By Michael Fairman
Originally published on Advocate.com November 06 2009 1:00 PM ET
Last week I took a trip to Venice. No, not Venice, Italy ... Venice Beach, Calif., to go on location and behind the scenes of Crystal Chappell’s new Web series, Venice. The highly online soap is slated to debut later this month. I caught up with the all-star daytime drama cast to get some insight, scoops, previews, and thoughts on this project that has captivated the LGBT audience, starting with Chappell, who says the series took on a life of its own, in part due to her time as Olivia, half of the same-sex pairing Otalia on Guiding Light.
“During my time at GL it was overwhelming getting letters from all over the world. It just touched me, and I thought we can create something new here, and create a story of our own and have control over it; to kiss and not to kiss, to take your top off or not take your top off,; whatever we want to do, we get to do. I find the Web intriguing, and so I hooked up with my writing partner and got this up and running.”
Crystal tells me how much it touched her to hear many lesbians’ true-life stories and the struggles of gays for equality.
“To me, it’s a gift that has been given to me. I am grateful for the information I learned. It is heartbreaking to hear people tell me that they are being judged because of their sexual preference or being chased down the street by pickup trucks because of who they are, and it just makes me want to cry. It’s the injustice of not being allowed to be who you are. I am proud to be able to do this with my friends.”
And those friends include some top soapers: Jessica Leccia, Gina Tognoni, Galen Gering, Nadia Bjorlin, and Venice writer-producer Kim Turrisi, who have helped Chappell’s online dream come to life.
“I generally respect all these people. I like them, and they know how to have fun and bring the work. You can count on them. When we explained the project and why it’s happening, we directed them to our fun splash page. That is all we originally had to show them. We had people in over 85 countries just viewing the splash page, and the more we did this, it became very interesting. It became more expanded, and we realized there is really a need for this. All the actors I contacted loved the script, and they did it as favor to me and then came with questions and ideas and everything to make it come together.”
In Venice, Crystal will play Gina, an out lesbian who has a set of problems that have nothing to do with her sexuality.
“She is hugely dysfunctional. She has turned out to be the most flawed but the most serious of all them. I like to give my characters a sense of humor, but the characters around her are fun and lovely. She is the one who is struggling the most. Gina is comfortable with who she is, but she is not comfortable in relationships and the other people in her life. She does not know how to live with disapproval.”
OK, Crystal, but what the gals want to know is, will there be some real girl-on-girl action?
“She will be kissing and touching a woman, and we shot that at sunset. You get a beautiful sunset and sailboat going by, and there is some good hot stuff there ... might be a push up against a wall ... did I just slip that in? [Laughs] But then there is real romance. Gina wants love but she does not know how to commit to it.”
Crystal, who in real life is married to actor Michael Sabatino, says her hubby is unfazed by her stepping inside the sexuality of a lesbian. “My impression of a lesbian world is that there are all kinds of women. So you can’t really pigeonhole anyone. I did ask about it, and I did take notes. I am a student of life. I have visited a gay bar, and I have kissed a woman! My husband is in Venice too. He plays a guy who is married and has got kids, and he decides he needs to stop and go find his dream besides this crap business stuff. So he decides to build that dream, starting with a lovely pair of boots. [Laughs] That’s all I am going to say!”
Jessica Leccia (Chapell’s former love interest on GL) told me the character she plays in Venice, Ani, is far removed from her days in Springfield on the canceled CBS soap.
“Everything is pretty much different with Ani. They are night and day. Ani is way more with it than Natalia. She has a career and is goal-oriented and is on the pulse of everything. She is really busy and human and in love ... and all the things that come with that. She is way savvier than Natalia. Ani is going to be a force to be reckoned with and is more of a go-getter to get what she wants. Gina may be what she wants, and that is her big dilemma in this whole thing ... loving somebody and not having it the way she would like it to be.”
Leccia admits the groundswell from Otalia and the gay audience’s allegiance to her and Crystal is still hard to comprehend. “The support in general blew us away. I guess I could not wrap my head around how much it would mean to people to have their story represented and up there on the TV screens as well. But Crystal always has her wheels turning and is five steps ahead of everyone else and what types of stories should be done. She is a good storyteller as an actor and in writing. And I trust her. So I know that she has made this what it is and she has a great team of people with her, and I am glad to be part of it.”
For Venice writer-producer Kim Turrisi, seeing her hard work and dedication to this labor of love come to life was quite the moment. “The first day I watched the characters come to life, I honestly did cry. Crystal was magnificent, and everyone has been amazing, and I have shed a tear every day. When you have been a writer for so long and have gotten so close and now the day is here and it is with someone that I love and have been friends with for so long, it’s magic.”
Turrisi says Venice does have a message to share with its online audience and community. “I think primarily I want people to realize gay people are like straight people. I never say, ‘This is Crystal Chappell, my straight friend,’ and she never defines me either as her gay friend. I just hope that people out there realize there are gay people everywhere and we are just like everybody else. We have the same feelings, joys, tears, laughter, and we sort of want it to be all-inclusive as one world. ... which is how I was brought up all my life. I would sort of like for people to see it like that. It’s one world.”
Turrisi, who was a huge fan of Crystal and Jessica’s riveting performances on Guiding Light, discussed how Otalia’s hits and misses actually benefit Venice! “I thought it was really honest. I thought these were two straight women who found themselves attracted to one another. I think the chemistry was mad-crazy, and they did everything they were able to do. It’s my great fortune that they did not kiss on Guiding Light, and they will be kissing in Venice. There may be even be a bedroom scene, and I think there is a lot chemistry, whether it’s in or out of the bedroom with this group. And no, a man will not come between Gina and the woman she loves. We have written her to be well-defined and sure of her sexuality and most definitely a 100% gay!”
Sexy Nadia Bjorlin (Days of Our Lives, Chloe, pictured) was on hand for the taping and was cast in one role by Chappell and then thrown a curve ball when she got to the set. The L Word’s Elizabeth Keener, who was supposed to play the role of Lara, was taken ill, so at the last minute Nadia stepped into her character’s shoes.
“Yes, I play a lesbian in Venice, and my boyfriend, Brandon Beemer (Owen, The Bold & the Beautiful) is very excited about that. He wanted to come with me today, and I would not let him. [Laughs] The character I am doing now is a lesbian who is a writer and was different than what I was originally supposed to be, which is a bisexual model girl ... kind of a complete 180. I have been bumped up, and I am excited about it. [Laughs] Lara right now, as she is being introduced, is confident and sweet. She originally runs into Jessica’s character, who is frazzled, and immediately begins to talk to her and finds her enticing.”
Bjorlin says she became somewhat obsessed with Chappell when the actress made her re-emergence on Days of Our Lives as Carly, which may have led to her role in the new online soap. “It first started because I was stalking her. [Laughs] I thought it was an amazing move on the part of Days. Crystal is just obviously so talented and beautiful and a solid and kind person when you meet her. She has so much going on that she could be a diva, but she is not. So I sort of developed a girl-crush on her.”
Two-time Daytime Emmy winner Gina Tognoni (ex-Dinah, GL) was chosen by Chappell and Turrisi at this year’s Daytime Emmys to play Sami, Owen’s girlfriend. Chappell’s on-screen brother, played by the sexy and handsome Galen Gering, is currently heating up daytime screens as Rafe on Days. Tognoni tells me Sami is complex too.
“Sami is new to L.A. and was previously in Africa with the Peace Corps and working in Zambia. Sami is about healing and helping others, and she has a past, and the past is about being lost more than anything. She is here to start over. She feels something for Owen, and Owen feels something for her, and indirectly that will impact the character of Gina. In the pilot we are setting these seeds for future episodes.”
But what about the gay male side of Venice? That responsibility lands on the big shoulders of out actor Harrison White, who has been cast as Jamie, the owner of the local bar, the Loft. Harrison tells me how he landed the role: “I got lucky. My husband is a hairdresser on Days of Our Lives, and he was talking to Crystal. She mentioned she was doing this series and he mentioned that I was an actor, and we sent her to my website and she hired me from there. I am thrilled about being part of it.”
White told me he did know Chappell from Otalia’s plight on Guiding Light and the infamous “no-kiss” clause, and he said it did upset him. “I noticed on that show those girls did not touch and be honest there. As a gay man, the stories need to be told. Why do we only have two gay channels for that? We are in our own little world, and why are we still in a sense in the closet on those two channels? It feels like Jackie Robinson in baseball to me.”
And as a nod for GL fans, I did ask both Crystal and Jessica what they thought of the final episode, which fast-forwarded only one year in the lives of the citizens of Springfield, when I would have preferred a decade's leap. Chappell summed it up best. “I would agree with that it seemed too quick, but it was showing that everyone found their place and it was abridged, and the 10 years would have been interesting, but I am not having wrinkles! [Laughs]
Be on the lookout for Advocate.com’s special video presentation of our trip to the set of Venice next week.
Dr. Dan Will Keep Your Dirty Laundry
Cameron Mathison (pictured) plays Dr. Dan, the new face of Cheer detergent’s new ad campaign, with an online soap spoof called Brighten Bay.
I guess if we all had a doctor like this, we would be (a) making sure he
would make house calls, (b) bribe the receptionist at his medical
practice to get an appointment since he is probably triple-booked, or (c) find out what gym he goes to and stalk him in the locker room.
Anyway, Mathison does a great job in this hilarious parody. Check it out here!
Forbes March — Another One Bites the Dust
It’s not a good sign when we lose another gay soap character before it even gets off the ground. That is what happened to one of our favorites, the sexy and talented Forbes March. As the World Turns has dumped the character of Mason, who was supposed to be part of a romantic triangle for Nuke. March’s final scenes will air this month. Seems a writing shift on the creative team decided the fate of March’s role of film professor Mason Jarvis.
In a revealing interview with TV Guide Canada, the actor sounded off on P&G’s “pussyfooting around” their gay story lines (P&G, other wise known as Procter & Gamble, are also the folks that brought you GL’s Otalia).
“Their gay characters aren’t very gay! [Laughs] If someone turned on the soap for the first time, I think it would take him or her a while to figure out Mason was gay. Let’s face it — Luke and Noah are two J. Crew guys, two of the nicest and most wholesome gay boys you’ll ever meet. World Turns needs someone like American Idol’s Adam Lambert. Because I was completely taken with Adam, I went into my World Turns audition with black leather pants, rock-star jewelry, and snakeskin boots! I pulled all of that out for the audition to give them ideas. The looks on their faces? A resounding, 'No-o-o!' Mason is supposed to be a gay indie moviemaker, but they ended up dressing him like freakin’ Indiana Jones! Nuke is about as gay as Bill Cosby! [Laughs] Throw a wrench in there, people. World Turns needs an extroverted, effeminate gay man on that show. Give Mason eye shadow! But they didn’t like that. The only input they accepted from me was Mason’s endless scarf collection. World Turns is caught between a rock and a hard place with their gay story line. I don’t think they anticipated two vocal, polarizing views on the Nuke storyline. I honestly don’t think America is ready for a gay story line on a soap. It’s just too hot- button of a topic. They're criticized by the gays for not making Nuke gay enough, and then the American Family Association boycotts them. I get the sense that executive producer Christopher Goutman didn’t anticipate this kind of relentless backlash from the far right. He got hammered from each side. Any time I wanted to put my hand on Noah’s shoulder, several serious discussions ensued whether or not it would pass the muster. Any body contact had to be cleared from higher-ups.”
And speaking of needing a shake-up on ATWT, seems I am not alone in this theory. In my recent appearance on a special edition of the popular online soap chat show, Brandon’s Buzz, called “A Big Gay Soap Chat,” I suggested along with a series of callers that perhaps since Nuke is in a box with no story that perhaps one solution (and not a popular one by any means) would be to kill off our beloved Noah so that we can see Luke, like any other human being struggling to come to terms with the loss and moving on with his life and allowing himself to love again with ... another man! I mean, we need something! It seems like a gay love triangle fizzled. So what’s next? To hear the full episode click here.
One Life to Live – Five-Star Rating
I hope you
caught the exceptionally written episodes that started last Friday and
have played out all week. The same-sex wedding-athon in Llanview did
not disappoint. And it’s hard to pick out some of the favorite moments
or one-liners, but I marveled at the show! How about Officer Fish
coming out to the protesters? Or Kyle Lewis’s realization that he was
marrying the wrong man, and the beautifully written and performed scene
by Kish when they realized they wanted to make a go of things? How
about our friend Robin Strasser’s Dorian battling her inner desire to
be with the man she loves, David Vickers? And how about Tuc Watkins’s
David, who has “a date with Destiny” and is stuck on a plane heading to
London with the little girl ... while bemoaning the fate of Dorian, who is
about to marry her female campaign manager just to get the gay vote?
Charming, insightful, sad and funny ... it had it all. The Daytime
Confidential gang also weighs in on their thoughts on the story in
their all-new podcast.
Coming up next week, Kyle and Fish try to go on their
real first date, but their professional lives and other people’s
dilemmas always seem to be getting in their way. But stay tuned. This
gay romance has legs and there is more to the story!
No More Binks at AMC!
With All My Children heading west, it seemed like a perfect time to bring lesbian Bianca Montgomery back into the fold after the disastrous Reese-Bianca story line to redeem the character as the rightful moral center of Pine Valley. However, word came in from Eden Riegel that she will not be returning to Pine Valley anytime soon. The actress tweeted the news: “Hey Guys, not-great news to share. Looks like it isn't going to work out for me going back to AMC when they move out to LA. I'm very sad ... ” All I can say is, “Join Forbes March. Another gay character bites the dust!”
Male “Boffo” Soap Performances
It’s about time, men! Two longtime veteran soapers gave Emmy-worthy performances this past week that were not to be missed. First, ATWT’s Michael Park, as Detective Jack Snyder, shot and killed his own brother by mistake. While it put soap hunk Austin Peck on the unemployment line, it gave Park the story of his career. Jack is eaten alive by the guilt of killing his brother Brad, and the tragic consequences it set in motion for many of the lives of the people he loves in Oakdale.
And second, GH’s Maurice Benard’s sexy mobster, Sonny Corinthos, finally found out the truth that his psychotic wife, Claudia, was behind the shooting of his son Michael. And the scene chewing by Benard even led him to vehemently spit out the words of disgust for his backstabbing wife (played by the exiting Sarah Brown). Hell hath no fury like Benard’s rage-filled explosions, and it was a delight to see!
See the video of their performances below.
Brandon Beemer shows off not once but twice. Good deal!
The Bold & the Beautiful's Brandon Beemer is one of the latest soap stars to join photographer Adam Bouska's NoH8 campaign. Brandon also does his part for the everyman campaign in collaboration with Cosmopolitan to raise awareness about prostate and testicular cancer. Brains + beauty = Beemer. Sigh. Check out his pics here.