On October 30, Keegan Allen will make his NYC stage debut in the MCC Theater production of Small Engine Repair, and he has one big favor to ask from his young Pretty Little Liars fans: don't buy a ticket. Now, before you get it twisted, know that Keegan is beyond proud of the play, but its adult themes and graphic language are geared for a more mature audience.
In Small Engine Repair, he plays Chad, a privileged college jock who turns up at an out-of-the-way repair shop and sets off an explosion of resentment among the three former high school buddies who regularly meet there under shady circumstances.
I caught up with Keegan to find out why he wanted this play to be his stage debut, why its message is more important than ever and how Small Engine Repair is indicative of the career choices he plans to keep making.
ETonline: What attracted you to Small Engine Repair?
Keegan Allen: When I read the play I was just very consumed by the ideas. It's an ambitious play and the writer does an amazing job of bringing in a contemporary view on a lot of issues for our generation that revolve around social media and a lack of empathy due to technology. It's a psychological thriller that's also a comedy. I'd rarely seen anything like that, so I just really wanted to do it.
ETonline: How do you describe your character, Chad?
Allen: There's an element of youth that is abrasive for the other characters, so Chad comes in and really mixes it up. All I can really tell you is he's a character that I've never played before. There are so many layers to him. John Pollono who wrote the play describes him as a rollercoaster. From the beginning to the end, he's up and down, so it's really challenging.
ETonline: The schedule on PLL is pretty nuts, so what's it been like to have such a lengthy rehearsal process?
Allen: It like a different sport. My main drive in school was theater, my craft revolved around the stage. My training in all those years was for this medium, so when I went into film and television, I had to switch a lot off and reprioritize. The rehearsal process for this has been eye-opening and a gift.
ETonline: The play tackles a lot of themes the kids on social media could probably learn from, so what is it you'd like for your followers to gleam from Small Engine Repair?
Allen: You know, the majority of the demographic that follows me on social media is under 17 and Small Engine Repair is really for mature audiences. It contains extreme, graphic language, strong sexual themes and adult situations. So I hope my fans don't get anything from this because they shouldn't see it [laughs]. I'm no Miley Cyrus, I'm not trying to pull anybody into a headspace of corrupting youth. I've been very clear from the beginning that if you've manipulated your parents into believing this is something that's PG, it's not. It's NC-17 and it's extreme. Now, the people that do come and are of age, or have the most open-minded parents, I hope they walk away with the idea that there's a lack of empathy in our generation that's very much generated by social media and technology in general. There is no longer a personal connection in these interactions, so I hope when people see this, they walk away with a sense more of their authentic selves. That they see what can happen, essentially, because we really take it to a very dark place. It's a very brave piece in its entirety.
ETonline: How much does your PLL-fanbase factor into your decision-making process when picking other projects?
Allen: Pretty Little Liars was a blessing in that it appealed to a generation that was plugged in, but also appealed to a mass who'd followed the book series. As an actor, I had no control over that. I continued the role because it was something I wanted to embody this Boo Radley character and people connected with it. But I'm not picking things that will appeal to anyone aside from myself. I enjoy a challenge and good writing -- Marlene King, Oliver Goldstick and Joseph Dougherty are amazing writers, and John Pollono created this amazing world. It is literally brain candy to sit and watch this play. You can't step out of it, you're involved from the moment you walk in and you're locked in for the whole play. When I choose projects, I pick things I would enjoy as an audience member myself.
ETonline: What was it about Palo Alto [his new movie co-starring James Franco] that you enjoyed, then?
Allen: The appeal was wanting to do as much as I can. I feel I'm still starting out and as an artist starting out I want to learn as much as I can. I'm not perfect. It's all about learning.
ETonline: What's the best piece of acting advice you've gotten?
Allen: Bryan Cranston said something that was amazing and I wished someone had told me this when I was 10. But he said that when you're acting, it's about bringing the writing to the audience. It's not about the actor, it's about telling a story and doing everything you can to bring the audience the most truth. You're serving the person who created that story, the writer.
ETonline: What is it about the upcoming Pretty Little Liars story arcs that you're excited to bring to the audience?
Allen: It's an exciting season. We have a very special episode I can't talk too much about [a black-and-white film noir episode] which is exciting because the writers have created so much freedom for themselves in this world that now they get to bring the fans into these classic literary realms in a really powerful way.
ETonline: As someone who was previously revealed to be on The "A" Team, did you have any advice for Ian Harding before the finale unmasked him?
Allen: "Stay inside buddy" [laughs]. I suggested he avoid going in public for a while.
For more on Small Engine Repair, click here!