Discovered at the tender age of four while performing at a state fair, out actor Chad Allen has in the 32 years since then channeled his talents into a successful career on stage, television and film. His most recent movie, the acclaimed Hollywood, Je T’aime, makes its DVD debuton Wolfe Video today. The Los Angeles-based Allen generously took time out from his increasingly busy schedule to chat with Reverend exclusively for Movie Dearest.
“My parents weren’t show business people but always encouraged us,” Allen said, referring to his twin sister Charity in addition to himself. “Soon after being discovered, I did commercials and then TV, including St. Elsewhere.”
Allen played the recurring role of Tommy Westphall on the hit 1980’s drama. Westphall was an autistic boy who, it was revealed in the show’s final episode, envisioned the entire series in his mind. Allen made his biggest splash on television as Matthew Cooper on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
“I was cast in the pilot (of Dr. Quinn) but didn’t expect the show to last,” Allen recalls. “It ran for six years (1993-1998) and paid for my college education.”
Almost as soon as Dr. Quinn went off the air, Allen declared his homosexuality publicly. Allen had been rumored to be gay for several years and decided to acknowledge it rather than cover it up. At the time, Allen said of the decision to come out: “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.”
The actor, who has been partnered for the last 4 ½ years, utilized much of his experience as a previously closeted man in the 2007 film Save Me. In it, Allen and Robert Gant, another out actor, play gay men trying to overcome their homosexual desires at a Christian “conversion” camp. Instead, the two fall in love.
In reflecting on how the motion picture industry has changed in its treatment of GLBT subjects during the course of his career, Allen says, “For actors, it has changed tremendously. It is today a much more hospitable place for gay — even openly gay — actors. Much of the change has been over the last ten years.”
He continued, “The downside is that as gay characters and stories have become more mainstream, GLBT independent films have been on the decline. I hope we get to the point where we can have both (mainstream and independent films with gay characters/stories).”
Allen cites the Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain (2005) as a watershed moment in Hollywood. “Until Brokeback, there was a huge fear or belief that you couldn’t tell a story with a gay hero and have it make money. A well-made movie with a good story trumps everything. It’s not just a victory for gay rights; it’s a victory for humanity.”
Partly due to the success of Hollywood Je T’aime to that end, Allen is proud of his work in his most recent film. He plays Ross, a drug-dealing, HIV+ denizen of West Hollywood who develops a relationship with a French man visiting California over the Christmas holiday.
“It’s a very simple story,” Allen said of what attracted him to the project. “I really love European movies for the simplicity of the story. It really respects the viewer’s intelligence. Also, I had never played an HIV+ character. I have so many friends with HIV, so I wanted to honor them in some way.”
Allen has also gained something of a cult following with his ongoing role as gay private eye Donald Strachey. Thus far, the series of direct-to-DVD movies consists of Third Man Out, Shock to the System, On the Other Hand, Death and Ice Blues. “There are two more Strachey books to be made into films,” Allen reveals. “I love the character and the relationship between him and his partner. I love that Strachey is a mess and can’t really keep his life together, but he always gets things done one way or another.”
I had the privilege of seeing Allen perform last year in the Pasadena Playhouse production of Looped, opposite Valerie Harper as the legendary Tallulah Bankhead. I asked Allen whether a New York production of the play was a possibility. He replied, “It’s on hold for now due to political issues I don’t begin to understand.” Since I spoke with him, however, a New York run with Harper reprising her role has been announced. Allen’s involvement is apparently yet to be determined.
At the time of our conversation, Allen was working hard on his new film, Spork, named after the spoon-fork combo. The film “follows a 14-year old intersex child,” according to Allen, who is producing the film as well as starring in it. “It’s an over-the-top comedy but also very poignant. If all goes well, it will be out in 2010.”
When he isn’t acting or producing, Allen serves as a member of the Honorary Board of Directors of the Matthew Shepard Foundation and supports a number of other GLBT projects. He is passionately committed to marriage and full equal rights for GLBT people.
Chad Allen in The Back Room (NSFW).
Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.