What’s a Daytime Emmy winner and soap opera fan favorite actress, who also is one of the web’s most innovative, savvy and cutting-edge producers about to present to her legions of fans now? How about a political drama mixed with a same-sex romance and plenty of familial dysfunction that boasts probably the most exciting cast list of soap all-stars! In her latest endeavor, Chappell has teamed with Linda and Jessica Bell from Bella Books and Bella Productions to bring their script and vision to life in Beacon Hill, which is set to begin streaming its first episode on March 5th on the series website!
On-Air On-Soaps chatted with the hardworking Chappell to find out how she set out to cast the series which features: Sarah Brown and Alicia Minshew in the leading roles of Katherine and Sara, and features a supporting cast that includes Chappell in a role unlike any other she has taken on, former OLTL favorites Melissa Archer, John-Paul Lavoisier, and Ron Raines, Crystal’s former DAYS nemesis, Louise Sorel, and Beacon Hill co-producer and former All My Children and Guiding Light favorite, Ricky Paull Goldin … and that’s just for starters!
During our conversation, Crystal shared some gems about what went down behind the scenes to bring Beacon Hill to life, and why the decision was made to go with a subscription model for season one of the new series. In addition, she gives us a preview of what’s to come when viewers get swept up in the dirty politics, intrigue, heartbreak, and passion that make up the framework of the story.
Once you got the script, how long did it take you to cast the actors to play the characters in Beacon Hill? Did you go at it with a wish list?
CRYSTAL: I was working with Bella Books on this project and this is their production, too. Both Linda and Jessica are daytime fans, which is great! In terms of casting, the role of Katherine was the hardest one for me to cast in terms of making sure I had the right actress. In my younger days, that is a role that I would have played because the character of Sara is more of a liberal free-flowing writer who is all about the people. Katherine is a politician, and there is a way you have to conduct yourself. Sarah Brown just has the voice, the face, and her acting chops are at such a high level. Originally, when I spoke to her she said, “Well, I really resonate with the character of Sara.” I said, “I need you for Kate, because there aren’t many actresses who can fit this role physically, but can also play that corporate and political character and command it.” We have to believe this woman is capable of taking the senate seat, and so I had to find a formidable actress who when she stood up to say what she had to say, the floor is listening.
So then, what did you say to Alicia Minshew about her being cast in the role of Sara?
CRYSTAL I said to her, “You’re going to play a reporter and you are willowy!” (Laughs) I just ran everything by Linda and Jessica and they were in agreement. But it did take some time for us to cast this.
Being that you were not a writer on Beacon Hill, what did you think of the script?
CRYSTAL: When I first read the script, I liked it very much. The scenes were very short originally, and it’s all there. However, it wasn’t until we were in production that I saw the performances coming out. And especially when you are watching the rough cut, it just holds, there are no drop spots. You have to sit and you have to listen. There are beautiful performances in it, and there is story there.
In Beacon Hill, you play Claire, the mother of Sara (Alicia Minshew) and Eric (John Paul Lavoisier). This role is quite the departure for you in terms of the character you play, and you play older! How was that to pull off? What can you tell the fans about Claire as they begin to go on the journey of this story?
CRYSTAL: Claire was raised by Ron Raines character, Senator Preston. There is a sense of propriety that a political family has to take on and preserve. Claire is a recluse. She left because she can’t handle her father, but she is sort of maintaining what needs to be maintained. She sits alone and drinks, but she has secrets that are going to reveal themselves this season. There is something behind door number one. She is very complex. Claire is resigned to the life that she is living, and one of the things she wanted to do was get her children out of the family and out of the house. I aged myself in this. It’s very funny. I had make-up put lines on my face. It was a total defeat of Botox! (Laughs) So now they are drawing the lines on me, and I went with very little make-up, and I went with very tight hair. (Laughs) I said, “I don’t have a wardrobe to go with this.” Hillary B. Smith is from Boston and so she dressed me! All the clothes you see me wear are her clothes. You also have got to have the pearls, and you have got to have a pin. Hillary would sit there and dress me. I started doing the character and she started calling me, “Mummy”. She said it reminded her of her mother. (Laughs) So, she still calls me “Mummy!”
Maybe, one of Claire’s secrets is that she is a lesbian?
CRYSTAL: Well, you never know! I am going out of my comfort zone with this role. (Laughs) I have been playing lesbians for so long that I don’t know how to play other kinds of roles anymore! (Laughs)
You have had much success with Venice and The Grove that have both had a same-sex love story at the center of it. And now, so does Beacon Hill. Have you ever thought, what if the fans don’t get behind these shows anymore?
CRYSTAL: Always, sure. Venice came off of Otalia. That seemed the logical thing to do, plus I was wanted to produce. I wanted to do Venice because of my horrible dissatisfaction with the knuckle-touching on Guiding Light, although I am very good at it now. (Laughs) So that sort of took on a life of its own. The Grove was born out of the reality that I might not be able to do another season of Venice, due to the split in the business with it, and then Beacon Hill came along. I get approached by all different kinds of projects now. I have a comedy that I acquired that is about a father and his daughter. There is other stuff coming down the pike that will embody all types of people, but yes, there have been moments where I don’t know where things are heading. For Beacon Hill, I am partnering with Bella. This is their show. They are the money people. I am hired to make this production happen for them.
As had been a staple in your other projects, Venice and The Grove, should the lesbian fan base expect a hot sex scene at the beginning of Beacon Hill featuring Alicia and Sarah?
CRYSTAL: They will in the first episode. I know what’s important, please! (Laughs) It’s a beautiful scene and that is not always easy for actors to do. Alicia and Sarah are both professional and kind women, and came and did this project for not their normal day rate, but believed in it. They signed on and then did beautiful work together. Sarah had told me she had never done an on-screen girl kiss before. I remember we did these kissing scenes at this outdoor café and she yelled, “This was my first girl kiss!” We all applauded and went, “Alright!’ (Laughs) Sarah is fine now … we got her! (Laughs)
You have clued us into the background of who Claire is. But what should fans expect who have seen you front and center in your other web series? Are you in more of a supporting role in Beacon Hill?
CRYSTAL: This season I am in more of a supporting role, I would say. This is character work for me, and as I get older I kind of want to challenge myself that way. This is a very different character for me to play. It’s one of those things where I am watching the rough cuts, and I can see points where it may not be quite right for the character. I am thinking, “Am I being too stiff here?” I relay on people like Hillary to tell me if I am getting that. Am I getting that Bostonian regal political family vibe? I am certainly not that in real life! (Laughs)
Tell me about your amazing producing team of familiar faces from daytime and what they brought to the production of Beacon Hill? Of course, I am talking about the fabulous Hillary B. Smith and Mr. Ricky Paull Goldin!
CRYSTAL: Hillary and I have been friends for a long time and have always wanted to produce. I will say this: I have great admiration for producers. Everyone can be a Monday morning quarterback. I certainly have been one, and I would like to take this opportunity to apologize (laughs) like I knew anything at all! You learn. Hillary sat on The Grove on the monitor. She has a great directorial eye. She is my perfect supervising producer. Working with her had made my job so much easier, and it takes it off my plate. I said to her, “You f-ing bitch! I wanted to be a director!” The whole idea was I wanted to learn how to direct, but she is so much better at it! So I went, “It’s yours.” With Ricky Paull Goldin … I called and I told him I have this part for him in Beacon Hill of Andrew. His character is this slimy, wormy assistant of Katherine’s. He made my skin crawl and not in a good way. (Laughs). Ricky is able to make the character charming, but he has some shady dealings going on. Ricky is very organized in real life. He dresses well and he has taste. He has different skills and different people he brings to this show and the company. Ricky has been terrific. He had a cold the entire week of production, and he had just lost his mother who passed away suddenly. So, we just held him, but he was just a pro in every way. He stayed on monitor when he wasn’t feeling well. Hilary and I joke that Ricky has this magical quality where he can get any chick to make him a cup of tea! I swear to God! We would walk into a room and see a girl saying to Ricky, “Do you want honey with that?” (Laughs) It’s a good team. One of the things we have been discussing through Ricky; is putting together a pilot. So he has hooked me up with his people to re-edit Beacon Hill, because it can hold in a longer version because of the content in it.
Let’s talk about a few of the other casting choices in Beacon Hill. Why did you choose Melissa Archer for the role of Evelyn? I think I know!
CRYSTAL: For the part of Evelyn you need a nice combination. You needed a good actor in the part, but you also needed someone who could play that brassy girl from the others side of the tracks, but who also has a heart underneath it. From what I had seen of Melissa’s work as Natalie on One Life to Live, she can play the schemer, but I have also seen her play what’s underneath it. Melissa is the type of girl you want to hang out in a saloon with and have a couple of shots! (Laughs) She has that vibe. So it works very well with the other characters. For instance, Alicia is willowy as I said, and very put together, and you kind of just want to dance with her! (Laughs) It’s a nice contrast.
How did you come to think of John-Paul Lavoisier for the role of Eric Preston?
CRYSTAL: I was in Maine at Hillary’s place in July. I needed to cast the character of Eric, who is Alicia Minshew’s brother in Beacon Hill. Hillary mentioned John-Paul. I knew his work from One Life to Live and thought it was such a great idea. So we sent him an email and made him an offer, and he accepted, and I am so happy he did. John-Paul is such an interesting actor and you can’t just put your finger on it. He can command story which is important, but you don’t always know what you are getting, and it works perfectly with his character and like most of the characters in Beacon Hill. Eric comes across as being very supportive of his sister Sara, but there is something else that is going on.
Is everyone going to turn out to be gay in Beacon Hill? (Laughs)
CRYSTAL: Everyone is going to turn out be gay! You found me out! (Laughs) No. It’s just politics, and in politics…. everyone is bed with everybody else.
Once again you are charging viewers a $9.99 subscription fee, and going with that model for the run of the first season of Beacon Hill. Why the decision to continue with the subscription format?
CRYSTAL: I think it’s been very useful. People are doing that anyway on online platforms such as on Hulu Plus. Ideally, it would be great to have advertising and give the show a way for free online. There is going to be a fee somewhere for viewing programming online such as Netflix does. Ideally, it would be great to have our shows be ad supported, which some doors are opening there for us, and it would be great to have a proper amount of marketing behind it. I feel very strongly that the subscription model is the way to go at this point.
So many Indiegogo and Kickstarter crowd funding campaigns have emerged from soap actors and other talents, who are looking for fans to contribute financial donations to their projects. Do you ever think, or get concerned, that stars are in a way prostituting their fan bases in order to make their passion projects?
CRYSTAL: I am just aware that I don’t want to over exploit the generosity that they have given me. People have asked me to re-tweet something and if it’s really important to a friend of mine, I will certainly do it. I don’t want to be taking advantage of a very generous fan base. That is an honest answer. But I do think if you are going to start your own project, you do reach out to people who support you. Hopefully, you have that fan base to help make your dreams come true, and they want to be part of the process too. I have seen a lot of people be very successful with it.
Ellen Wheeler (former executive producer, GL) is putting together some sort of Guiding Light revival project. Are you going to be a part of it in any way?
CRYSTAL: I am not part of it. Jill Lorie Hurst (writer Venice, former head writer, Guiding Light) told me about it. I said, “Tell me what you need me to do?” There was no real information coming at it me. So I asked if someone could call me so I know what I am supporting. Again, this is one of those situations where you need to ask questions such as, “Are you going to raise money with the sizzle reel? Where do you want it to go?” I am thinking I know a few things about doing this, so I happy to consult on it. It is so hush-hush that no one is telling anyone anything! (Laughs) It’s hard to sell something when you don’t know what it is, but at the end of the day, I am happy that they are doing the project. I am not saying I wouldn’t do it down the road, if somebody talks to me. (Laughs) I love all those people. I will support them and do what I can do help them. That is the offer I made to Jill, “Let me know what you want me to do, and when the timing is right, I will help push it and promote it.” My calendar for this coming year is fairly busy. I did not want to commit to appearing in it if it was something that I might not be able to do … that is not fair to anybody.
What do you want to say to the fans on why they should watch Beacon Hill? What’s your pitch … in a few sentences? (Laughs)
CRYSTAL: There is great talent in it. It’s Boston, romance, politics and the characters are clearly defined. You know who the bad guys are on one side and you’ve got the good guys on the other – and there are some people in the middle and there is some ambiguity. I can say Beacon Hill is good soap!
So, what do you think about what Crystal previewed about Beacon Hill? Are you enthused to see some of your soap favorites in an all new soap? Who are you looking forward to seeing the most in it? What do you think about how Crystal has forged new ground in the web series genre, and has become an in demand producer? Share your thoughts below!