First there was Brangelina, and now comes Otalia. The blossoming romance of Olivia and Natalia on the CBS's long-running daytime drama Guiding Light has been the buzz of the soap world for weeks. The groundswell of support for the couple has given birth to the now-famous acronym. Daytime fans and the LGBT audience have been curious and compelled to watch the daily drama unfold -- two women who have never before been in a same-sex relationship are finding their way toward love with each other.
Currently, the struggles of these two mainstay characters to identify and come to terms with what and how they feel for each other has even mainstream press keeping tabs on the show. Last week Otalia made the Must List from the editors of Entertainment Weekly.
But is there a long-term commitment to the characters and the story? Is there another man on the way to put a stop to the train that's left the station? Advocate.com spoke exclusively with Daytime Emmy Award-winning actress Crystal Chappell and Jessica Leccia just as Otalia's world is about to be rocked this week on Guiding Light.
Advocate.com:What was your reaction when you were told that they were going to be pairing Olivia with Natalia?Jessica Leccia: For me personally, that I would be working with Crystal was exciting, and it was overwhelmingly positive. Crystal Chappell: This story has been in the works since January of 2008 and it was told to us then. I am open to whatever story they want to tell, and it's certainly something I have never done before. It was just a matter of being patient and seeing how and when it was going to happen.
It's been interesting to see how the romance is developing. These are two women who were originally enemies, moved in together out of necessity, and became friends. Is there a moment in Olivia's journey when she realized she had deeper feelings for Natalia?Crystal: I think she is confused. She is surprised how she is even able to coexist with another female and not be competitive with her. Natalia has given her a sense of home and "being" that she has never felt before. I think she is just feeling differently than she has ever experienced. After the "My Two Mommies" essay came out and her daughter opened up that perspective to her, she started to look at things a little differently.
Are both women in a state of denial?Crystal: I think Olivia is sensing she wants to say something. She just doesn't know what to say and she does not want to let this person go, because she is sensing she is more than just a friend. Beyond that, I think she is terrified. Jessica: Natalia has been in visible denial. I think she did acknowledge to herself that is she was OK with letting things lie for a while. Then she could cling onto the happiness she had with Olivia without complicating it.
Have there been challenges, as an actress, as opposed to when you are in a heterosexual relationship story line?Crystal: No. I have approached this as a basic simple love story. I think it's really non-gender-specific in my world as an actress. My character has found she's falling for another woman. It's still what I have always done in terms of my work and the approach to it. I did feel, however, that we needed to take it slowly and not sensationalize it. If you think about how long we have taken to get to this point; it was intended to create a long-term bond between these two characters. We take baby steps at times to create a love story that the audience can invest in. Jessica: It may have been a bit easier because we did not play that we were in love. Maybe it seemed a bit banal, but we were literally folding laundry in one scene and moments came out of that. Our relationship developed slowly and it was sometimes ugly and sometimes pretty and normal ... which is what friendships are.
Are you aware of the tremendous groundswell of support you are receiving from the LGBT audience?Jessica: I am starting to, and I am starting to get some feedback via e-mail. Crystal: I have received e-mails, and people are appreciative of being represented in a positive way. People have ideas of what a gay lifestyle is like, and yet I think this surprised them. I think this is being depicted in an everyday, natural way, and it's born out of love. [Executive producer] Ellen Wheeler and the writers have not strayed from that -- which is a love story with soap plots! [ Laughs ]
Olivia's daughter's school essay "My Two Mommies" stirred quite a controversy in which some of the other moms at Emma's school just spewed their ignorance at Olivia. How did you feel about those scenes?Crystal: I thought it was a really interesting way to start steering these characters in a different direction and to a different part of the story. It was such an innocent effort on the child's part. She loves these two women who take care of her. Out of that, Olivia and Natalia end up kissing and crossing different lines, and it stirred things up. That was the beginning of a whole new beat of the story for me.
Child custody issues have always been a challenge at times for the LGBT community, when one parent is a man and the other a woman who has now made her life with another woman. Emma is Phillip and Olivia's daughter. Will the show visit these issues?Crystal: I don't know what the future is, but in all honesty, it's a real and important issue. If Olivia and Natalia were to get together and decided to become a couple, I don't see it in Phillip's nature to come and take the child away from her, as long as the child was happy. Jessica: In regard to Emma, I think it's really nice that Emma is the sanest, accepting person in the entire story line. She is very aware she has a father. She is not confused where her father's role lies. She's very aware that these two women love her to pieces, and she calls them "Her Two Mommies," and she's OK with that.
Many viewers are concerned, as has happened in other soap story lines, that inevitably a man will come into the equation and that the show may not continue to tell the women's love story. Your thoughts?Jessica: Who knows? Down the line it could be another man or another woman. It is soap. So there is always a temptation to sleep with someone else. We can't rule out men or women.
But does that make sense to then have the characters take that turn, after all they will have gone through?Crystal: I think that if they were to commit to each other, they would not just fall for some guy.
Last week Natalia slept with Frank! Why?Jessica: There are so many reasons Natalia should not have slept with Frank, and she knows all of them very well. She finds passion to be exhilarating. She loves Olivia, and that's not part of her morality. There is the part of her that does care about Frank and she feels she has used him in a way. She is in denial, so all that bubbles up. She realized she made a huge mistake!
Will something bonk her on the head and go, "I love Olivia"?Jessica: There might be some bonking on the head. Something has got to give. She can't deny it forever, and she won't.
Frank is going to propose to Natalia. She is not so quick to say yes?Jessica: Nope. That's another red flag. One should be able to say with a resounding yes if one wants to marry someone. She says that, but that's not how it plays out.
Is Olivia upset when she finds this out?Crystal: No, I actually encourage it, because as far as Olivia goes, there are a couple things that are happening. She has got an 8-year-old daughter whose friends are canceling play dates because of the essay that came out. As well adjusted as Emma is, that may be part of the reason she runs away, because nobody wants to play with her. Olivia is kind of living this lifestyle that people are a little wary of. She has said this in her past, 'She defines herself by how desirable she is to men,' and if she makes a different choice in her life who is she going to be? How is she going to define herself? That terrifies her, and it's just easier to keep things as they are. She does love Natalia and it's on a level she has never experienced before. When she looks at Natalia she realizes this is a woman of such strong faith, that to ask her to compromise is the worse sin of all.
Olivia wanders into a bar, and then we have a shocking revelation about another woman in Springfield.Crystal: It's ladies' night at a local bar, and I am on my way to getting drunk. Olivia decides to stay, out of curiosity and to sort of explore what is going on. She immediately tells the bartender she is not a lesbian and that she thought she would come in here so someone would buy her a free drink. She tells the female bartender about Natalia saying, "I do have feelings for this woman, but she is very religious." The bartender says, "Well, then you better walk away, because she is going to break your heart." Olivia gets defensive and says, "You don't know me, and you don't know her and what we have." Then she goes to leave and runs into another hidden Springfield citizen, Doris!
Doris, who holds political office?Crystal: Obviously, I have caught her, and she is very defensive at first. I am accusatory at first, saying, "How could you be so cruel and put us in this position with my daughter's innocent essay, when you are living this life, and why aren't you living it openly?" Doris says, "People can be cruel in politics, and this is the way I have chosen to live this life." Olivia just finds that so sad. She thinks, How do you do this? Could Natalia and her live this life, or would they have to keep it a secret? It brings up a lot of questions for her and helps her make a lot of decisions. What I like about all that we are doing -- because these two women have been heterosexual all of their lives -- is I think this real angst and internal turmoil and confusion is very real, to me. It feels like something that would happen and that you wouldn't just wake up and go, "Oh, I am into this woman. I am going to sleep with her." I think even when you know how you feel, there is always that moment of "How are we going to do this? How is this going to affect our family, our children, and our friends?"
Will this newfound revelation make Olivia and Doris friends?Crystal: I think yes! I think Doris becomes, at least for a period of time, someone Olivia goes to as a sounding board because she understands.
Does Doris gets payback for her public attack on Olivia and Natalia and humiliating them for being supposedly gay?Jessica: Oh, Olivia and Natalia get her back. We do! I think it's soon after the run-in at the bar.
Also, Olivia takes a gun and is ready to shoot Phillip, if need be, if he tries to take Emma from her.Jessica: She gets a little upset. [ Laughs ] She is a reactive person, and this is a big deal. It's not just that her child's daddy is back in town thing. It's a huge deal, and it's her baby. If you shoot Phillip, you will lose Emma. It's pretty practical advice that I give Olivia. Crystal: She doesn't necessarily think Phillip is of sound mind. She feels he could just be putting on this facade to get into her good graces.
Crystal, how is working with Jessica?Crystal: She's got amazing discipline and passion. She knows her character very well and is not afraid to step in with you. You need to have a good acting partner; otherwise the scene doesn't take off. Now, there are advantages. When you kiss you don't get this big rash on your chin. She's a beautiful person.
Do you two crack up on set?Jessica: We have had so many "pee in the pants" moments. Crystal is wickedly funny! A lot of what is funny about the character of Olivia is, it's all Crystal, whether it's written or not. Crystal: Jessica is very funny. She comes off very reserved sometimes, but she is smart and witty. People don't know that about her.
What about the first time you two kissed on-screen? Was it nerve-racking?Crystal: I am always a little nervous when I kiss somebody. Your heart flutters and you think, Did I brush my teeth?Jessica: In the first kiss you think, Is my lip too high? Did I make a scowly face?Crystal: And you want it to look pretty! Jessica: It was really nice. Good times.
Will we see Otalia kiss on-screen again in the near future?Crystal: Yes, they will kiss again. It will probably be down the line a bit, but there will be a near-kiss soon. Jessica: It's a little bit more indication than what we have been doing presently.
In closing, what can we tell Otalia fans to look forward to?Crystal: These two women will tell each other how they feel, and these will be really big moments. The story is not going away, and they will be showing more affection to each other. Yes, it will become a romantic love. I can't tell you when, but you will see more of that between the two of them.