It was 1993 and Ripa had been on All My Children for three years, playing Hayley Vaughan—first as a teen in a black wig, then as a young woman who couldn't steer clear of trouble if her life (or contract) depended on it.
Hayley's first big love interest, Brian, was played by Matt Borlenghi, and while drama was written into the script, it was translating behind the scenes as well.
"One time, a reporter on set heard screaming and furniture crashing down the hall. A makeup guy said, 'Oh, that's just Kelly and Matt rehearsing.' In reality, we were in her dressing room having an argument," Borlenghi recalled to Variety in 2015. "I was taking myself way too seriously and I asked Kelly, 'How did you get so lucky to be on this show?'"
Nice. No wonder Hayley's father broke up her and Brian's engagement!
"It turns out it would have been a lot easier on me if I had followed her path and just had more fun at work," Borlenghi said. "But if I hadn't left, maybe she never would have met Mark."
Consuelos was a recent college grad and had just moved to New York when he auditioned for AMC in 1995 with Ripa as his screen test partner. He obviously aced the chemistry portion of the exam and scored the role of Mateo Santos, who was destined to be the man in Hayley's life, no matter the crazy complications thrown in their way.
"My main focus was getting the job and I couldn't believe my luck, having been in New York for five minutes," Consuelos recalled in an interview with E! in 2006. He continued, "My first impression of my wife was—she was obviously extremely beautiful—but she was really funny, really intelligent, really quick. I realized that if I was ever to get into an argument with her, I would lose every single time."
He also described his wife as "always very, very real" and "pretty vulnerable" but brave—and "extremely sexy."
Despite an initial attraction to Mateo, though, Hayley had a few other doomed relationships to cycle through before they could finally be together.
Far less complicated was the relationship blossoming between the actors off-camera.
"We fell in love long before our characters fell in love...but we were around each other a lot," Consuelos said. They'd go on "safe dates," in groups, during which they had a chance to size each other up. If he had to name just one thing he fell in love with early on, the Spanish-born actor told E!, it was her extreme generosity in how she treated him and others. "I've never really met anybody like that. She's really a good person."
He laughed, recalling when the two were photographed together in Jamaica not long after they started dating, which everyone thought at the time was the big reveal of them as a couple. In reality, they were in Jamaica shooting All My Children—and they were arguing.
"We had already gone full circle [as a couple]," Consuelos said. "I mean, we got married a few months later." So for everyone who thought that was the trip that brought them together, "they couldn't be further from the truth."
Consuelos ultimately proposed over pizza and wine—"and the next thing you know, we're on a plane to Vegas the next morning."
So barely a year after meeting, before Hayley could even extract herself from her forced marriage to Alec, Ripa and Consuelos eloped. They married on May 1, 1996, at a little chapel they found in the phone book.
They honeymooned in Rome and Capri for a week before returning to the set as Mr. and Mrs. Consuelos (which is the name Kelly uses in her private life, with the kids' schools, etc.), though they didn't blast out the news of their marital status right away.
But after a couple of months they acquired Tiffany & Co. Roman numeral wedding bands, started looking for a new apartment free from ghosts of exes past and sat down for their first interview as husband and wife with Soap Opera digest in August 1996.
Asked when they fell in love, Consuelos said, "As far as I'm concerned, instantly—before we ever had a scene together. We've been spending 12 hours a day together for the past year and a half."
"We just understood each other really well," Ripa added. "If two people were ever supposed to be together, I'd say it was us."
And they had "the best kind of engagement," Consuelos quipped. "I didn't want to fight with Kelly about how many of her girlfriends she was going to have at the wedding and which relatives we don't like. To me, marriage has nothing to do with anybody but me and my wife."
Soon enough, it was about a few more people, too.
Thirteen months after tying the knot, they welcomed son Michael on June 2, 1997. His godmother is his parents' former AMC co-star Eva LaRue.
Daughter Lola was born June 16, 2001, and they had son Joaquin on Feb. 24, 2003.
Recently they were down to one kid still in the nest, having dropped Lola off at college in 2019—but, like so many, they found themselves with a full house again at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic early last year.
"Happy birthday @instasuelos," Ripa wished her husband on Instagram with a cake emoji on March 30, 2020, his 49th birthday. "There's nobody I'd rather be locked down with than you."
"Grazie Amore," he replied.
They've long since gone back to work, Consuelos returning to Riverdale with COVID-19 protocols in place and Ripa back in in-studio business on Live With Kelly and Ryan, but happily those months of close-quartering seemed to only strengthen their bond—even if the kids get sacrificed at the altar of their hot love affair.
When Consuelos took to Instagram to publicly wish Joaquin a happy 18th birthday in February, Ripa commented on the post, "You know what? Making him was so much fun."
Family photos at least prove that Joaquin survived the embarrassment. But then again, maybe he's used to it by now, since his parents are famously frisky.
Marking Ripa's 50th in October, her husband wrote, "Happy birthday to my little ray of sunshine. I love you, sexy." Ripa kept it pretty clean for Consuelo's 50th birthday in March, posting family photos—though that may just be because she already posts thirst-trap pics of her mate year round (amiably acknowledged by Lola as "disgusting") and started his birthday week off with shirtless shots.
But we're guessing that, deep down, even if they don't know it yet, the kids are pleased that their parents are as nuts about each other now as they were on day one.
"It all began with All My Children," Ripa recalled in 2015 when she got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. "All My Children is where I met the man that I've been married to for almost 20 years, the love of my life, the man who taught me how to be a person—really, a real person—and we have three of the most beautiful children, that I'm so proud of, on the planet."
Never mind that, not long into their union, Consuelos panicked and chucked her ring out the window.
"When we first got married, I think Mark felt like he rushed into it, and maybe he made a mistake and maybe he was regretting it," Ripa recalled on the April 19 episode of the Double Date podcast. "And he took my wedding ring and threw it out the window."
But, "then he turned around, and I said, 'I'm still here.' Because I really think he thought in that moment that I would somehow... vanish or evaporate. I was like, 'Now what?'"
Well, first Consuelos went outside and found the ring.
"I am sure for a lot of people, it would have said, 'I'm done. That is outrageous. That is crazy behavior,'" Ripa said. "And I understood where it was coming from. It was coming from a place of terror and genuine fear, and [thinking], 'Oh my god, I have to spend the rest of my life with this woman who does not value time, who is chronically late.'"
So it's not as though 25 years have just flown by, like a ring tossed from a window, without any complications.
"Early in a marriage, it's easy to let little things become big things—whether it's financial strain or career strain or you have kids and you're sleep-deprived," Ripa noted. "But Mark taught me to walk away and take a breath. That's when you figure out that it's not a marriage-defining moment."
Overall, however, they've been on the same page, ever since they first acquired cell phones so they could stay in "constant communication" (and which Ripa formally referred to at the time as "cellular phones").
"The only time I notice stress in our relationship is when I'm not with her," Consuelos told Soap Opera Digest in 1996. "I'm like, 'Where is she? Where is my right hand?'"
They remained on All My Children as Hayley and Mateo until 2001—and both returned for a couple of episodes in 2010. Consuelos had a guest arc on Ripa's sitcom Hope & Faith and more recently Ripa had a cameo as Hiram Lodge's mistress on Riverdale. Consuelo's been a fan- and wife-favorite guest host on Live over the years. They also have their own New York-based production company, Milojo, its moniker derived from the first two letters of each of their kid's names.
Asked why they had turned to producing, Consuelos told E! News in 2006, "So we can be the bosses." His answer sent his wife into giddy hysterics. "Yes, the goal is to eventually get off camera, some day. Because as you can see, we are not gorgeous like soap stars are," Ripa said. Consuelos agreed, "Yeah, those guys are really good looking." (Two words: thirst trap.)
Their projects have included E!'s Dirty Soap, CMT's Cheer! and Oxygen's Exhumed.
But while they obviously enjoy working together, a few weeks apart here and there don't particularly faze them, though in normal times Ripa does try to get to the Vancouver set of Riverdale as much as possible, and Consuelos has amiably risen before dawn on many a morning to join her on Live.
"We're actors," Ripa told People in 2015 of having to do the long-distance thing. "We've done it for years. It's not hard. It's actually something we're quite good at." ("Cellular phones" have helped.)
Talking about how soap stars tend to end up dating each other because they spend so much time together on set, Ripa explained, "We were the only people we knew." Added Consuelos, "Which is pretty much the only reason we got married, 'cause we didn't know anybody else."
"Shhh," Ripa shushed him, developing another fit of giggles. "That's not true...I'm sure it's not true. I mean, it might be true. But look, it's worked out!"
Eleven years later they're still making each other laugh. They also still have things in common (not including Consuelos' sports-watching habit), and they've nailed that whole truly-liking-each-other thing.
"It's a very typical, normal relationship," Consuelos also told E! at the 10-year mark in 2006. "We have, you know, ups and downs just like anybody else." He suspected that, if you asked his wife, she could point out a few moments in their marriage where "it could've gone either way." But "I think I made a really good decision."
Ripa would agree. As she told AOL.com in 2015, "The phrase 'this too shall pass' is such an important phrase when you're in your early wedding years. Every argument, every disagreement, seems like the end of the universe and it really isn't."
She also advised, in Good Housekeeping in 2010, "Don't be a bottler; you'll explode. If something bothers me, I just say it, no harm, no foul. So much of marriage is ego-based—who's right, who wins the argument. Mark and I don't really have that."
Two years later she told the magazine, "I think he would say that I talk too much—endlessly. If the two of us go out to dinner, I feel the need to talk. He thinks we can sit and enjoy the ambience of the room—just have a cocktail and bask in each other's glow. I feel the need to hash things out: 'Can you believe what our kids did today? I feel like you're not listening to me. Are you listening to me?' I'm entirely too verbal with him."
But even though the raising of three kids and maintenance of two careers takes up a lot of energy, the heat still rises to the top.
"We carve out time for ourselves," Ripa told Good Housekeeping in 2010. "I think that we're better parents because date night gives us something to look forward to, a night where we're not saying, 'Put that down, stop touching her, don't spill that.' Sometimes we'll put the kids to bed early and watch Jersey Shore on DVR. It can be that simple, just the two of us, alone, one day a week, for dinner and hijinks."
She reiterated the sentiment in 2014. "Lots of sex" is key, Ripa said on Watch What Happens Live, noting that you're either doing it a lot or, simply, you're not. (Preferably without their daughter walking in, but... "nobody knocks in our house," she lamented in 2019 in the wake of Lola's most traumatic day ever.)
"We just like each other a lot," she told Andy Cohen. "I love my husband. I think he's awesome. We've been together a really long time. We try to do spicy things together all the time."
For instance, "I sent him a cute, adorable butt selfie in my underpants," Ripa revealed. "It's the only time I've ever sent a semi-nude anything, ever!" (Never mind that she accidentally sent it to her mother and father-in-law as well. It happens.)
Ripa, who also relishes sharing stories about her kids with her audience, has also stressed the importance of being on the same page with Consuelos as parents.
"We are a united front," she told Redbook in 2014. "Our kids try, and they all try to divide and conquer, so even if we disagree we don't do it in front of the kids."
Aside from the laughter, and the shared values...Ripa and Consuelos know that it's the little things that keep a marriage more than merely chugging along.
During their 20th anniversary getaway to Turks and Caicos, Ripa donned the slip dress she wore at their Vegas wedding. It still fit like a glove.
"The dress is 25 years old. My marriage is 20 years old. I didn't buy it as a wedding dress," Ripa said, showing off some old snapshots from their low-key big day on Live. "I just bought it because it was really pretty, and I wanted to buy something from the Barneys Warehouse sale."
They're also pros, by now, at riding out the bumps in the road.
"There's going to be times where you look at each other like 'I can't believe I live with you,'" Ripa told AOL.com in 2015, "but open communication and strong listening skills can help carry you through hard times. That's what you want in life, to have a good companion, somebody that loves you, that listens to you and is your equal in every way."
And then there's that laughter.
On an episode of Live Consuelos was co-hosting in June 2016, they had each other in stitches discussing Ripa's expectations should something happen to her and Consuelos gets remarried.
"I would never get remarried, first of all," he said. "No, I've had all the fun one man's going to have!" With that, they both lost it. "I've had enough!" he exclaimed.
Ripa, meanwhile, has also admitted that they just got really, really lucky early on in their lives. "We're very lucky that we found each other, that's what I have to say," she told AOL. "I would say to Mark, 'Who would we have married if not each other?'"
(Originally published Jan. 19, 2018, at 5 a.m. PT)