Crystal Chappell (l) and Joanna Johnson, Photo by JPI Studios
After 25 years, the CBS daytime soap The Bold and the Beautiful has launched its first same-sex storyline! And who better to lead the charge than Crystal Chappell? Chappell, who has played gay on Guiding Light and on her hit web series Venice, certainly knows the drill and brings with her an adoring LGBT fan base. But B&B had another secret weapon to make this story work in Joanna Johnson. Johnson, who first debuted on the series back in 1987, played the role of Caroline only to be killed off, but later re-emerged as her never-known-about-before twin, Karen.
In between visits to B&B, Johnson is best known for her work behind the camera as the writer/producer and creator of such primetime hit series as Hope & Faith, Make It or Break It and Fairly Legal. Johnson, who is a lesbian and married with children to her partner Michelle, had never come out publicly until earlier this month. Now venturing into waters where she and Chappell will play two moms to an onscreen daughter, also named Caroline, the heat was turned up on Johnson to make a decision—to be true to herself and come out to fans around the world or hide it. She chose the first. In this exclusive interview, Crystal and Joanna talk about the challenges of accepting one’s self, and the actresses preview their exciting new story.
Joanna, how did you feel a few weeks ago after the first 24 hours the TV Guide piece ran, where you publicly came out? Any regrets?
J: My only regret is that in the TV Guide piece they outed me being 50. The gay part is fine! [Laughs] I am like, “Is that necessary?” About coming out, I feel great about it. I have had wonderful support. I did not think anybody would pay attention to be honest. I certainly don’t feel I deserve any great praise; in that so many people have come before me in a time when it was more difficult to come out.
Reading part of your story was heartbreaking. There you were, one of the leads of B&B playing this fantasy scene of what life would have been like if your character was married to heartthrob Ridge and had two kids. And you recalled you went back to your dressing room and cried. You thought you could never have that kind of life, because you were gay. How did your thinking turn around?
J: For me, once I quit acting, that was really freeing. I became more out with everybody that knew me. And as a writer/producer, I talked about my wife and my family all the time. There have been times where I have felt, “If they know I am gay, will they think I can’t write straight?” Certainly, I have had those thoughts, but mostly, I think I project my fears onto other people.
I put what I think they are thinking into their heads. Growing up, I have learned that most people really are not giving me much thought. [Laughs] In their own lives they are not sitting around and thinking, “Hmm. That Joanna Johnson is gay,” when in fact they are not thinking about me at all. I felt that less so as an actress in the business, and it probably contributed to why I stopped acting, because it was very hard for me to hide out.
In those days, I didn’t feel like I could come out and it wouldn’t hurt my career, and possibly embarrass the Bell family, although they have always been incredibly supportive. I did not want to hurt the show in any way. But, I often felt the pressure when I would go to Europe. The American soap press does not ask a lot about your home life. They are pretty respectful. It’s more of a friendly relationship. But when I would go overseas and be asked, “Who is your boyfriend?,” I felt like I was not being authentic and lying. I would be thinking, “If they knew I was gay, they would stone me in the streets.” I think that pressure, besides the other pressures that come along with acting, which are to be beautiful and sexy as a woman, and the object of desire when you are an ingénue or a younger actress, was a lot of pressure for me. That was because of my own self-loathing. It was my own doubts and prejudice of myself that got in my way. It was hard for me to have that as a mirror out there in the world.
Crystal, you have tackled a gay role on a network TV soap previously, when you played Olivia on Guiding Light. In deciding to take this role, was there any trepidation playing yet another lesbian? Were you fearful that all fans would see this time was forehead touching and knuckle play? That is what GL and CBS got such flack over, not letting two women kiss on-screen.
C: I have perfected the art of forehead butting and knuckle touching, by the way. [Laughs] A role is a role, to be honest, as an actor. So I don’t have an issue with playing another gay character. Obviously, the story is important. I have talked about being an ambassador for the Hetrick-Martin Institute, and that is an organization close to my heart. I want these young people to grow up represented and see themselves on TV. So when the opportunity was presented to me, there was no trepidation at all.
In terms of my previous experience with playing Olivia on Guiding Light, it’s a different time and a different company. I know what I was told and I feel very good about the story. It’s about a loving family. They have their issues and they have a child together. I am just happy to be a part of it. Just for the record, I am very proud of Joanna. It is a brave thing to do. During my time in the Otalia storyline, I got so many letters from people sharing their stories with me and Jessica Leccia [Ex-Natalia, GL]. These were stories they had never shared with their own families. There was this self-loathing and trying to come to terms, and being afraid to lose the people they love for being who they are, and so I admire Joanna for being so brave.
Crystal Chappell, Photo by Lesley Bohm
Do you think there will come a time where it's just about a character who is gay, and not about “Look at that gay character”?J
: I think so. I think things have changed since I started on the show back in 1987. To the younger generation, being gay is not a big deal. Linsey Godfrey, who plays our daughter Caroline on B&B
, said to me, “Why would you be so nervous?” I had to explain to her that I grew up feeling ashamed of who I was, and there wasn’t acceptance. Every young person had to go through his or her own insecurities and lack of self-confidence. And every person has a certain amount of self-loathing that they struggle through. And then to throw that on top of it, I could not grow up free. Now it’s better. It’s not perfect, but in some places kids can grow up and express themselves more openlyDaytime soaps, because of the nature of their stories, are about the romantic life of heterosexual characters. Do you think that is why it is hard for many actors to come out in this genre—because then the audience would not accept what they were portraying?C:
It shouldn’t be that way. I think the audience is underestimated. I think that 60 percent of this country is for same-sex marriages. I think they would be fine. There is no issue. What they want to see is a compelling story. If they are seeing an actor is gay, then they have their own issues number one; and number two, the story isn’t compelling enough if that is what comes to my mind. In my world, it doesn’t matter.So how did this first-ever same-sex storyline on B&B come together?J:
Our executive producer and head writer, Brad Bell, called me and told me he had a story for me and would like to pitch it to me. He drew it out in a fun dramatic way, which is the way it will happen on the show. And then he goes, “Here comes Caroline’s other mother!” [Laughs
] I was driving at the time, so there was a pause before I answered and I went, “Oh! OK.” [laughs
] He asked me, what do I think? And I said, “I think that’s great. Just give me a hot wife.” And he did.
Brad called and pitched the story and I thought it was a great story. I love that The Bold and the Beautiful
is doing a gay storyline. I think it’s fantastic.Joanna, are you aware of everything Crystal has done for the gay community, and how she has managed to take an under-represented part of the population and given them various platforms to see their lives portrayed?
I was aware of everything Crystal has done. I am a subscriber to her web series, Venice
. I think it’s amazing what she has been able to do. Do you know how many professional high-profile producers and writers have tried and failed at creating a hit web series? I am blown away and so impressed by what she has done. I joked with her when we met, “You play gay professionally, but for me this is a whole new thing.” And after I said yes to the storyline, I came home and told my wife, Michelle, and we laughed. I said, “I guess this means there is going to be some kind of press and I can’t just sit there and go, “Yes. It’s very challenging to play a gay character and not say anything. That would be ridiculous.” So I said, “I am going to talk about my life, and is that cool?” I mean, she doesn’t care. She is a club promoter and very out. I want my kids to feel that we are not living some kind of secret, which we are not.Speaking of your kids, tell us about them and how it works for you in public, with them having two moms?
You know, we just got back from Hawaii and I am wondering, ‘What are people thinking in the airport?” There we are, two moms and our kids are biracial. And they don’t look anything like us, of course. [Laughs
] My son will call us Big Mama and Small Mama as we are going through the airport! I mean, how could I ever think I am not totally out? [Laughs
]Crystal, you have two sons. Will you let them watch you acting in a same-sex storyline?C:
Of course, and they have seen Venice
. They have seen appropriate parts of my show. To this day, my 12-year-old is more traumatized by this scene I did when I ran over a woman with a car. That is traumatizing! My kids are open-minded and full of love.On B&B, Karen and Danielle have a daughter, Caroline, played by Linsey Godfrey. How is she to work with? How is she handling the material?
It’s beautiful and lovely. In the scenes we have laid down already, it’s a terrible thing to admit, but as an actress I had this out-of-body experience where I am watching it. And I should be living it. [Laughs
] I was watching Linsey and Joanna, and granted it was my first day, and I did not know where the hell I was. [Laughs
] But, I am watching this moment and I am like, “Wow. This is so real and beautiful. How lucky am I to be standing in the middle of it!”
Caroline is proud of her mothers. And as an actress, Linsey really gets the story and is just wonderful.
Crystal Chappell (l) and Joanna Johnson, Photo by JPI Studios
So are the two of you clicking in rehearsal and onscreen? Any issues come up? It’s kind of a reverse situation. Crystal has played gay and Joanna you are gay, but have never played it on TV!J:
Crystal is fine and fantastic, and I am the nervous, giddy, silly one. We had to take these pictures together and have them on the mantel in our scenes. We had to have our arms around each other and pretend we are at the Grand Canyon. I was all nervous and at one point Crystal goes, “I can feel you pulling away.” [Laughs
] And I go, “Oh, I am so sorry. It’s bringing up a lot of my issues.” [Laughs
Joanna is a great actress. I was honestly relieved. [Laughs
] Yes, she is a beautiful woman, but I was like, “Oh, she is really good.” It’s a joy. I feel like I am sitting back watching this thing unfold. I don’t know where it’s going, but it’s exciting.Crystal, what can you tell us about Danielle?C:
She is in a committed relationship with her partner. They have a mad love for their daughter. Like any good parents, that is their focus, their child. She is a writer and she feels like she hasn’t been able to achieve her goals and her dream.
We don’t know that much yet of the characters, as it’s all just coming to light. But in one of the first scenes I felt like I was ordering Crystal around. [Laughs
] I am like, “Do this! Do That!” If I was that way to Michelle, she would tell me to go get it myself!Karen is going to have some trouble with her brother Bill Spencer (Don Diamont) finding out she is gay. What is the issue there?
I think she is really afraid of what her brother Bill will think. They did not grow up together. He was a long-lost son to Bill Spencer Sr., and Karen was raised in a trailer park, since she was kidnapped at birth. So she didn’t know her father till she was in her 20s. That is why Bill and she did not grow up together. I think Karen is afraid he is a lot like her father, who we will reveal did not accept her life, and who she was, and her sexuality. He shamed her into being closeted.Do you actually think we will see these women kiss?
You mean on-camera? [Laughs
] I hope so. We are not trying to prove a point. I just want it to be natural. That is my wish for this storyline.
Brad Bell is a great supporter of all people and human rights. I love that he sees this as a human rights issue and not just a gay rights issue. He is very courageous and is clear where he stands. He is not afraid. He is not a guy who would back down.President Obama recently came forward and said that he supported same-sex marriage. What did you think of his statement and the timing of it?
I was amazed and I think it’s fantastic. I think Joe Biden pushed him a little bit into it. But I think he realized, to win this election, he is going to have to appeal to more progressive people and not play everything right down the middle. I think it’s another great step further. I think it’s interesting who he broke the story to.Gay Pride is upon us in L.A. and in many cities throughout the summer. What would you want to say to someone who is struggling to come out?C:
I think I would say to anyone, regardless of his or her sexual orientation, this is the only life you've got. You have to find your happiness. And the only way to find that is to be who you are. I am all for speaking your mind. I would just say, speak up and be heard—and love who you are. By no means can I possibly understand fully what it is like for anyone to live a sheltered or closeted life and to come out. I can only try to understand. The only thing I can do is try to break down some barriers and to bridge some gaps. But I don’t ever want to give the impression that I understand. I am learning everyday about what people are going through. If I can lead by example that way, then I am happy.
From my own experience, I think you have to have compassion for yourself as much as you would for other people. You can’t just say, “Be proud,” and someone is going to be proud. Part of the Pride celebration is to be visible and to feel safe, and to feel like there is a place for you in the world. For many people coming out, they still have problems with society, their families, religions, etc. So I would say, try not to project your own low self-esteem, your own fears, your own self-loathing onto the world, because much of the world will support and love you. A lot of the battle is internal. And the other thing I would say is, live somewhere that is safe and you can live freely, until the whole world becomes that way. Crystal has been so supportive. She has said, “I don’t know exactly how you feel, but I am here to support you.” That is wonderful.
For more on the soaps, visit MichaelFairmanSoaps.com.