to cast members of One Life to Live, and get some “face” time with them?

GINA:

You are definitely going to get one-on-one time with the actors.  You can definitely get things signed.  We want to see everyone we can.

MICHAEL:

How was the One Life to Live Fan Club Weekend a few weeks ago?  And, “The Ladies Night Out” event that you were a part of?

GINA:

That was very nice, and you know they had it sold out to over 140 people!  That whole thing was great.  Hundreds of people showed up.  It was really well done and I was really impressed.  Your heart just broke going, “Why can’t we have this every year?”  It was special with this being the end of OLTL’s run on ABC.

MICHAEL:

So many fans have been broken hearted, and rightfully so, in losing their favorite characters and actors on both All My Children and One Life to Live. What were people saying to you at the fan club events?  What sentiments did they share with you, and in the end how did it make you feel?   It seems like all of us in the industry are being emotionally affected by the changes, just as much as the loyal fans.

GINA:

Courtesy/ABC

People were saying to me, “You have brought such joy to my life.  You are terrific.”   “I loved your strength, whether it be playing Dinah or Kelly.”  “Thank you for making me laugh.” “I love the Cramer girls and just the way you all loved one another.” “It reminded me of the relationship I had with my mother and my sister.” “I don’t know what I am going to do now without this hour of television.  I have been out of work for more than two years and I need to find a job, but at 2PM I could just take a moment as I loved OLTL”.  It never stopped… the amount of love was so overwhelming.  The next day, I was drained and yet uplifted.  I poured out my heart when the fans came to me, and I gave them my love and support, and told them to hang in there and that, “You are going to see us again.  I don’t know where or when, but you are going to see us all again.”  Just feeling that and being able to share that with the fans was an awesome experience. You felt so uplifted that day, and the next day, I felt such sadness.  It is because it is an ending of a very large cycle in all of our lives.  It’s very scary, and yet at the same time you have to try and find some peace within it… and that is not always instant and can take some time, but it is there.  So I am going through it, just as much as everyone else is.

  1. kaleb says:

    Glad Gina got her wish to have Kelly paired wit6h Michael Easton/John.. but I am glad it ended when it did. .. they did not have they chemistry, that i thought they would.

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  2. todd says:

    I was at the OLTL fan club weekend. When presented with difficult decision on whos line to wait on first from the talented cast….we chose Gina’s. She is so down to earth and seemed genuinely appreciative of our thoughts and comments. I agree that the writers never knew how to develop her character since her return. During Heather Tom’s run as Kelly, the writers trampled on her so much that very little was left to like. I was so looking forward to Gina’s strength to bring the real Kelly back, but the decision to not have her story involve Kevin and especially Zane handicapped her return from the get-go. I hope she can return to the on-line version. If not, I am sure we will see great things from Gina Tognoni in the near future. She made some some horrible storytelling work on OLTL, imagine what she could do to a real dramatic script in primetime or film.

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  3. Splum says:

    So much about the rumour of her going to Y&R……

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  4. leah says:

    i hope that some of these people exiting will return when OLTL hits the net and cable. OLTL rocks and is #1 in day time right now-no thanks to the serial hater Frons.

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  5. harlee says:

    I love her for different reasons, not as much as Kelly but my beloved GL as Dinah. She torn the hell out that part and 2 Emmys prove it. I hope she pops on a soap again, she is to strong of an actress not be written in the correct way. Ron C. didn’t know how to write Kelly and it showed and its so sad. I could tell from reading the article she has a big warm spot for Dinah and GL…that tickle me pink and rainbow! I would love it, if P&G would allow Gina go to Y&R in character as Dinah…look at the publicity it could generate and Adam would have met his match…wink wink

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  6. Melissa says:

    Michael thanks for this interview with Gina. She’s an amazing actress and a beautiful and warm person, so down to earth and real. She’s right that the writing for Kelly was never developed as they didn’t know which direction to take her or who to put her with but she still gave it her all in every scene. I can tell she was frustrated by the writing as much as I was but as she says, she is there to act not write. I loved her as Dinah so much and she just delivered so many powerful scenes so I hope they can resurrect Dinah to Genoa City! I know I’d tune it to watch that. And she’s right about the helicopter ride to Bosnia from Springfield. That made no sense just as this exit doesn’t really make sense. It does go from scene A to scene C but they didn’t have time. I’m glad she came back to OLTL though I am disappointed the writing never developed and gave Kelly a true voice. I am sure that Gina will go on to do amazing things and I can’t wait to see her in whatever she does. And Michael, I needed te hankies for sure. Such an emotional interview.

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  7. oltllover says:

    STILL CANNOT BELIEVE IT!

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  8. Brian says:

    We Love You Gina! :)

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  9. anne says:

    If Prospect Park has any sense they will rehire you (if you’d do it) to bring Zane to Llanview. Hey, I don’t even care if they have to make him another “hunk” to make it work for ratings.
    Hey could get involved with ? Dani or someone, but def. bring Kellly (Gina) back!

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  10. Claire says:

    The way she’s talking about YR/Billy Miller it sounds like she wants the role of Victoria Newman. uuuuum, no thank you. Victoria is already taken. And I will only support the ‘Villy’ pairing with the currents actors in the role. Besides, with their fanbase, I sure hope MAB is thinking the same thing. She can’t afford pissing off more fans.

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  11. Jen says:

    That’s nice she wants to be on Y&R but sorry that was all a bit too much. As someone else said the role of Victoria opposite Billy Miller is already taken and those two together are the best couple in years. I wish Gina good luck in the future.

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  12. Trim53 says:

    Thanks for the interview! I enjoyed Gina equally as Dinah and Kelly, and wish her continued success. I don’t think she necessarily wants the role of Victoria; but she’s very obvious about wanting Billy Miller, and who wouldn’t? I’ll admit, though, that I find it irksome that she’s being so vocal about getting onto the show and into story with BM when he’s in a very popular pairing that fans (including me!) are dying to see reunited. I definitely appreciate that it’s her career she’s concerned with, but it still disappointed me a little to read that.

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  13. kay killgore says:

    Ok, I dug him it’s cool, who talks like this 16 year olds? We do not need anymore new characters on Y&R And I beleive she turned down the role of Victoria way back when.

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  14. sakin says:

    Thank you Gina for that wonderful interview. I think its great that you were (just thinking) about the idea of coming to the Y@R. I know you would be an excellent match for Victoria. I know you didnt mean you wanted to replace her. It would make good competition. Thanks again. Look forward to seeing you wherever that might be.

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  15. Trudi says:

    I guess no one will ever accuse Gina of holding back and not saying what she really feels. She wants what she wants and if it blows up other stories, so be it. Love her. Wasn’t crazy about Kelly. Best wishes for future success. Watch your back Amelia Heinle. :O

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  16. gato says:

    Kelly never had any storyline that wasnt featured more than every other week. FACT

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  17. Destiny Livingston says:

    she is awesome love her as well i want to meet her

    Reply

  18. Albert says:

    Glad Gina got her wish about Kelly and McBain. They had amazing chemistry too bad it was short lived. I actually wanted Kelly to marry McBain and have his baby but oh well

    Reply

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