Openly gay actor and peripatetic adventurer Chad Allen has been on both the small and big screen since the early '80s, and he became especially well known for his childhood roles on the TV sitcom Our House (1986 to 1988) and his recurring guest spots on Webster, St. Elsewhere, and My Two Dads. From 1993 to 1997, Allen starred as Matthew Cooper on the hit series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. More recently, he's starred in a number of theatrical productions, landed prominent roles in such critically acclaimed films as End of the Spear and Save Me, and earned kudos for his portrayal of gay detective Donald Strachey in several movies based on the popular crime-novel series.
I spoke with Chad in July 2008, where the down-to-earth, easy-going actor discussed his favorite places to travel, love of adventure, and dreams for a romantic getaway with his partner.
About: Before we start talking about travel, can you tell me a little bit about projects you're appearing in at the moment, or that are due to be released soon?
Chad Allen: I'm currently starring in a world premier play called Looped, at the Pasadena Playhouse, with Valerie Harper [as of January 2009, Chad was performing in the pre-Broadway run of Looped, again alongside Valerie Harper, in West Palm Beach]. It's a wonderful show about Tallulah Bankhead, toward the end of her career. I play an uptight, closeted sound engineer, and she realizes there's more than meets the eye about my character, and it just gets very funny from there.
I've also got two new films coming out in the Donald Strachey Mystery series. The first one, On the Other Hand Death, is coming out now, and a fourth installment, Ice Blues, comes out in the fall.
And last year I did the movie Save Me, which appeared at Outfest in L.A. - that's a great film festival. I love participating in that when I'm around, but this year I wasn't able to with the show going on in Pasadena.
About: How much of the year, typically, do you spend traveling on location or for theater work?
CA: You know, an actor's life is always so weird, and it changes, but this year, I haven't stopped traveling since last November. I was in Vancouver, Hartford, New York, Louisiana. We were in Monroe, and then we shot in a bunch of very rural communities. Oh, and I got to visit Natchitoches, where they filmed Steel Magnolias. What an amazing town - it's the real bayou, with all those mossy trees. It's intensely beautiful, unlike any landscape I've ever seen.
The cool thing about Natchitoches is that it's the true heart of Creole Louisiana, and the culture there has been preserved for what seems like forever.
About: What are some of the most memorable places you've traveled for film shoots?
CA: Without question, the Upper Amazon rainforest - a totally remote part of it in Ecuador. I spent a couple of weeks there - I'm talking three days from where the road ends, with a tribe [the Huaorani people] that many anthropologists believe to be the most violent that has ever existed. We flew into Quito, and we took dirt road after dirt road to where we spent the night in a wooden cubicle, and then slept on the mat equivalent of a bed. Then we got on a small plane and flew into jungle…then hopped on a boat, and ultimately camped and made our own village.
The tribe there taught us to build our own camp, we ate fish that we caught ourselves, and ate howler monkeys. This was to research End of the Spear, which we actually filmed in Panama, in and around the Canal Zone, on the Caribbean side. That was another whole adventure - a really interesting experience.
When I was much younger, I traveled all over Thailand for a TV movie of the week. We shot mostly in Bangkok - I was a teenager, and loved it. Ate all kinds of strange food off the street - never once got sick.
About: Have you had any, eh, less fortunate experiences traveling to some of these far-flung places?
CA: I did get pretty sick in Ecuador, after two weeks of eating monkeys and fish from the river - and drinking water out of the river. My body got pretty worn out from the intense amount of insect infestation. There was never a moment in the day where I didn't have insects crawling all over me. If I'd stayed for a long time my immune system would have adjusted, but for a relatively short visit, being head to toe with bugs every day, I was like a human Petri dish.
About: Nice...Do you typically have much of a chance to get to know the places you're visiting for work?
CA: I usually make a point of it because I love to travel. My favorite thing to do is go to a new place. For movies, you're going to stay there for a while, and you get to sort of pretend that it's home, temporarily. I like to really figure out how they live and fit in as well as possible. I like to go in early before a film, get my backpack on, and roam the streets and see it for myself, as someone who lives there would. I usually come early, or stay later after shooting.