Crystal Chappell Says Goodbye to Otalia

By Michael Fairman

Originally published on Advocate.com June 19 2009 12:00 AM ET

One thing is crystal-clear -- no other actress on daytime right now can generate a buzz quite like Crystal Chappell. In news that rocked the soap world on June 11, Chappell announced to TV Guide magazine that she was returning to the role that started her career on the soaps -- Dr. Carly Manning on Days of our Lives . While many celebrated that one of Days ' legendary heroines was headed back to Salem (Chappell played Carly for three years from 1990 to 1993), at the same time, the mourning process began. This announcement signaled the end of the line for Guiding Light 's Otalia, 2009's super couple of the soaps.

Since 1999, Chappell has played Olivia Spencer for all she's worth and then some, delivering one unforgettable performance after another. When the GL powers that be agreed to write a long arc love story between two women and put it on the air, they entrusted it in the capable hands of Chappell, along with her new on-screen acting partner, Jessica Leccia (Natalia). Over the past several months, daytime, mainstream, gay, and straight fans alike have connected with the unique relationship, played with all the twists and turns of two people finding love and acceptance with each other. Otalia's popularity has grown so much that at this point, it's a worldwide phenomenon.

In this exclusive interview for Advocate.com, Chappell sets the record straight on her decision to take the Days gig, her efforts to keep Otalia on the air any way she could, what this means for the end of Guiding Light , and the importance of Otalia's love story.

With husband Michael Sabatino (who played Carly's husband Lawrence Alamain on Days ) and her two kids in tow, Chappell makes the move back to California -- a fresh start and a chance to revisit a primo role -- one that, at one point, had Carly buried alive.

Advocate.com:This is great news that you are coming back to Days as Carly. Was it an easy decision?Crystal Chappell: It was. I was looking for a job, and it was one of those things that happened. I was in L.A., and I was driving by NBC to go to another meeting, and I thought, Gary Tomlin [co-executive producer of Days ] is there , and I wanted to say hi. I went about my day and found out that same day that he called my contact information so he could talk to me. I am trying to listen to the signals in my life, and I thought it would be very interesting to go back and play this part after 16 years of being away. I am really happy to be going back, but it's taking me a few days to get to this place. The day the news came out last Friday, I told my cast mates and they were unbelievably supportive and lovely, but I think the thing that dawned at me at that moment was, this was going to be the end of the character of Olivia. I kind of went through this little wallow over the weekend and went, Oh my God! This is so sad for me!

Gay fans have been so invested in Otalia's story. We had such high hopes for it. Now that fans see it's the end of the line for Otalia, in some ways it's been so devastating… and obviously devastating for you. Absolutely! We all have known since April 1st that our show was canceled, and we have all known there was an end date. We all had hopes that the show would continue. I know Jessica Leccia, Ellen Wheeler [executive producer], and Jill Lorie Hurst [co-head writer] all wanted the story line and the show to continue. But as far as I know, as of right now, we all finish taping August 7th. I would love for the show to continue, but unfortunately, or fortunately, I have to work. It became a practical decision, and I don't know about Guiding Light being picked up.

People felt that if Otalia can't save the show, then the show is not being saved! Obviously, we talked many times that it is an extremely important story, especially Jessica and myself. I can only look at it and go, I feel really privileged that I got to play it and be a part of it, and enjoy the time I have left with it. But, it will forever be my favorite experience and favorite story. It's due in part to the fans and how they have been, and how positive they have been.

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You told Jessica you were going to go back to Days . How did that go? I did tell Jessica, and she texted me back and said, Yay! Employment. You know, that is what we all wish for each other. It was funny. I had this wonderful news breaking last Friday. I am so lucky as an actor to have a job these days, but I really thought it hit me hard. I am the first one to announce: Hey, I'm going over here , and you could kind of see that people were so happy for me, but there was a weight that fell on the group. I kind of felt it all weekend. I am vacillating between extreme relief and joy and excitement about going back and trying something old and making it new again. At the same time I was feeling devastated. So, it was this weird emotional breakup at some level.

Perhaps Days could capitalize on the popularity of Otalia and have Jessica come over to join you. Why not?

To the gay audiences who have fallen in love with the character of Olivia, how much has it meant to you? I wish I could adequately put into words how honored I have felt to be a part of the story. Even during my trip to L.A. and my phone call with Procter and Gamble, I was grateful to them that they approved the story. I went back to the very beginning of it, because it was important to thank everyone who said yes along the way. I thought it was very brave. To have this opportunity to represent a group of people I have come to love and appreciate was amazing. The character may be finished, as far as I know, and the coupling, but I am still a big advocate and a big supporter and I will continue to represent the gay community in a positive light. It's important to me and it's something dear to my heart, and it's because of the journey I have taken with this character.

Otalia's journey is ending. Will it be a happy ending? As far as I know, yes. There is a kind of closure to the whole show. I think people will be OK with how things end.

In your dreams of dreams, if Guiding Light was going to stay on, would you have stayed and not jumped to another show? Absolutely! That was the idea certainly all along. I told Ellen Wheeler, if she can get the show moved I will be there, and the people at Procter and Gamble. I spoke to Jessica and we said we would be willing to move, and we want to be Web stars, and is there any way we can move the show there? I tried to think of everything I could, not just for the Otalia story line, but also for the show. You know this is their show and their business and they are doing what's best for them.

It must be very frustrating. I am the actor. I am the one who comes in and says the lines. If anything, it's taught me to continue the story on some level. There is a story to be told, and as it's being written now to take it to the Web would be a great idea. To me, it's something that is very important to me. There is not much to say beyond that. I have been floored and wowed by how people have been supportive, and I am very grateful.

In all online reports, it says that you put out feelers to The Young & the Restless too. I had meetings with everybody in the soap business. Y&R 's Paul Rauch [co-executive producer] and I go way back from his days at Guiding Light . I know B&B 's exec Brad Bell… I know everybody. When you have been around long enough, you know people. I talked with everybody to touch base. But, I was so intrigued about going back to Days , and it was also a timing thing and giving that another shot. I think it's become an interesting show with Gary running it.

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We have never seen such excitement and buzz about someone going back to a soap role that made them famous. It was the most interesting week, because fans love you as Carly and yet they are going through the devastation over losing Olivia at the same time. I am going through the same thing. I am laughing and crying. I just need a break. I told my husband, I am acting like a lunatic, man.

How has your husband reacted to your decision to go to Days ? He pretty much let's me make my own decisions about things. As you know, we have two small children and obviously I have to think about them. I am the one who works in my family. I am so fortunate that I have another job to go to and one that I am prepared to enjoy. I had a really good time at Days last time. My husband had been talking to me about the character of Carly and I went, I don't know who this character is anymore . After two Bo's [Robert Kelker Kelly and Peter Reckell] and so many years, it's going to be an adjustment. I am back to Peter Reckell now, but I said, what I like about Olivia is she can be very brassy and I like her sense of humor. She can be more of a wild spirit. So, I am going to try to infuse those qualities into the character, as Michael calls it, "Carly 2.0", because Carly the first time around was very reserved. I have every intention of making her a lot more fun. It's an interesting challenge. I am happy to have it.

When you told every one of your cast mates at Guiding Light , what did they say? They all said the same thing, Good for you. You deserve it. I cannot explain how close we are as a group, and how much that they meant to me. I would say the same thing to any of them. We all deserve it. We have done everything we could as a group, and worked really hard for the past year and a half and are proud of what we accomplished. It was lovely, really lovely, but it made me sadder.

Were you at all hesitant for the news to come out last week because of the knee-jerk reaction it might cause? On the one hand, I was happy for it to come out. I knew about it for a few days, and I don't like keeping a secret. I am excited about it and that the truth made me realize there is going to be a last date of taping, and we don't want to go there. We want to party and live in our own little world.

Had you gotten any special e-mails from lesbian or same-sex couples along your journey? Absolutely! I had gotten along the way, women all over the world who have reached out to me, and it's been extraordinary, and it adds to the sadness of it all. Oh my God, I would love to continue this, are you kidding me? Especially since I see how much it has meant to them. People write to me about their journey, and are so open with me and open to sharing so much with me. It's been one of the most exciting experiences I have had in my career, and all due to people's willingness to talk to me. Yes, they have been grateful and lovely. When you have that many people telling you that you look good in jeans, I don't want to take my denims off, ever! [ Laughs ]

Dr. Carly has to wear jeans now! Yeah!

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Did you see the Advocate.com Outtakes at Michael Fairman Soaps ? Oh my God, of course. We will have to get together and do take 2.

I think people saw the realness between you and Jessica in that little piece! Jessica and I are great friends. We will always have this experience. I can hang out with her all day. She is just this great person. She is beautiful and lovely.

And speaking of Jessica, she finally had her baby! She had baby Ivy, and she was so swollen… the poor thing. Jessica was a trouper and she was out in Peapack, N.J., working quite a bit before she went on leave, and her feet were enormous!

I would laugh out loud every time the show would try to hide her pregnancy in scenes because she was so big, but they could not hide it! I know. What can you do? There was a baby in there, but what can you do? She is at home now and totally in love with her daughter, and looking forward to coming back. She comes back to tape after the Fourth of July weekend

Have you told many of your Days cast mates about your arrival? There are lots of people who are not there anymore. I was thinking about this. Well, I know Peter. I don't know Kristian Alfonso [Hope] that well, but I e-mailed Peter after his Emmy nomination. I was one of the judges in the category and I thought he was amazing and outstanding. Other than running into him at events, I have not really spoken to him over the years.

Speaking of the Daytime Emmys, we were all upset you were not nominated. How do you feel about that? You know what, I have been a really lucky girl as far as the Emmys have been concerned. I have nothing to complain about. I have one and I have been shown lots of love by my peers. Quite frankly, I did not have much last year. I did not think I would get nominated. I watched other supporting actresses for the past year and I felt their nominations were well deserved. I think I have something to compete with next year.

That's right, because the Otalia stuff kicked off more this year! Most of the stuff that was eligible last year was the recovery from the heart transplant. The Otalia stuff really did not kick in till, I think, the beginning of this year.

I hate to say this, but when Guiding Light comes to a close it's going to be a horrendous day for all of us, and all of you, I would expect. I think that is what really hit me last Friday… none of us have allowed ourselves to go there.

You start Days in September? As far I know, I start sometime late August.

In closing, would you love Otalia to live on in people's consciousness? And, that same-sex couples can be shown in continued romance on television and especially daytime? I hope it does and I think it can endure. I hope this is just the beginning of couples like this in television. That is my biggest hope and biggest wish.

We hope you don't get trapped and buried alive as Carly this time on Days ! Oh, been there, done that, Michael! I know how to survive underground now, are you kidding? I am like a mole… please! [ Laughs ]