I’m just going to say it. Crystal Chappell is swoon worthy. She became soap opera royalty for her role as Carly Manning on Days of Our Lives, and won our hearts as Olivia Spencer on Guiding Light. Currently, not only is she the creator and leading lady of the popular websoap, Venice: The Series, but she also writes, directs and produces the show. Oh yeah, and has another original show with two lesbian leading characters in the works. Crystal took time out of her incredibly busy schedule to chat with AfterEllen about Venice: The Series’ upcoming fourth season (which begins on August 7th) and her new show, Beacon Hill.
All photos by KT Jorgensen, courtesy of Open Book Productions
AfterEllen: Going into your fourth season now, Venice has proven to be quite a success! What do you think are some of the keys to that success?
Crystal Chappell: I think it’s soap fans. I think people still love soaps, they want to watch them. It’s just a matter of where and how and when. I think it’s a very strong lesbian community that want to see themselves represented in a way. I think all of those things. At this point, I believe trust is a big issue. They feel like there is a consistency in what we are doing and how we are doing it, and the stories that we are telling. It’s a community built show.
AE: In the last few years, the soap industry has seen its share of challenges. One of the major issues, its been said, is that soaps were having a difficult time bringing in younger viewers. With Venice being shown online, do you find that it attracts a whole new set of fans? People that otherwise aren’t typically a soap opera demographic? Like younger viewers and lesbian viewers.
CC: Absolutely! I think older fans have certainly learned how to use technology, but it’s really about what people are doing with their time. It’s just so much easier to jump on your iPad or your computer at work during your lunch break. You sort of pull up whatever you want to watch and it’s there. It isn’t appointment TV. You don’t even have to set your DVR and find the time to go watch it. It’s easier to be mobile and just jump online and watch your show. And yes, I do think that younger people are so much more fluent in the technical world. It’s just easier for them to go check in on their soap, then go over and listen to some music. We have a very strong, young audience, a very firm demographic. It’s all changing. It’s very interesting. It’s more cost effective, how we do things. I think that’s the other issue with the decline in broadcast soaps. It’s very expensive on broadcast. It’s just a more cost effective way to go and grab some new viewers.
AE: When I watch Venice, it feels kind of like coming home. Perhaps because it has so many wonderful, familiar faces from the soap world – Peter Reckell, Galen Gering, Nadia Bjorlin, and of course the amazing Jessica Leccia. Does it feel like a family on set?
CC: Oh yeah, oh yeah! It’s amazing. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of this community for nearly twenty three years, so I’ve watched people get married, get divorced, have children. Some of those children are in college now. (laughs) It’s funny, even when you’re not really close to another daytime actor, you meet them, you know of them, or know somebody who is friends with them. The community itself is a big family. I agree with you, it is a familiar thing to jump on and see all these faces that you may have watched in different ways over the years.
My set is very – I want people to have fun. I tell the actors, the script is there for a reason, to give your character structure. But if you have something else that you want to bring to it, feel free. So I think that they feel creatively free to do what they want to do. We shoot a lot like a film, which is very different that how soaps are shot. There’s just a little more freedom in it. I mean, we have blast and I’m so glad that they want to keep coming back. (laughs)
AE: I’m glad you brought that up about having freedom, because some of my favorite scenes are between yourself, Galen Gerig (Owen) and Hilary B. Smith (Guya). Are some of those scenes improvised? They just feel so genuine.
CC: Like I said, there is structure there in the scene. We fly. Galen is very funny, so is Hilary. They are very good at adlibbing. I just want people to make it good, you know. (Laughs) Just make it good, be yourself, be great. Yeah, those scenes definitely, they are very much some of my favorites too. We create these silly little games for these three characters, like “If I were an asshole” and “Nun Bowling.” I mean really stupid things. Any excuse to drink for those three. Yeah we do, we have so much fun, we laugh so hard. Just great, great people.
AE: It certainly comes through. Not to sound corny, but you can feel the love when you are watching it.
CC: Well that’s good.
AE: I’ve already had the pleasure of speaking with Nadia Bjorlin and Jessica Leccia. I wanted to talk to you a little bit about Jessica, who is your character’s on again off again love interest on the show. Lesbian audiences in particular fell in love with you two as Olivia and Natalia on Guiding Light and you have been collaborating ever since. Seeing the two of you on screen is always such a pleasure, as you have such a natural ease and chemistry. Tell us a little about working with Jessica.
CC: Oh Jessica is…sometimes I wish I were gay because I would so go out with her, and marry her. (both laugh) She’s just what you see. She’s not only wonderfully talented but she’s just easy and free, loving and funny. I mean, you can’t find anything wrong with her. She’s just a sweet, sweet woman. From the very beginning, going all the way back to Otalia, we clicked right away. We both just want to do a good job and have a good time, and it’s always been that way. I can’t really explain it. It just is what it is. They say you can’t really make chemistry happen, it just does. I think in particular for two women to have that onscreen is rare. I’m so grateful that I got to do that story with her.
When Guiding Light ended it was like, we’ve got to keep this going. She was the first person that I approached, and said, I don’t know what’s going to happen, I don’t know if I can pay you, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to pull this together. But, if I can, would you do it and she said absolutely. It’s been that way ever since. She has a little girl now, and a marriage. A shout out to Brian (Jessica’s husband) because he picks up the slack when she’s away shooting this once a year. It’s just delightful and I’ll just keep making stuff, just to have reasons to work with her.
AE: (laughs) We’ll everyone has gushed about you too. That is something that I have universally heard from everyone. That you are just lovely as all get out and a pleasure to work with and be around. So tell us a little bit about your character Gina. She’s a complex lady, that Gina. Over the course of last three seasons, she’s really had a lot of challenges, let’s say, thrown at her. How do you think she’s evolved from Season 1?
CC: We started with Gina is Season 1, sort of in crisis. Usually you are introduced to a character and they fall into crisis, but she’s already in it. She’s an overachiever, she doesn’t treat people very well. Very dismissive She’s got a “me” personality. Me, me, me. Over the course of Seasons 2 and 3, she’s starting to discover what’s important. That differences don’t always mean that we can’t be kind to each other. Some healing went on with her father. She saw him as a human being, and not somebody that owes her something. Just a little more compassionate. She’s starting to figure out what she wants and who she is. She’s going to go after that she wants in Season 4. It’s getting to that point where she’s starting to see with more clarity and make bolder choices about getting her life back. Getting what’s important in her life right. It’s an exciting season. She’s definitely more grounded and more human.