Jessica Leccia is a rare breed of actress, the kind that manages to completely enchant her audience. She can bring clarity and emotional impact to a scene with a single expression. Lesbian viewers were first introduced to her as Natalia Rivera, one half of the beloved couple Otalia on the long running soap Guiding Light. She currently stars as photographer Ani Martin in the Emmy award-winning web series Venice: The Series. Ani is the central piece of the show’s love triangle, torn between her current girlfriend Lara (Nadia Bjorlin) and longtime love Gina (Crystal Chappell). I had the chance to talk to the wonderfully sweet Jessica about her character, her co-stars and Venice’s upcoming forth season.
After Ellen: Ani is my favorite character on Venice, she’s just so open and loving, and you give her this wonderful relatability.
Jessica Leccia: Aww, thanks.
AE: You’re welcome. Can you describe Ani’s journey over the past three seasons.
JL: You know, I like Ani too. She’s had her ups and downs, just like all of the other characters. I think for the most part, Ani’s issue is that she sort of defines herself by her relationships. That’s probably always been the case for her. First with her family, her identity and all that kind of stuff. So when we started the show it was really focused on this push and pull between Ani and Gina. Then we’ve seen her go into a different space and start a new relationship and still always having that kind of tug to Gina. I think the fun part about it is that there is all this stuff with the plot of the show and all these storylines, but I think Crystal has done a really good job, and the writers, of giving people their own character story. So we’ve sort of seen Ani go from being in the middle of this love story to getting to see a little bit more about what makes her work, how she handles things, and where she’s coming from.
AE: As a viewer, it definitely feels as though she’s been growing.
JL: Yeah, I think she’s grown a lot, but she does [laughs] take a step back every now and then. I mean, things just keep popping up and I think that’s just natural. I think maybe people can relate to that. Growth is really important, but there are just some things in life that kind of set you back and you have to restart, and I think that’s what all the characters go through.
AE: Your character Ani’s love interest, besides Gina of course, is Lara, played by the amazing Nadia Bjorlin. Lara is a children’s books author and who also has major issues with alcohol. Can you talk a little about their complicated relationship?
JL: Well, it is complicated. I think on the surface, things should be amazing between Ani and Lara, but Ani’s got these insecurities that kind of lurk around. You feed that fire with Lara’s issues with her alcohol dependence and now you have someone who isn’t as reliable as Ani thought. It just feeds into that whole thing of being insecure and all that kind of stuff. But Lara is an amazing person, and that’s why it’s a problem. If she were just some jerk, it would be fine to just get rid of somebody like that. But Lara is this wonderfully loving person. She’s given her the love and attention and devotion that maybe she always wanted from Gina. But she comes with baggage. She’s a really well defined character, and she has all these flaws. It all comes from a loving place. It’s just kind of misguided. When you add a problem with alcohol, then it gets convoluted. So this great person, kind of turns into something else as far as the relationship is concerned.
AE: There are so many great actors on Venice and Nadia [Bjorlin] does such a great job with the character of Lara. The two of you have a great chemistry that is very different than what you have with Crystal [Chappell]. What’s it like acting opposite Nadia?
JL: I adore her. Nadia is the kind of person I think you are supposed to hate, like girls like me are supposed to hate her because she’s so stunningly gorgeous. [Laughs] But then beneath it all she’s so smart, she’s so funny, she’s so dedicated to the work. She’s a lot of fun and when it’s time to be serious, she’s really great at that, but she also has this lighthearted sexy thing that is super appealing. She’s just really fun to work with.
AE: You have played opposite Crystal three times now. Your scenes together feel so natural that you can’t help but root for you two whenever you are playing opposite each other. Why do you think the two of you work so well together?
JL: Oh god, I don’t know! I don’t really question that sort of thing [laughs]. I’m just grateful for it and enjoy it. Crystal is an amazing person. I know we all talk about each other like we are just in love with each other, but it’s really true. She’s just super committed to the whole thing. She makes it easy. You know some people you are just comfortable with, and that’s how I feel about her. I trust her implicitly.
AE: There are a few really great plots happening on Venice. Besides your own, what’s your favorite storyline?
JL: When we are working on these things, a lot of times we get sort of separated for our own little storylines. We have to do the work and do these scenes and do this location and that sort of thing. A lot of times, even though I’ve read the script, I don’t see the other things playing out. I don’t see what the other actors are doing in their storylines, so they are just as exciting for me to watch. The stuff that happened between Sami and Owen, and that kind of thing. I get a little detached from when we are working, so it’s really fun to watch how they did it. I’m just like any other viewer watching it unfold.
AE: I’ve read before that Venice isn’t necessarily intended to be a gay web series so much as a story about all kinds of people and their struggles. However, the fact that the show features lesbian characters and relationships certainly is impactful. It also exposes those storylines to fans of yours who aren’t gay, but maybe for the first time see gay characters in a different light. What has been the response to the series, from fans?
JL: Exactly what you just said. I don’t think anybody wants some kind of totem for who they are or what they do, but it certainly is nice to be represented. These characters probably aren’t your everyday person or anyone you know, but as long as they are recognizable as normal people that you could bump into, that you could work with, that you could be friends with, I think its nice to normalize everything for people.
AE: Venice really revolutionized soaps by bringing these really compelling stories to on online format. You were the ones. What do you think about All My Children and One Life to Live following suit?
JL: I think they were smart. When Crystal mentioned that she was going to do a web series a few years ago, I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. [Both laugh] I said sure, whatever you have going. I had no idea. I’m not super savvy about that kind of thing. Even when we were working on it, I wasn’t sure how it was going to pan out, or what it was going to look like, or how it was going to work. I didn’t really care, I wanted to keep working. Now that I’ve seen what it’s become and what it can be, I think it’s just a smart thing to do. It’s all over the place. Our entertainment is in a way different form and it’s important to get your finger on the pulse.
AE: I had the pleasure of seeing the pilot episode of The Grove…
JL: Oh good!
AE: …which is being produced by Open Book Productions and starring yourself and Crystal Chappell. I highly recommend it to the AfterEllen readers. How would you describe your character Ivy Rodriguez?
JL: Ivy gets to be different from Ani in that this is a woman who is supremely confident in her relationship. They get to be a couple who will always go through things, just like any other couple, but the pilot episode of The Grove just shows them in this light, of just two people in love. They get to just be together, there’s no love triangle there this time. It’s just setting them up for what this couple is going to go through in a normal family environment.
AE: And this was in response in a way to the Prop 8 situation in California*, correct?
JL: Right. The premise is that these two people were able to get married in that little window of time that they had living in California, and they’ve decided that they are going to do it up. They are going to have their big wedding with their family and their friends the way they want to and should be able to.
AE: The Grove is really funny, and it’s sweet.
JL: I think so! I’m glad you said that.
AE: I loved the lighthearted nature of The Grove.
JL: I do too. It’s nice to be able to do both, I gotta tell you. It’s usually one or the other, so I’m pretty lucky.
AE: In the S3 finale of Venice, Lara proposes to Ani. Can you give us a small scoop on what we can expect for Season 4?
JL: Let’s see what I can say without giving anything away.
AE: Yes! Be as vague as possible! [Laughs]
JL: In Season 4 we have more of Lara and Ani, we have more of Ani and Gina, we have Gina and Lara … We have all of that still happening. Everyone is still in everyone’s orbit. The proposal and everything is kind of central to what happens this season for Ani. So I won’t give too much away about that, but it’s a huge part of what happens in Season 4.
*Interview was conducted prior to the recent Prop 8 ruling