on the case
Chad Allen talks about
his debut as happily partnered P. I. Donald Strachey in Here TV's
Third Man Out and rethinking how Hollywood makes gay movies with his
own production company
By Adam B. Vary
Photographed by Trevor
O'Shana for The Advocate
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
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. Gash, 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 Cdumbo or even the noir films from the
'40s, but our character gets to go home and get into bed with a man.
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.]
the same token, though, have you felt some frustration at doors being
dosed 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.
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."
The plot of the film
revolves around Strachey protecting a gay man named John Rutka (Queer
as Folkís 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.
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
passť now, so we had to figure out a way to bring [the story] up to
where it was relevant.
Do you think its 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
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.
Vary also writes for