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PHOTOS BY GREG GORMAN

CHAD ALLEN
What happens when an openly gay actor
stars in a Christian-funded film about missionaries?
Chances are, not quite what you'd think.


NICK BURNS | 1.1.2006
GENRE MAGAZINE

CHAD ALLEN HAS CERTAINLY BEEN KNOWN to explore uncharted territory in his work of late. The openly gay actor recently starred as TVís first out queer detective in the here! Networks series Third Man Out. And this month, he forges wilder frontiers with End of the Spear, a big-screen indie flickóoddly enough, shepherded by conservative Christiansóin which he portrays both the evangelical missionary, Steve Saint, and his son. The true story of five missionaries who were murdered in 1956 in the Ecuadorian Amazon, End of the Spear documents a familyís journey back into the jungle to make contact with the violent tribe once again. We tracked down Allen at the W Hotel in Chicago and interrogated him as to how an out and proud gay man landed two pivotal roles in the film, and why gay moviegoers shouldnít skip it.


 
What attracted you to End of the Spear?
Itís an amazing story! The filmís not only about the deaths of the missionaries, but the familyís journey. At the same time, itís about the tribeís radical spiritual transformation from hate and fear to loveówhich ended the killing that threatened to wipe out their society.

Were you nervous about playing a Christian missionary in a Christian-funded film? Thatís a gamble for all parties involved, right?

I had my hesitations, but not about playing a missionary. I knew the people who were producing this story were conservative, Evangelical Christians and how important this was to them. So, I wondered if they knew what they were doing by casting me. I scheduled a meeting with the filmmakers and said, ďI think itís great that you guys want me to do this film, but you have to understand that this is who I am. I need to know that you get that and respect that.Ē But they already knew all about it. We all made a commitment to work together.

Do you think that gay audiences might hesitate to see the film because itís associated with conservative Christians?
I hope my audience will go because itís a great story. Some gay people may automatically feel that itís coming from the enemy, but my goal is to dispel that idea. The message of this movie is the same message that I hope to carry in the work that I doóa message of love. Itís only our perceived barriers that hold us back. Our perception of anybody as an enemy is destructive. And the producers resisted making an overtly preachy Christian film.

Although the film takes place in the Amazon jungle, it was shot in Panama. Why not shoot the film in the Waodani village in Ecuador?
The Waodani live three days from the nearest telephone in Ecuador, and itís hard to shoot a movie without telephones. [Laughs.] We worked with a tribe in Panama that lives in a traditional manner. Some had never seen a movie. We cast them to play the Waodani and brought movie cameras into their world. We discovered they were extraordinary actors! They were able to give themselves over to make-believe in a powerful way. They didnít have the same hesitations or fears that some actors have. The director would ask a tribe member to believe they were dying and they were able to go there 100%. I saw some terrifyingly realistic performances coming out of these kids who had never spent a day in acting class. It made me wonder what the hell Iíve been doing all these years.

PHOTOS BY GREG GORMAN

You lived in the jungle for three months?
No. We lived at a hotel on the Panama Canal. We shot in the surrounding jungles and traveled out to nearby locations. We shot along the riverbanks, and had arsenals of long riverboats with huge Hollywood lights.

So, you werenít exactly roughing it.
No. [Laughs.] The roof did leak a little, but Panama wasnít roughing it ó Ecuador was roughing it! I was invited by the Waodani to go into the Amazon and live with them for a couple weeks after we finished filming. We learned to hunt with poison darts and blowguns, we speared catfish in the river, we built and thatched our own roofs ó it was just incredible.

Did you miss city life?
Not really. Well, actually I craved peanut butter, I donít know whyóand air conditioning. We slept in hammocks because you canít sleep on the ground ó itís always wet and there were snakes. And we had to cover our heads, hands and feet while we slept, because vampire bats would land on you and suck your blood at night. And evidently, Iím a bug magnet, so bugs came from miles away just to hang out with me.


 
How did you communicate with the tribes people?
A lot of the younger kids speak Spanish. When you are living with people, you find ways to communicate. There was one boy, he was probably 16, and he just followed me around. We couldnít speak a word to each other because he couldnít speak Spanish. But we communicated and it was like I had a little brother for a week.

Off-camera, how are you these days? Howís your love life?
Iím dating; Iím happy

Who are you dating?
A special person.

A special person, but not a famous person?
My current guy and I met about 5 months ago. So far, so good. Relationships are scary and beautiful and amazing and the most significant way that we learn about each other.

Finally, was your experience with End of the Spear worth it?
I would do it all again in a secondóbug bites and all.
 

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