PHOTOS BY GREG GORMAN
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
CHAD ALLEN HAS CERTAINLY BEEN KNOWN to explore uncharted territory in his work of late. The openly gay actor recently starred as TV’s 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 flick—oddly enough, shepherded by conservative Christians—in 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 family’s 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 shouldn’t skip it.
It’s an amazing story! The film’s not only about the deaths of the missionaries, but the family’s journey. At the same time, it’s about the tribe’s radical spiritual transformation from hate and fear to love—which ended the killing that threatened to wipe out their society.
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, “I think it’s 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.” But they already knew all about it. We all made a commitment to work together.
I hope my audience will go because it’s a great story. Some gay people may automatically feel that it’s 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 do—a message of love. It’s 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.
The Waodani live three days from the nearest telephone in Ecuador, and it’s 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 didn’t 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 I’ve 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 weren’t exactly roughing it.
No. [Laughs.] The roof did leak a little, but Panama wasn’t roughing it — 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 — it was just incredible.
Did you miss city life?
Not really. Well, actually I craved peanut butter, I don’t know why—and air conditioning. We slept in hammocks because you can’t sleep on the ground — it’s 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, I’m a bug magnet, so bugs came from miles away just to hang out with me.
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 couldn’t speak a word to each other because he couldn’t speak Spanish. But we communicated and it was like I had a little brother for a week.
I’m dating; I’m happy
A special 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.
I would do it all again in a second—bug bites and all.