Crystal Chappell
Crystal Chappell

The actor talks about lesbian romance, why she couldn’t say goodbye to Otalia and the new web series “Venice.”

Crystal Chappell is no stranger to adoring soap fans. The first time she experienced the phenomenon was when Dr Carly Manning, the heroine she recently began portraying again on Days of Our Lives, was buried alive in the early ’90s. Not even that experience could prepare Chappell, however, for the fan fervour she would inspire almost two decades later on Guiding Light as half of one of daytime’s most beloved gay super couples.

During that soap’s last season, Olivia Spencer, the seemingly heterosexual schemer Chappell had portrayed since 1999, surprised herself and millions of fans, when she fell in love with Natalia Rivera (played by Jessica Leccia), the meek, conservative Catholic woman, Olivia had battled for the affections of town hero Gus Aitoro. “Otalia” was born.

Otalia fans weren’t ready to say goodbye to the couple when Guiding Light went off the air in Sept 2009, and neither was Chappell. The enterprising actress/writer/producer teamed up with her pals Kim Turrisi and Hope Royalty to create Venice, a steamy new web soap reuniting Chappell and Leccia as star-crossed, lesbian lovers Gina and Ani. Curve caught up with Chappell as she was preparing to film the first season of one of the Internet’s most buzzed-about new shows, which premiers tonight. (

Your character on Guiding Light was very hetero for most on your run on the soap, and then, during the show’s last season, Olivia developed feelings for a woman. How did you react when you learned your character was going to kiss a girl, and like it?

I was thrilled. [Guiding Light co-head writer] Jill Lorie Hurst and I had kicked the idea around for years. We always thought that Olivia might end up with a woman. When they came up with the broader story, I was so excited. I hadn’t been that excited about a storyline in a very long time.

Did you do any research, or talk to any lesbian friends to prepare for the storyline?

I have a huge gay friend base, so I didn’t feel like I had to do a great deal of research. I did ask some questions just so I could understand certain details, but it was mostly for me a love story. I’ve had a love story in my real life, and I’ve certainly played them on television, so I really didn’t feel I need to do too much research to tell a love story. I did talk to some of my gay friends, and they told me about how they came out, and when they realized they were gay and what that felt like.

Natalia Rivera, played by Jessica Leccia, had been your rival on the soap for the affections of a man. How did it change your acting dynamic when you learned you would go from fighting over a guy to falling for each other?

I don’t think it necessarily changed our acting relationship. Once they removed Gus as a part of the picture, and the circumstances of Olivia trying to break up Gus and Natalia’s marriage and ultimately Olivia getting his heart [literally, Gus was killed off and his heart was transplanted into a then-gravely ill Olivia], it just left the two of them to deal with each other. In true soap fashion, it’s always the people who hate each other who end up falling in love! [Laughs]

Otalia fans were devastated when Guiding Light’s cancellation was announced. Now you’re doing Venice, a web soap featuring a gay couple played by yourself and Leccia. Was this inspired by Otalia fans?

It was totally inspired by them. I was completely invested in Otalia and always will be. I couldn’t quite let it go. It didn’t feel right. I had so many people writing to me telling me some of the terrible things that happened to them being gay, and also the really joyful things. So I went to my friend Kimmy [Turrisi], who is a writer, and said, “I wanna do a web soap about a gay woman. She’s out and proud of who she is, so it won’t be about her struggling with her sexuality and I want to not just be about her, but about her community and family”. She came back to me with these amazing characters. I approached Jessie [Leccia] and she was like, “Well sure, I’ll do it!” She was just as committed to Otalia as I was. We were so inspired by this story and the hope it gave soap fans. With so many headlines about soaps dying it was nice to see this kind of passion for a couple and a story. I knew I couldn’t let it die.