Chad's on the case
On a sunny July afternoon in Los Angeles, Chad Allen hovers over his laptop, typing out some last-minute e-mails as its speakers bathe him in a continuous stream of techno-trance and Rufus Wainwright. We’re in the offices of Mythgarden, the production company Allen formed with producer Christopher Racster and Queer as Folk actor Robert Gant, in a converted residential house on a quiet one-way street near the Paramount Studios lot.
Allen is about to debut Third Man Out on Here TV, the first of what he hopes will be several made-for-TV movies based on the popular Donald Strachey detective novels. The eight-book series, penned by Richard Stevenson beginning in 1981, follows an out private detective and his longtime lover in Albany, N.Y. Set to air September 2, Third Man Out gives Allen a chance to flex his star power and honor his politics too.
“Chad is such a positive member of our community,” says Meredith Kadlec, vice president of original programming at Here TV. “He does have that energy that’s a little bit tough and scrappy, but he’s also great-looking and a really fine actor. As soon as we talked to him about the project, we all realized this is a perfect fit.”
Yet Donald Strachey is only the most immediate of the conversation topics on Allen’s crowded plate this afternoon. He is working with all three gay cable channels—Here TV, Viacom’s Logo, and Q Television—in one capacity or another, and Mythgarden is developing feature-film projects with Robert Gant, Judith Light, David Mixner, and David Duchovny. And then there are Allen’s recent—and, he says, profound—experiences in Panama making the film End of the Spear and in the Ecuadoran Amazon after shooting wrapped. Scheduled for a January release, Spear is a $20 million indie based on the true story of a Christian missionary played by the gay Allen, a role that he confides he landed in part thanks to The Advocate.
It has been a busy year for Chad Allen the actor, and it promises to be a busy one for Chad Allen the producer. The former child star’s rapid-fire optimism makes it clear that for Allen, it’s all good.
You’ve said you hadn’t read the books when you were first approached about Third Man Out. So what was it that first hooked you into doing it? I was immediately entranced at the idea of [Donald’s] relationship [with his partner, Timothy Calahan]. It’s a fantastic, real, gay, monogamous, loving relationship. They have their ups and their downs, they’ve been together for a long time, they’re really dependent on each other, and I just love that. And Donald was a great character, a detective in the classic sense of an old-school private eye detective. Gosh, it’s been a long time—to even say “private eye” anymore—you don’t even hear that. And that’s what Donald is—and he’s gay. We get to make this fun movie with all those classic elements, like Columbo or even the noir films from the ’40s, but our character gets to go home and get into bed with a man.
The Strachey books aside, my concept of a “private eye” is a serial loner who lives to flirt—and then some—with a continuous string of femmes fatales. Was that a consideration when you were making it? One of our major goals was to create a really powerful, loving gay relationship that hasn’t really been done in television. Donald doesn’t have his life together. I think he’s good at what he does, but without his partner he would probably fall apart. They are a team, in a classic way like the Nick and Nora [detective] series [from the Dashiell Hammett novel The Thin Man and the movie series it spawned] and those old noir detective films.
It was the thing that I liked more than anything else about the series, to be perfectly honest—that relationship is what made me decide ultimately to do it. I’m not entirely certain that it would have been as interesting to me had it just been Donald on his own. I want to bring this relationship to the world. We don’t have enough examples of committed, loving gay relationships that work out there.
You know, you’re sitting in my office at Mythgarden, and our company is entirely dedicated to turning the page on gay and lesbian storytelling in film, television, and theater. We believe that it’s time that our stories can be told fully: good relationships, real relationships, honest characters, in all of the genres of storytelling—fantasy, fiction, fairy tales, great mysteries, adventure films, and honest drama. [See sidebar for a full list of Mythgarden’s upcoming projects.] That’s what I love about acting, what I love about great stories. I think that is what is going to appeal to a lot of people.
The producer of the movie was telling me how great it was to have an openly gay actor play Donald Strachey. Was that important to you as well? Oh, man, I’ve wanted to play a gay character for 10 years. I’ve always been told I wasn’t gay enough, quote-unquote, to play gay, even though there have been a lot of [gay] roles that I would like to play. So, other than theater, this is the first gay character that I’ve ever played. And yeah, it’s really important. Apparently, there was a writers’ panel going on at Outfest the other day, and they were talking about—[sighs]—how difficult it is to get gay actors to play gay roles, and all this crap that sounds like it’s from another decade to me. I think we’re in such a very unique, beautiful time when we can finally tell our stories. We can finally be out of the closet and be successful working actors if we’re all willing just to show up. And it’s happening. [See sidebar for the story on Chad’s role as a Christian missionary—a role he landed in spite of, or perhaps because of, his sexuality.]
By the same token, though, have you felt some frustration at doors being closed to you because you are an openly gay actor? It’s a question that gets asked of me a lot. I’m not naive enough to think that it hasn’t had an effect; I’m sure that it has. The truth is that the doors that get closed probably get closed so far ahead of me actually seeing it that I don’t even know [about it]. I’ve been acting since I was 5 years old. I’ve done five top-10 television series in the last 25 years that I’ve been at this. Are things different now? Yeah, absolutely. My sexuality is talked about constantly [regarding possible projects]. I was told seven years ago, when I came out, that I would never work again, and the truth is that my career is more interesting and fun for me than it has ever been. I love what I’m doing more. So I don’t see it as doors closing. It just seems to me like those [projects that aren’t available to me] are things that I’m not supposed to do. And I’m certain that I’ve had to work probably 10 times as hard to get what I wanted.
If this is your first gay role, your love scene in the movie was the first time you’ve done one with a guy, wasn’t it? [Brightens] Uh-huh. I was so excited! I’ve done innumerable sex scenes and love scenes [with women]. My very first kiss in life was with a girl in a kissing scene in a TV show a million years ago that I can’t even remember the name of. [Breathes deeply] I was very excited to finally be able to do a love scene with a man. My partner in the film is straight [in real life], so I was a little bummed about that [laughs]. He had a lot of fear about it, which I get, but I wasn’t willing to compromise on us making a beautiful, sexy love scene. It sounds odd because actors are always saying, “I just wanted to get that part over with.” But I struggled for a long time with understanding that my sexuality was good, and I want beautiful, positive representations of gay male sexuality out there. So it was very important to the director, Ron Oliver, and me to make a really good sex scene that wasn’t gratuitous or gross but was healthy, sexy, and beautiful.
That meant walking through some fears for both of us because inevitably there’s fear, specifically for Sebastian [Spence, the actor playing Timothy], who’d never kissed a man before. It was kind of cool because I was able to be like, “Now you know how I felt” being on the other end [with women]. I was like, “Dude, you’ve got a good imagination. You’ll be fine.” But he was scared, and I don’t think he’d mind me saying that. When it was all said and done, he threw his arms around me at the wrap party and was like, “Thank you, thank you. You’re the only person I could’ve done this with; you made me feel so comfortable.” [Laughs]
The plot of the film revolves around Strachey protecting a gay man named John Rutka (Queer as Folk’s Jack Wetherall) who has dedicated his life to outing other gay men. This must have struck a chord with you, given that you were outed by a tabloid. Absolutely. My character in the story is adamantly against that, and so am I. One of the issues that came up specifically is that when this book was written, outing was very popular in the civil rights struggle. It’s become a bit passé now, so we had to figure out a way to bring [the story] up to where it was relevant.
Do you think it’s a damaging any more to out someone in that way? I don’t know if it’s as damaging on a public level, but I’m certain it’s damaging on a personal level. I’m absolutely certain that forcing any young person or not-so-young person into dealing with the issue when they aren’t ready to or simply don’t want to is damaging to the soul. It’s just not right.
In dealing with Rutka especially, the script is often quite direct in speaking to gay issues. There’s not a lot of finessing when he starts preaching about gay issues surrounding medical care, say, or the indifference of local police. What I think is interesting is that you get this Rutka character, who’s a grandstander—“The medical system is this and does this and this”—[and] you oftentimes get me standing there rolling my eyes. It’s not that Donald doesn’t think that those things [Rutka rails against] are true. He agrees, but he lives in a very different world than Rutka. Donald and his partner live a very suburban gay lifestyle, and to tell you the truth, a lot of those issues don’t touch him directly most of the time. So it’s easy for him to shrug his shoulders and roll his eyes and say, “God, you’re such a throwback to another time.” So what’s interesting about that to me is not that either side is particularly correct, but the fact is that the issue [of the divide among gay people] exists, and you have some very different perspectives on it.
So if it creates conversation, great. What I liked about it is that we’re at a time when you can go down to gay pride right now and find guys in buttless chaps, drag queens walking the street, and guys dressed in [mainstream] clothes like you have on, saying, “This is ridiculous. What is gay pride all about?” We have the luxury of rolling our eyes right now. It doesn’t mean that this journey is over, but it is a different time.