AE: How much are things like the writing and the storylines influenced by the feedback you’re getting from fans?
CC: The whole inspiration for the series came from my experience on Guiding Light and the story that I played with Jessica Leccia [Natalia]. The day that we were canceled, I called Kim — Kim is my writing and producing partner — and we were working on another project and I said let’s just table that for now and let’s create a web series and have the lead character be an out lesbian, and very comfortable with who she is.
I don’t want it to be about her sexuality, I want it to be about who she is as a person, and what her struggles in life are.
So Kim jumped on it, and she came back with just great characters. And obviously it came from the feedback that I got from the Otalia fans. They were so completely passionate and vocal and specific about what it is that they liked about that story. And the underlying message was “That’s us. That’s our normal life, raising children, paying bills.” And it was really a big moment for me of “OK, there’s a need for this.”
So when I heard that we were cancelled it seemed only natural — well, for me only natural — to go to the web. Because that’s where I spend a lot of my time. I spend more time on the computer than I do in front of my television set. That’s the sad truth, or the happy truth, or whatever truth it is. That’s what it is.
AE: Did you want Gina to be out and comfortable with her sexuality because of the feedback you were getting from fans about the focus on Guiding Light?
CC: No. I mean, I loved the story that they told on Guiding Light. My character was around for nine years before she even met Natalia, and was always with men. So it’s a completely different situation.
I just really wanted to have a lead character on a show that was a lesbian and there were no issues about that. She’s comfortable with who she is. Not to say that she’s never going to run into some problems along the way, but it was just a different approach to the idea of the story. I really just wanted it to be a show about story and family, and I didn’t want to focus it so much on, “Ooh, she’s a lesbian!” [laughs] Let’s just get past that and get on with the living part of her story.
AE: I read that the drama you and Kim were developing was about strippers, which intrigued me because I think strippers, lesbians, these are women on society’s margins. Is that something that particularly interests you? Do you see a connection between those two things?
CC: I think I must be intrigued by it, because it’s where my interest lies in storytelling. I love all walks of life. I’m certainly intrigued by women who — I think it’s the struggle, possibly, that … of course struggle always makes for good story. I have a natural inclination to tell a female-driven story. That certainly appeals to me, and Kim as well.
Chappell at work with the Venice team — head writer Kim Turrisi (far left) and producer Hope Royaltey
I will say this about all the characters that we create — it’s about acceptance. Hence the name Open Book Productions. We want to create stories about people who have to learn to live with each other and accept each other, and love each other in spite of their differences.
AE: What is it about Gina that is most exciting to you as an actress?
CC: I think that she’s just such a bright character, she’s been so successful in business, which is a huge part of who she is. She’s at the top of her game. I mean, here’s a person who can’t stay in a relationship, and at her age — and I’m definitely making her at least seven years younger than me, right away — she still hasn’t resolved her issues with her family. I find that intriguing, the idea that she can be so successful in one area of her life, and be so miserably blocked at the other end.
So I find that intriguing about her, because I think a lot of people live that way. That they focus so much on one aspect of their life and maybe don’t give other aspects the attention they need.
And also, just from an actress’ point of view, it gives me someplace to go. And gives the writers someplace to go. So it makes for an interesting story, hopefully.
AE: In terms of the character getting to grow and change over time?
CC: Exactly. And how she affects other people with her limitations.