Chandler was the fourth child of Edward Chandler and his wife, Sally Jeanette (née Meyer), and was born in Buffalo, New York. Chandler has three siblings.
His family relocated to a small farm in Loganville, Georgia, when he was 11 years old, from suburban Lake Forest, Illinois. Chandler graduated from nearby Monroe, Georgia's George Walton Academy in 1983. He was a member of Walton's 1979 state championship football team as a freshman. After his father died of a heart attack the next year, he quit the squad at the age of 14. After quitting football, he enrolled in Walton's theatrical department.
Chandler attended the University of Georgia after graduating from high school, where he majored in theater and was a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity's class of 1984. Chandler dropped out of college in 1988, seven credits short of a bachelor's degree in drama, to pursue a television deal.
Chandler was signed by the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) in 1988 and moved to Hollywood as part of the network's new talent program. In the same year, he made his television film debut as a supporting character in Quiet Victory: The Charlie Wedemeyer Story. Chandler also studied acting under Milton Katselas in 1988.
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