Genevieve Cortese Genevieve Cortese

ABC Family's addictive Wildfire may bear a lot of similarities to The O.C. and other teenager-friendly soaps, but the horses and the heart have kept viewers coming back all summer — and earned the show a second-season pickup. TVGuide.com caught up with 24-year-old Genevieve Cortese to talk about her breakout role as Kris, an ex-con with a heart of gold who is torn between two really hot guys and dreams of becoming a jockey. So before the drama trots off the air with tonight's season finale [airing at 8 pm/ET], find out what she had to say about her love triangle.

TVGuide.com: If you were in Kris' shoes, which guy would you pick? Junior, the wealthy playboy, or quieter, boy-next-door Matt?
Genevieve Cortese:
At this point in my life, I would probably choose Matt, just because he's more stable. In high school, I probably would have chosen Junior — he's fun, he's wild, he's more willing to take risks. He goes way out on a limb for Kris. I think Matt has that kind of [side,] too; it just hasn't been exploited fully. But I definitely think there is a wilder side to him.

TVGuide.com: Speaking of wild, in these past few weeks we've seen Matt romping with your rival, Tina.
Cortese:
That was hot. Matt, you've got it goin' on there!

TVGuide.com: There really does seem to be a rivalry between Kris and Tina. Will that continue?
Cortese:
It really will, up until the [season finale], and probably into Season 2. It's such an interesting relationship, because it goes from this woman who Kris idolized to this rival. If Kris took a step back, it would enable her to take a look at how far she's come and how good she really is. Girls can be catty, but it's a neat rivalry.

TVGuide.com: How did you get this role?
Cortese:
 The script was handed to me a year ago and I auditioned for it in August [2004] and they told me that they weren't really sure what was happening yet [with the show] and to wait at least another month. So often you go in for something and it gets put on the shelf, or it doesn't happen.... I just kept up good energy and started meditating about it and started riding twice a week with a trainer, even though I only had a callback under my belt at that point. I auditioned in September, and again in October, and [soon after that] I found out that I got the part.

TVGuide.com: Were you familiar with riding horses before you started training?
Cortese:
I grew up around them, so I was very comfortable. I wasn't an expert — and I'm still not an expert by any means! — but that's OK. A lot of the racing and jumping isn't really me; it has to be done by my stunt double because some of it's really dangerous and technical. But every time I'm not filming, I'm out riding so I can improve and do as much as I can on camera.

TVGuide.com: The camera captures a lot of close-ups of you, and you look like you're moving pretty fast!
Cortese:
I do most of the riding, probably 75 to 80 percent of it.

TVGuide.com: If that were me, I'd let the stunt double do it all.
Cortese:
[Laughs] I know, right? My stunt double is awesome and I really couldn't do without her. When we're not working, she'll be out there at 6 am training me, and doing it after work and on the weekends. She's amazing.

TVGuide.com: Have you gotten any response from teenage fans of the show?
Cortese:
Most girls are really excited, because it's a meaty part and it gives them something to look up to. That's what's most exciting, having people in high school be able to identify with you and still think you're cool. Some of the role models for teenagers [seem to be] A-plus students who walk a straight line and straight path, which is great and fine, but that's not who Kris is. I really appreciate the fact that she's a girl who has made endless mistakes and comes from a darker side and played with fire and has walked away from it. It's important to see how she's learned from [all of that]. She's not apologizing for anything, which is good.

TVGuide.com: Is there an aspect of Kris that's like you?
Cortese:
There's a lot of me [from when I was] in high school. I'm a very competitive person, so I identify with Kris in that way. Sometimes she has a little more confidence than I do, which is cool. I'm a big tomboy and I like sports, but I'm also girly and I giggle a lot more.

TVGuide.com: Can you tell us anything else about the season finale?
Cortese:
Kris finally rides, but it involves a major twist. I can't tell you what happens, but it is a major twist that involves the Davis family. It basically sums up the entire season for her, because you can see how much she's grown. She'll have to make some very adult decisions — about career, family, love — instead of being really explosive, and her decisions will leave everybody hanging.