Soap fans have a new love story to obsess over: daytime TV’s new “it” couple Olivia and Natalia. Affectionately known to fans as “Otalia,” the gals comprise Guiding Light’s first ever same-sex romance. Otalia’s uncharacteristically slow-growing storyline is changing the way that love stories are being told, and at the same time helping to mainstream same-sex relationships through the soaps. After a long build-up in which Olivia and Natalia have grown from foes to friends to more than friends, they finally admitted their true feelings to one another at the end of April. Emmy Award-winning actress Crystal Chappell and Jessica Leccia sat down with GO to give us the scoop on what’s next for Otalia.
GO: How did you feel when you were first approached about doing a same-sex love story?
Crystal Chappell (CC): I was very excited because I have been doing this for almost 19 years and I have never told a story like this on daytime. I am a big soap opera fan and a big fan of love stories—well-developed love stories. I knew when it was pitched to me that they were going to take great care with it. I was excited at the possibility of playing a different kind of love story.
Jessica Leccia (JL): Same, I was very excited because of the way it was brought up. It was a long term relationship that they said was going to happen. And that felt really nice because I had never been given an important storyline before. And I would get to work with Crystal, which is very exciting.
Were you concerned about the reaction of mainstream Guiding Light fans?
CC: No…I will take any good love story in whatever form. I wasn’t afraid of it, I wasn’t really concerned about it. I was just fully excited about the idea of it.
JL: Plus it wasn’t just some vague idea that you are going to end up together. It was going to be a well thought-out story. We started out at a strange place because Olivia and Natalia didn’t like each other at first. Getting over that—even if it hadn’t turned into love—just caring for each other on a friendship level has been interesting.
What do you think about your new gay fan base? Did you expect it?
CC: No, I don’t think I did expect it. The fans are fantastic. I have to say—so passionate, so appreciative. And in my mail I get these wonderful
stories from fans about someone who has lived this storyline years ago and they go through all the details of their lives and how hard it has been. It is just so touching that they can be that forthright with their private life. It makes me feel good about what we are doing. It is much more than just a soap story.
JL: I never had fans before! I never knew what that felt like. It feels really nice.
Have you approached playing a woman in love with another woman differently than you would a heterosexual storyline?
JL: A little bit. You have to because it is very different for the characters. It isn’t just some sensationalized sexual relationship. We managed to focus not on sex, but on the details of things like how we act around each other when we are alone and no one is watching.
CC: I didn’t approach it any differently because it was really one of those things that in a great love story you just realize, “Oh my God, I am in love with this person.” Then it becomes, “How does this change our friendship? How does this affect our children? How does this affect how the community reacts to us?” They are still trying to forge ahead and to discover what this means and what this feels like. It is exciting, and it is scary.
Has not labeling the relationship impacted its development?
CC: I do think it opens it up and it helps people really receive the message that love is universal, that it isn’t about labels. If we can get that idea across to more people, then it will all be worth it. I think if we had labeled it, it would have become, “Oh, are you watching that lesbian storyline on Guiding Light?” And I think it might have turned some people off that are now open to the idea of watching these two women be in love with each other and love each other.<P>
JL: It is helpful and it is a necessity because we haven’t been able to even discuss it until recently. You can’t label something that is as enigmatic to the characters as it is to everybody else.
Were you as excited to tape the “I love you“ scenes as the fans were to watch them?
CC: Yes, it was time. We had to say something. When I read the scripts—I’ve done three shows and I have gone through numerous head writers and numerous producers—you know when you get a good group of scripts, when it is just well-constructed. So I knew that week had a beautiful arc to it.<P>
JL: There was a lot of tension built up there. It was really time…It was a relief.
Did you feel intense pressure to produce because the build-up to those scenes had been a long time coming?
CC: You always want to do your best. But yes, that was certainly a big moment for my character and yours [Natalia]. And we wanted to make it really, really great.
JL: You [Crystal] were so good. I heard my husband in the middle of the night rewinding her scene. He wanted to watch that scene over and over again—he was in awe of her.
The characters say “I’m in love with you” and not just “I love you.” Why is that?
CC: For me, just hearing it, it feels different, saying “I’m in love with you” instead of “I love you.” I love that the writers made the distinction. Olivia is planting roots, she is planting seeds: this is where I want to grow, I’m in love with you, I want to be with you and live with you forever. It is a deeper thing to say. I have never seen anything like this story certainly in my daytime career. The script was written that way and I was so afraid that I was going to say “I love you,” so when I was studying I stood on that and kept saying over to myself “I’m in love with you, I’m in love with you.”
JL: When I said “I love you” to Olivia, I was comparing romantic love with Frank [Natalia’s fiancé], so therefore it meant “I’m in love with you.” “I don’t love Frank, I love [Olivia].” And that is how the distinction is made. I am not marrying this man because I love Olivia.
What challenges will Olivia and Natalia face now that they have revealed their feelings?
CC: Proximity is a big deal now. We’re wondering things like, how close can I stand to you? How do we act around people in the workplace? They are trying to feel comfortable with this newness in their lives and at the same time they are very aware that they are not alone because it isn’t a private thing. It will go very slowly. We do talk. Nobody is avoiding anything. It just becomes, “We need to talk about this.”
JL: We have nothing but challenges now. One thing is the physical part…I don’t know if either character knows how to broach that. We have children; we have a tight-knit community that we are both pretty concerned with.
And Natalia is religious.
JL: Religion has been her rock, so it is difficult. And we will address that. I have scenes with a priest and addressing what my relationship will be with my religion, now that I am in a relationship with a woman. Natalia desperately wants to work this out. She wants a relationship with Olivia, and she is starting to come around to thinking that there has got to be some way that this is okay. She has no intention of giving up believing in God and all those things, but she has to reconcile the two because it is worth it.
Crystal, you’ve mentioned that one of your concerns was being sure not to cast Olivia as the leading man, especially since she is the dominant person in the relationship. How have you made sure this doesn’t happen?
CC: [Laughs] I would call up the writers and say, “I’m a girl.” Even though Olivia can be very stoic, she is still a woman. If a script would come out and veer away from who Olivia is as a woman, I would call. We want this to be a balanced relationship. We want to see Natalia controlling the situation sometimes. They are very different, but both strong. And in reaction to me saying that I don’t want to be the leading man, the other character needs to step up and change as well.
JL: And Natalia is doing that. I am finally facing this relationship and I don’t want to do it by myself. I am not letting Olivia walk away from me.
What has the reaction to the storyline taught you about tolerance in our country?
JL: It is more surprising to see how much support we have gotten than it is to hear any negative comments. I expected more negative comments.
CC: The response has been so overwhelmingly positive. I am used to people not liking my character. I think I am a little immune to it. Not that I don’t care to hear what people have to say, good or bad, I respect people’s opinions. I don’t really dwell too much on what people can’t understand and try to look at what people can. Like Jessica said, I felt like this was going to be a good story, I felt that we were going to get some good response but it has been overwhelming. Much bigger than I expected!
Will Olivia and Natalia finally get physical?
JL: They are getting comfortable with where they are now. And that means getting closer. Natalia will have to deal with her son Rafe’s reaction, to seeing his mother with Olivia in a different way. He knows his mother one way and she has been pretty vocal about the way he handles things in his own life. So now he confronts her.
CC: They will get closer. The impulse is to touch and you want to get closer. And I think that is where they are now. Thinking they will have some privacy, Olivia and Natalia go to a spa for the weekend. We have a big argument born out of this newness that they don’t know how to handle. They are trying to move forward, but they don’t know quite how to do it. So it is much more loaded, personal and emotional. There is closeness—touching hands. It is simple, but that is where they are. You’ll just have to keep watching for more.