Keegan Allen Is a Pretty Little Actor
The TV star talks about his move onto the stage and—almost—off of social media
Keegan Allen recently had a chilling fan encounter, the kind only possible in an era in which Twitter lends even the most prosaic digital actions a potentially profound human impact. Allen, a star of the hit young adult TV series “Pretty Little Liars,” was leaving the Lucille Lortel Theater in the Village, where he is currently starring in the play “Small Engine Repair,” when he encountered a sobbing young girl. The cause of her distress? According to her, Allen followed some of her friends on Twitter but not her, the reason for which, they explained, was that she was ugly and fat. Allen was horrified.
“It troubled me so much that I just unfollowed everyone on Twitter,” says the actor, who now follows only people he knows or admires and news outlets. (More than a million follow him). “I don’t want to be a reason for somebody else feeling inadequate. I’m not going to contribute to bullying. I told her, ‘I’m going to do this for you.’”
It was a particularly poignant moment given the subject matter of “Small Engine Repair,” which opens Nov 20th. The play, written by John Pollono who also stars in it, takes place in a repair shop in Manchester, New Hampshire, owned by Frank (Pollono), a 36 year-old single father. He has invited his two best high school buddies over for a reunion of sorts, that takes a dark turn with the arrival of Chad (Allen), a privileged college freshman who gleams like a spanking new Porsche amidst a collection of used Hondas. It would be a spoiler to explain his presence (the play carries an NC-17 rating for sexual, violent and linguistic content), but suffice it to say it involves a questionable incident whose consequences are amplified because of outlets like Facebook and Instagram.
“This is what the play revolves around, this inability to recognize how one thing can change and really impact everything just because of social media,” explains Allen. “And the lack of empathy now where we no longer see the effects of this.”
Allen based Chad’s moneyed persona on some of the rich kids he grew up around in Los Angeles. The son of an installation artist mother and off-Broadway actor father, he was an artsy kid who wanted to become an editor and filmmaker. But watching his dad’s work, particularly his role as Jerry in a production of Edward Albee’s “Zoo Story,” he was drawn to acting. Allen got a BFA from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Los Angeles and in 2009 landed the role of Toby on the teen mystery drama series “Pretty Little Liars.” Four seasons in, it’s still going strong. Allen also has roles in Gia Coppola’s directorial debut “Paolo Alto,” as a “grimy drug dealer” and in James Franco’s next film “Bukowski,” as Charles Bukowski’s best friend Jimmy Haddox. It’s darker stuff than his teenaged audience is used to and that’s precisely the point. (He also cryptically will only give his age as 18-32, coincidentally one of the show’s target demographics.)
“I love ‘Pretty Little Liars,’ but I am an artist and I can’t be pinned down by one thing,” says Allen, who travels everywhere with a Leica Monochrom camera slung cross-body. (He’ll release a book of his snaps and poetry next year.) “I do have other things I want to do while I’m this age.”