Crystal Chappell may have made a name for herself as a popular veteran soap opera actress, but the last few years have brought her a new kind of recognition: as an innovator and successful producer. Her web series Venice, in which she also stars, gave a much needed jolt of energy to the medium of soap, not to mention gifting us with more than a few lesbian leading characters. Her new series, Beacon Hill, is a collaboration with Bella Productions. Two new and exciting lesbian characters lead this series full of political intrigue, family drama and romance.
Crystal took some time to chat with AfterEllen about what to expect from Beacon Hill, as well as some choice tidbits about Venice the Series and The Grove.
AfterEllen: Crystal, you have been creating the amazing web series Venice for the past few years through your own production company, Open Book. What made you decide to partner with Bella Books for your newest endeavor, Beacon Hill?
Crystal Chappell: We talked for a little bit to see if it was something we could do for them, with the budget they had, and it all just kind of worked out. A lot of phone conversations, a lot of email exchanges. We were excited that they came to us. We were excited that this was a political drama, which is very different from what we’ve done. We were excited at the opportunity to shoot on the East Coast. There were all these new things that were just so exciting to think about and see if we could accomplish. And we did, thankfully.
AE: One of the things I love so much about your projects, is they are full of terrific actors from the soap world. I actually squealed with delight when I heard that Alicia Minshew and Sarah Brown were going to be Beacon Hill’s leads.
AE: Did you have them in mind from the get go? I’m always curious how your casting happens, because you get the best people.
CC: Oh, well I think so! I feel very, very lucky. I didn’t have anyone in mind off the top, I just had to sit with it for a little bit. Sarah Brown is obviously a very talented woman, who’s very strong. She has strong features, she has a strong voice, a strong presence. My biggest concern was the role of Katherine, and finding someone who could play at being believable as a possible Senatorial replacement. That’s kind of where our story begins. Once I had Katherine cast, like I said that was the harder part to cast, then I wanted someone who was more the opposite of Sarah. Someone who was really soft—and as I said to Alicia—kind of willowy. Someone tough too who could fight against the system. She was perfect for it. They both said yes! They had never met before, and when we get to Boston, they work beautifully together. You just never know. Alicia’s in New York, Sarah’s in LA, and because of the limited budget, I didn’t have the opportunity to audition them together. It was really just a shot in the dark. But they are both so incredibly talented, and both so open and available, that you could just see it working. When we finally got them on set, it was magic. I think they are just terrific and I think you are going to just love this. It’s really different and a lot of fun.
AE: In Beacon Hill, Sara and Katherine are former lovers who still carry a torch for one another. Venice also features the very passionate and intense interplay of former lovers. Is there something about lost love that really speaks to you as a writer and actor?
CC: That’s a really insightful question. I think so, don’t you? No matter what kind of love that is, when it’s lost or you don’t realize its potential, there is something so sad about that. There’s something heartbreaking about that. Yes, certainly, with both Venice and Beacon Hill, there is that element. But the beautiful thing about having that aspect in your storytelling is your characters have the opportunity to find their way back to each other. It’s like watching them fall in love all over again, and there is something very magical about that.
AE: You are playing Claire Preston, the character of Sara’s mother and daughter of the duplicitous Sen. Preston. What can you tell us about this role? It sounds really juicy.
CC: [laughs] You know, it’s really fun because she’s so tightly wound and it presents itself in how severely she wears her hair and how pristine and properly she wears her clothes, and has to carry herself in public. But in private, it’s a completely different story. Throughout the season, she’s pretty tucked away, she’s pretty hidden away within the Preston mansion but she’s searching for someone. She’s got this enormous secret that’s going to come around in the second season. What I love about it—she likes the bottle. [laughs] She hides away in her little room with her bottle, but she speaks the truth that other people don’t. I like characters like that. They may be incredibly flawed themselves, but they speak the truth than nobody has the courage to speak.
AE: Why do you think the readers of AfterEllen should subscribe to Beacon Hill? I mean besides the amazing cast, production values and leading lesbian characters. Wait, I think I may have answered my own question.
CC: [laughs] What she said! [laughs] I think they’ll love the show. It’s a political drama, it has smart characters in it, smart writing. It’s about family dysfunction. It’s about lost love. It’s entertaining, and has really cool music in it. For the investment, I think they are going to be really happy with the return.
AE: Besides the launch of Beacon Hill, I see that there has been some major development on The Grove. When we last spoke, I told you how much I really enjoyed the pilot. What is the scoop on that?
CC: We’ve been writing six 20-25 minute episodes. It picks up with the wedding night and the honeymoon, and with Doyle having lost his pub and his land. We are sort of delving back into that. It’s been a while and we’ve been kind of waiting for the right time to shoot it. I’m hoping to do that this summer. There is also a second season of Beacon Hill that is tentatively planned for September. Then I very possibly have a film that I’m shooting in October.
AE: Good thing you are never busy, Crystal. [laughs]
CC: I know! You know what they say, take it while you can get it. It’s here and I’m having so much fun. It’s a little company. It’s the little engine that could and it’s still kicking along. I like producing. I like what we get to do, and I love partnering with the ladies at Bella Books. There are other people who have come into my life that I’m partnering with. It’s just been really education and fun.
AE: Also, please tell me that there will be another season of Venice this summer, because you cannot leave us with a cliffhanger like that! CC: (laughs) Yes, of course there is going to be another season. Absolutely. In fact, they are writing it now. As we speak they are putting together some bullet points for us to look at, at the end of the week. We’re going to do things a little bit differently. We are going to create an interactive part in all of this. We’ll be shooting alternate scenes and allowing fans to vote on which direction they want to go in.
AE: Like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” soap opera?
CC: Kind of like that.
AE: That’s amazing!
CC: I know the beginning and the end, but you’ll be able to choose what direction you want to go in. It’ll be a vote. I can only drop one file into the show, but at least people will have a choice in what they want to see in their scenes.
AE: Another thing I appreciate so much about you, is you know how to communicate with your audience.
CC: Oh good! [laughs] That’s good to hear because these things swirl around in my head and I think that somebody should lock me up. That people are going to think I’m nuts anyway, so lock me up with a good bottle of Grey Goose.
CC: Is there a bad bottle of Grey Goose? No, I think it’s kind of fun to play and get the audience engaged. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. If you look at these other webinovelas, they shoot only two weeks ahead of what’s airing, so they can have some sort of interaction with their fans, and get them involved so they can kind of choose the direction that the story is going in. While we don’t have that luxury because we aren’t on-going, I thought wouldn’t it be cool if like, the week before a show airs, you get this scene and that scene, a couple of screencaps and a description of what happens, but you don’t actually get to see the scene. Then you vote on it, and that’s the file that’s dropped in. I think that’s kind of cool, but I don’t know, I’m a geek, so…
AE: Well, I love it.