She scored outrageous success with her landmark internet series Venice, now Emmy-winning actress-producer Crystal Chappell (Guiding Light, The Bold and the Beautiful) is about to bring us another web potboiler, Beacon Hill. The series, which begins streaming March 5, is set against the cutthroat world of Massachusetts politics and features lots of lesbian steam and a cast of daytime greats, including Sarah Brown (General Hospital), Alicia Minshew and Ricky Paull Goldin (All My Children), Tina Sloan and Ron Raines (Guiding Light), Melissa Archer, Jessica Morris and John-Paul Lavoisier (One Life to Live), Scott Bryce (As the World Turns) and Louise Sorel (Days of Our Lives). TV Guide Magazine caught up with the über-busy Chappell to get an exclusive preview.
TV Guide Magazine: You are freakily productive. Fess up, do you have one of those Reva Shayne-type Dolly clones at home?
Chappell: [Laughs] No, just me — but I couldn't do this stuff without a fantastic team. There is nothing easy about producing and budgeting and dealing with travel and finding locations, so doing this does take a little bit of insanity. Or a lot of insanity. But this s--t's fun! I'm having the most wonderful time hanging with Sarah Brown and Alicia Minshew, women from daytime I've always admired but somehow never got to know. It's magical! I sit in front of the monitors on the set and ooh and aah at them. I'm a big, nutty soap fan.
TV Guide Magazine: So hit us with some scoop. What's this series about?
Chappell: It's a story centering around two families — one of them is right wing, headed by Senator Tom Wesley [Scott Bryce], who has big presidential aspirations, and the other is left wing, headed by Senator William Preston [Ron Raines], who is a really nasty predator. The two lead characters, Sara [Minshew] and Katherine [Brown], are ex-lovers who fall back into each other's orbit after several years apart. Katherine, who is in line for a Senate seat, is currently in a bed-buddy relationship with her friend Laura [Rebecca Mozo], and Sara is in a fairly new relationship with Diane [Jessica Morris]. [Laughs] And it all just explodes from there!
TV Guide Magazine: And you play?
Chappell: Senator Preston's eldest daughter, Claire, who likes her booze and has a ton of hot secrets.
TV Guide Magazine: Juicy! You've also got that great star of stars Hillary B. Smith (One Life to Live) working on Beacon Hill — but behind the scenes! What's up with that?
Chappell: Hillary is my supervising producer and has done a phenomenal job. She was willing to step into an acting role if we needed her but, like the rest of us, she's looking to expand her experience. [Laughs] And she so bailed my ass out! My character is one of those women who is always dressed appropriately with the perfect accessories and the hair done exactly right. Soooo not me! I have nothing like that in my closet but Hillary had it all. She grew up in and around Boston and knows that scene, so she brought me the dresses, the scarves, the circle pin, everything. She really put me together.
TV Guide Magazine: The actresses you've cast — from Venice to your web pilot The Grove — always seem so comfortable, even thrilled, to do the girl-on-girl action. Talk about that.
Chappell: Oh, you'd be surprised who isn't into this sort of thing. It's not the right project for some people but mostly I've been very lucky. You don't want anyone who's going to be uptight. We had a very laid-back set filled with people who really appreciated the creative freedom.
TV Guide Magazine: They kept your lesbian love story on GL notoriously chaste, to the point where you and Jessica Leccia weren't allowed to kiss. How's it feel to go on the web and let it all hang out?
Chappell: [Laughs] Literally! You know what? It feels perfectly natural. What was unnatural is what we went through at GL. It felt like such a lie for Olivia and Natalia not to be able to express their love for each other. To try to tell that story without being able to touch or kiss was crazy. So this is just great! When it comes to LGBTQ issues, things are changing, moving forward, but we still have quite a ways to go. I really believe that projects like Venice and Beacon Hill help make a difference. And I love that we don't have to deal with any censors, no suits in a tower saying that two women can only kiss on the cheek, or that they can't look at each other for too long because America can't handle it. And that freedom makes the work much more authentic. This was Sarah Brown's first girl kiss, which was very exciting for all of us! After we filmed her first kissing scene, we were all going, "Yaaaaay!" And Sarah is an actress who has no fear. She was all about getting that first kiss out of the way, and then there was no stopping her! And Alicia was perfectly, completely comfortable, so it was all very funny and fun.
TV Guide Magazine: You've developed a massive lesbian following as a result of playing gay on GL, Venice, The Grove and, most recently, B&B. Has that portion of your audience come to expect it from you? Would you disappoint them if you delivered a series that didn't have lesbian content? Or will they follow you anywhere now?
Chappell: God, I don't know! Maybe they would be disappointed but I'd like to think not. Beyond being gay women, they're also soap fans, and I don't know who doesn't enjoy a good story! That's ultimately what it comes down to. You know, it suddenly hit me one day that I was playing a straight character on Beacon Hill, which I haven't done in a while. [Laughs] A long while! I was, like, God, do I even remember how? But the work we're putting out isn't solely about representing the gay community. This is a show that is primarily about politics and relationships, some of them quite twisted and dysfunctional.
TV Guide Magazine: And it's so damn ambitious! Most web series are too low-budge to take an entire cast and crew on location to Massachusetts.
Chappell: You'd be surprised what miracles you can make happen with a little luck and good will. People really want to help you out. We shot a lot of the series in Lincoln and Grafton, Mass., plus a day in the actual Beacon Hill area of Boston. Everywhere we went, people were amazing! You find, say, a general store you want to use as a location and offer the owners a couple of hundred bucks and they say yes! It's what we had to do in Peapack, N.J., when we moved there to shoot GL.
TV Guide Magazine: So finally there's payoff for all that hell Ellen Wheeler put you peeps through?
Chappell: [Laughs] Seriously! I learned a lot from working that way. Beacon Hill is definitely the most ambitious project yet for me, and a lot of that comes from the writers, Jessica and Linda Hill of Bella Books, who wanted to tell their story. They got married last August after being together forever. They are really bright, really talented women who wrote a terrific drama in order to express their feelings — something I just couldn't resist. I am really honored to help get this out in the world. In addition to being a subscription series on the web, we want to keep shopping this project around because it has great bones, great structure.
TV Guide Magazine: So what's next, producer lady?
Chappell: I have a feature film on the docket for 2014 with a half-million dollar budget, so that's going to be a huge step for me. And there's a great sitcom, Welcome, Matt, written by Lindsay Harrison [The Young and the Restless, Tainted Dreams], that I'd love to produce. We recently did a reading of it with a great bunch of actors, including Michael Knight [All My Children]. Plus, we're preparing six episodes of The Grove, which we'll probably shoot in the spring, also as a subscription series. [Laughs] So it's all good! People aren't going to bring me onto a network series or a studio film as a producer! Are you kidding? But here, on the web, we can create our own projects and build our own futures. It's exhausting, I won't lie, but absolutely thrilling!
For more information on Beacon Hill, including a Season 1 video teaser, go to beaconhilltheseries.com.
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