Q&A: Chad Connell’s Films, Queer Fanbase, and Journey from Holiday to Horror

C Connell Lane Dorsey 17 HighRes
Chad Connell’s work has spanned from holiday to horror.
Lane Dorsey

Chad Connell has only a few scenes in out gay director Pat Mills’ pulse-pounding new horror film, “The Retreat,” and he gets to scream in two of them. Connell plays Connor, a gay man who runs a bed and breakfast with his boyfriend Scott (Munro Chambers) in the Canadian woods. But as the guys share a kiss one night, Scott hears something and heads out to investigate. When Connor goes off in search of Scott, he too disappears. 

What evil lurks out there is revealed when Connor’s friend Val (Sarah Allen) comes to stay at the B&B with her girlfriend Renee (Tommie-Amber Pirie). Apparently, some folks do not like queer couples in their woods.

“The Retreat” is the second film Connell has made with Mills. The actor appeared in “The Christmas Setup,” a gay-themed holiday film Mills directed last year. (Connell has made several holiday films over the years). He also starred in the beguiling gay psychological thriller, “Steel.” Connell, who lives in New York with his husband and dog, spoke with Gay City News about his fears, his films, and making “The Retreat.” 

KRAMER: Are you into camping and rustic outdoorsy things, or are you more of a city boy? 

CONNELL: In real life, I grew up going to the family cottage. I’m medium outdoorsy. I can chop wood and build an OK fire to cook on. Living in Manhattan, you need to have some balance and escape from city life.

KRAMER: What is the appeal of playing in a horror film? Do you like the genre, or is it just a change-up from movies like “The Christmas Setup”?

CONNELL: I love horror films. Growing up, horror movies made me want to pursue acting in a big way — classics like “The Shining.” I just saw “Possessor.” It’s amazing. I love psychological horror. “The Retreat” is a little more brutal. The horror is in what can happen to you especially out in the woods and if someone is hunting you for who you are. I love fear in small doses. Maybe it is because you are able to control it — you can turn it off, the movie ends. 

KRAMER: Horror is an about-face from your holiday films. Can you talk about being the go-to guy for Christmas movies? 

CONNELL: I have a quality people like in those sorts of movies. I always have the best time doing them. I have been fortunate to work with some unbelievable actors like Mercedes Ruehl, Brook Shields, and Fran Drescher, and you learn a lot from those legends. I’m lucky and fortunate. I think people need a bit of escapism, and they need to look at people who have mild struggles and make it through. That can give them hope to make it through their own struggles or to just check out and enjoy. I know a lot of people watch them in the background while they wrap presents. One of the benefits of “The Christmas Setup” was that because it was gay, we got support from outside the general audience that normally watches [holiday films]. A lot of people saw that these films can be good. 

KRAMER: I’m curious about your casting here, which is a victim character, and a more sensitive role. Would you enjoy being the bad guy and being evil?

CONNELL: I would jump at any opportunity to play the killer. That scene in the barn — which was a night of me screaming and crying — I had no voice left at the end of it. I had to do some ADR and because of the pandemic, they found a way for me to do ADR using an app on my iPhone in my walk-in closet. I was screaming at the top of my lungs. I guarantee the neighbors were calling the super. 

“The Retreat” opens in select theaters and VOD May 21.Courtesy of Quiver

KRAMER: “The Retreat” does involve some horrific scenes, like the barn scene you mentioned. What can you say about filming the torture sequences? Are they fun to do? 

CONNELL: To me, these are more fun than sex scenes where you’re uncomfortable. This is equally choreographed, but its cathartic. The running and screaming and absolute fear — it’s a universal emotion. We’ve all been scared, and what do you do? You hide it, and you put on this brave face, whether its social anxiety, or you’re walking alone at night. Whereas in these moments [as an actor] you get to explore what it means to be fragile and scared and at death’s door. When you’re [acting] at nine or 10 on the scale, there’s nothing else in your mind. You can’t help to commit to fear and dread. It’s hyper choreographed, but there’s this also this chaos in it that as an actor that’s a fun place to be. 

KRAMER: “The Retreat” pits homophobes against innocent queer characters. What are your thoughts on this theme?
CONNELL: The world is a scary place, and I think it’s important to have the escapism of Christmas movies, but it is also important for us to face it in our artistic endeavors. Film and TV has to show the things that are happening in the world and has to let people think about fear that people have to go through for their immutable characteristic.  

KRAMER: You haven’t shied away from gay roles. What observations do you have about working in queer projects and having a gay fanbase?

CONNELL: The gay fanbase is committed to their stars and the people they watch and there’s a reason for that — they want to see themselves on screen and represented. It’s special when you can identify with someone. I have gotten some really touching messages about “Steel,” and it means a lot to get those messages. I get a lot of messages from people in the Middle East, where it is not super easy for them to be open about who they are, and I think that’s kind of heartbreaking. 

KRAMER: What scares you in real life?

CONNELL: I hate mice and rats. I also don’t like being alone. I need family, and my partner, and my dog. Too much time spent alone is a scary thing.

THE RETREAT | Directed by Pat Mills | Opening May 21 in select theaters and on VOD | Distributed by Quiver Distribution