By Michael Fairman
Originally published on Advocate.com August 28 2009 1:05 PM ET
As Guiding Light, daytime and broadcast history's longest running soap, ends its run on September 18, so too will it end the controversial run of its popular same-sex duo, Otalia. Actress Jessica Leccia (Natalia), one half of soap's most famous couple, along with on-screen acting partner Crystal Chappell (Olivia), certainly has been at the epicenter of the latest plot twists that have left some in the gay audience baffled. Here's why: Jessica was pregnant and set to go on maternity leave, so to write Natalia out of the show, the writers decided to make the character pregnant from her one night of passion with Frank Cooper, the man she had already dumped at the altar, when she realized it was Olivia who had stolen her heart. Viewers were hoping for a different exit story line, but it was not to be.
After giving birth to her new daughter, Leccia went back to work at GL to play out the next and final beats in the story line. In this exclusive with Advocate.com, the beautiful and talented actress gives her perspective on the lack of outward affection fans have been clamoring for from Otalia, reveals what to expect in the wrap-up from the soap's most famous couple, and shares the emotional moments of shooting her final Guiding Light episode. Leccia also talks about the impact Natalia had on her in her personal life, the groundwork it laid for all future same-sex couples on television and on the Web, and the opportunity to work with the amazingly talented Chappell. As many may know, Jessica is set to join Chappell's new Web series Venice this fall.
Advocate.com:Congrats on the birth of your little one, Ivy Lola. How is motherhood? How was it coming back to finish up Guiding Light following your maternity leave?
Jessica Leccia: My daughter Ivy is fabulous and a tiny little nugget of love. It has been crazy. I am glad I got a chance to be there for the end and had a nice farewell, because otherwise it would have felt very open-ended, which would have been even sadder. I am glad I could do it.
How do you think fans will feel about the ending of the Otalia story line?
Either way, everyone is going to be a little sad...the whole thing is just sad. I hope the fans can appreciate how the story ended or didn't end, or however they see it. Everybody really did the best they could, and no matter what, it's just going to be a little bittersweet. There was not a whole lot you can do, because the story has to be over and you really don't want the story to be over. I did not envy the writers at all.
Since Guiding Light has been canceled, did the compression of the Otalia story impact you as an actress? Did it make it any more challenging?
No, not necessarily. It would have been the same regardless if it would have been the end of the show or not. It just meant that the stakes were higher. You always want to go out with a bang. I think things were geared to go in the right direction whether Guiding Light had gone off the air or not. I think we have a nice way to say goodbye to some of the characters that did not seem too final or too sad. It's hard to describe it because I have never been in that position before.
Were tears shed when you taped your final scene?
Yes. We all had our final scenes and knew who it was with, and then it's over. Then it hit me that it was the last one. It was very, very sad. It was sad watching other people's last scenes and doing your own.
The big question, will Natalia's final scene be with Olivia?
Yes, we can say that, and pretty much everything we did in the final weeks was Natalia and Olivia at the crux of the story.
When Natalia ran away to a retreat to gather her thoughts after she became pregnant, she realized just how much she loved Olivia and that her actions hurt her. Right?
Absolutely. There was no coming back and have a happily-ever-after because what she did was essentially wrong. Natalia hurt Olivia with the news of this major event that happened in her life, the pregnancy, and so Natalia does have some amends to make.
Will there be a life-changing or defining moment when Olivia is finally all right with what Natalia did?
It takes a little while, and that is how they work as a couple. Everything is very gradual with Otalia, so this is along the same lines.
It must have been odd to find out that when you came back, Natalia would indeed be showing, and now you would have to wear a pregnancy pad, when you finally got to not have to walk around on the set really pregnant! Quite the ironic twist, wouldn't you say? All of a sudden Natalia's got quite the tummy!
Sometimes you just pop, and it happened to me, honestly. I just kind of popped and it happened to Natalia too! [Laughs] Honestly, I was thinking, this is not too shabby. I did not have to worry about losing all my baby weight, and far from it -- I came back here and I am getting to wear maternity clothes, and I don't have to worry about getting into my skinny clothes anymore. I am wearing padding, which is great, especially with still having baby weight around my belly. I can just say... it's the padding. It was good for my ego, to be honest, it really was. If I had to come back and wear skinny jeans and cute little halter tops, I would have been miserable. It’s a lot of pressure for us girls, and so when I came back I did not have to worry about my weight, which is my very vain answer to that question. [Laughs]
How was the experience of playing and being pregnant and waddling around?
Wobbling and waddling come very natural to me, so it worked. [Laughs] I still waddle. I loved being pregnant, anyway.
Did you ever watch back the episodes when you were at the height of your real-life pregnancy?
No, I couldn't do it. It was like watching a different person, but at the same time I am the happiest I have ever been. I can look back and say to my baby, "You made mommy look so fat!" [Laughs]
There has been much made about the lack of physical contact Otalia had throughout its run. Can we look forward to any show of affection between the two before we go off the air?
I think the whole thing was always an issue, but it was also an issue for the characters and it was something they had to talk about. It was something so out of their realm of what they were used to in a relationship, and as characters they did address it...the fact that they would function as a real couple meant intimacy and everything. To be honest with you, it depends on how you were looking at the story. If it were up to me, we would have been together in a physical way all the time, but we did not exist that way as a couple at the beginning. The beauty of it was, we did not have to be that way for people to get that we were in love. It was refreshing that people got it without all of that. However, if it were up to me, there would have been a lot more affection shown between the two characters.
So we won't get the long-awaited romantic full-on kiss planted on one another, and then have the gals go hand-in-hand skipping down the street?
We don't skip. I know that for a fact. [Laughs] I tried to skip at one point and I was told I looked ridiculous and that is a true story. You can ask Crystal about it. She said, "Don't skip." Basically, it's going to play out in normal Natalia and Olivia fashion. There is not going to be some big heavy make-out scene.
You have signed on to play Crystal Chappell's love interest in her new Web series Venice. It's so admirable that you have decided to continue what Guiding Light started with a same-sex romance. Obviously, if GL would have stayed on the air, it would have continued, but this is a great way to keep the LGBT audience engaged in soaps and with your work. Tell us your thoughts on Venice and why you agreed to be a part of it.
Honestly, Crystal and I have been touched by feedback we have gotten from the Otalia story line. I think this idea in part is due to that feedback. Crystal is an entertainer and smart. She realizes this is what people want to see, and it’s a really valid slice of life that maybe people don’t see enough of. And she has got this idea and she said, "Do you want to do this with me?" And I said, "I will do whatever you want," because she is Crystal! She has got something really nice on her hands, and if she wants me to be a part of anything, I will.
Since you live on the East Coast and Crystal is now out in Los Angeles taping Days of our Lives, will you be flying to L.A. to do this?
As of right now, we don't have a schedule. I know Crystal is working really hard on it, and I know she will let me know when she requests my services. I will wait to hear from her.
If you look back at the entire journey of Otalia, was there one defining moment that stood out for you? Was there one moment when you and Crystal looked at each other and knew the two of you clicked on-screen together?
I think it happened early on. To be able to come to work and to be able to love the work, as opposed to "Eh," that is when things transitioned for me.
The scenes in the gazebo after Natalia left Frank at the altar and Olivia telling Natalia she was in love with her at the cemetery were monumental scenes of admission for these two women.
What is amazing is to see those clips and others on YouTube, and how people work really hard and put the clips to music, and the creative things they do. It's really moving. It's nice to see the value of our work in people's minds. It's sort of like any real relationship -- you kind of look through a photo album and see all your special moments together.
What has it meant to you to have the gay audience come forward and support your work? Do you read the message boards? Big Purple Dreams message board? The fans go nuts for you!
They are wonderfully crazed and passionate. [Laughs] The fan boards and message boards were all completely foreign to me. The whole idea of fandom is generally something I had never experienced, and then to experience this was incredible. It became very personal and that's the best part about it...getting the mail, the letters and the personal stories. People were going out of their way to send gifts and thoughtful cards. I never really knew how to say thank you properly.
If you could say "thank you" now, what would you say to them?
Thank you for even paying attention to the story. Thank you for even finding something in the story that is personal to you. And the loyalty...and I don't know if any other couple on a soap has had this kind of loyalty. People actually committing to the story and hanging in there with the ups and downs of it, and people reaching out personally to me, was just beyond amazing to me.
Did any face-to-face meetings with fans mean something extra special for you?
We have met a lot of couples who will stroll up to me and Crystal and they will say, "This was our story," and you are looking at two people and realizing you're telling their story and it drives it home and makes it lovely. Seeing their faces is just special.
Who will you miss most on GL?
I don't know how to pick the one person I will miss the most. But obviously, working with Crystal was extraordinary for a million reasons. She is so good and she happens to be a great person too. Everybody worked really hard on this show, and I cannot even tell you the blood, sweat, and tears. I am going to miss going in and grabbing my coffee and going in the makeup room and chatting about what was going on with everyone, walking in the studio...all of it! At the end, there we were working like crazy people, and I am going to miss their faces and saying, "Have a good night" and "Have a good weekend," and laughing...and Daniel Cosgrove [Bill] making ridiculous announcements through the loud speaker. I am going to miss that terribly. I will miss Lawrence Saint-Victor [Remy], who is probably the nicest person I have met in my life...walking down the hallways with a big smile on his face.
Rafe will not accept his mother's romantic attentions towards Olivia. Many gay people have faced this issue with their children when they become involved with someone of the same sex after years of being in heterosexual relationships. What are your thoughts on this story point?
I thought that went really well and I thought it was really important to point this out. The way Rafe was brought up and Natalia was brought up is really important. There was a reason there was such opposition to these feelings and for Rafe to say, "Oh, that’s cool, Mom," would have been ridiculous. So it needed to be addressed. It needed to be hashed out and it played out.
Will Rafe be more accepting of Olivia in the end?
We hope so!
Natalia is such a devout religious woman, which makes her story even more interesting. From playing the role, what would you say to gay people who are very religious and have an internal struggle about accepting who they are?
It's a tough one. You can't tell a person what their faith means to them. There is a reason they have that faith. It's a valid thing to have faith, and it’s a matter of coming to terms with letting yourself be open to not having to choose between the two, and reconciling that. It’s as simple as that. You can have both. That is what I like about Natalia's journey. She figures out who she really is and her faith is valid, but so is her choice to be in love. You can have both. They are really not in opposition to each other, if you think about what faith is. It’s supposed to be all about love.
Otalia fans really put Frank Dicopolous [Frank] on the frying pan for coming between you and Crystal on the show. Did you and Frank discuss the difficulties the story turn would have, and the impact it had on the viewers and that there could be a backlash?
Frank is a stud. He was in a tough spot. We discussed off-screen their relationship all the time. Natalia and Frank had this tricky relationship and situation, and an ambiguous relationship at times. It's not Frank's fault at all. It’s a tough thing he had to play. There is a lot of pride in his character -- to think that you are so close to being in love and then to have her turn out not to love you that way, was devastating for him.
The gay fans of course were startled when Natalia found out she was pregnant with Frank's baby and left to go on a retreat to facilitate your exit in real life for your maternity leave. What can you say to your fans who were upset about the story choice? We know it's a writers' decision and not yours.
I do want to address this because it is part of the story and it's not a superficial thing. It is going to be a part of everyone's relationship connected to Otalia, and it's part of the story. I am sure there were a million ways to get me on maternity leave and get Natalia out of town. The writers chose this way, but it will be something that is very important to the story.
Was it a long-range plan to have Natalia pregnant to facilitate your exit?
I could not tell you. I honestly never asked about my maternity leave other than I knew it was coming up. I promised I didn't. I kind of like having the story unfold and not knowing everything that is going to happen.
Many fans were hoping Natalia had a hysterical pregnancy, or would wake up from a bad dream and get a grip and get back to Olivia pronto, sans baby.
You know what? What I am hoping is going to happen to people is what Natalia realizes...and that is a child is a blessing no matter how it happens. Hopefully people will start to see it as that, and not just as an impediment to the story but part of the story, and that is what I am hoping.
Give us a sneak peek of what we can look forward to as we head to the finale for Otalia, and what is the million-dollar question?
Will they end up together? Natalia's goal is she wants Olivia to be a part of this, but Natalia has work to do to get her to be a part of it. She wants Frank and Olivia to be part of her family. That’s what she wants, and will that work out? It’s not necessarily what they want, but it’s what she wants, and will it work out her way? You have to watch!
If you were to say, getting the chance to play Natalia was...?
Natalia was a great role to play, a big lesson for me in a lot of ways, and a little bit of a teacher for me.