Molly Gordon is having a good summer, professionally speaking. Her directorial debut “ Theater Camp,” which she made with some of her best friends, is in theaters. On the small screen, fans of “The Bear” are falling for her in the popular Hulu show’s second season, too. It’s a moment, by any definition, but for her it still feels a little surreal.
“I think I’m still kind of catching up on sleep,” Gordon, 27, told the Associated Press in an interview conducted before SAG-AFTRA joined the WGA to stike for a fair deal.
The writer-actor-director has been on a breakneck schedule for about a year. Last summer, she and some of her oldest friends, including Ben Platt, got together in upstate New York to make their loving mockumentary “Theater Camp, ” a comedy about a charming but crumbling kids musical theater camp that’s based on many of their own experiences. She’d spend the next several months rushing to edit their many hours of largely improvised scenes into a coherent and enjoyable film in time for the Sundance Film Festival deadline.
“We had just finished the movie, like, just before Sundance. And we hadn’t shown it to many people,” Gordon said. “The reaction was overwhelming. And then all of us stayed up until 6 a.m. 'till we knew who was going to buy it. It was a very special experience.”
“Theater Camp” was one of the splashier acquisitions at the festival, going to Searchlight Pictures with a rare theatrical release attached to it. Gordon is thrilled about it being the shop that bought “Little Miss Sunshine” out of Sundance years ago, but mainly she just feels lucky knowing how many, “incredible movies still haven’t sold.”
“It’s such a strange time in our business,” Gordon said.
She doesn’t have any illusions about how difficult it is to make a living in the industry, either, as she's been watching it from the inside her whole life. Both of Gordon’s parents are in the business. Her father, Bryan Gordon, is a veteran director and producer who works primarily in television, from “The Wonder Years” up through “Grace and Frankie.” Her mom is a film producer, writer and director behind “Corrina Corrina” and “I Am Sam.”
“I grew up in such a creative household and I had so much energy,” Gordon said of her Los Angeles childhood. “I was this kind of wacky, annoying, Shirley Temple-esque young girl, and they didn’t tell me to stop that. They were like, let’s put all this energy into creativity. We had a dress-up box and I went to dance class and I went to art class. I was brought to films at such a young age. And I would see my parents breaking down stories at the dinner table and realizing, oh, they’re making these stories that I see at the movie theater.”
One memorable early movie experience was watching “The Graduate” with her dad at age 11, which she calls “a bizarre move” but one she’s grateful for.
“I just loved it so much,” Gordon said. “I didn’t understand that at all but I still remember seeing those images for the first time, the shot of the tank and the fish and the shot of him underwater and my dad telling me why they were so important to him.”
For as long as she can remember, it’s been her dream to be part of it all. She was fascinated to go onto sets and see just how many people worked to create the things she loved: Hairstylists, makeup artists, costumers, the art department. A bunch of artists working together creatively? She was in.
New York was always the goal for Gordon, who made the move at 18 to go to NYU, but soon she realized that college wasn’t the right path for her and she dropped out, got a job at a restaurant and continued working, both auditioning and creating things with friends. One of her most famous breaks came in Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart,” where she stole scenes as “Triple A.” That experience introduced her to producer Jessica Elbaum, who saw in Gordon sparks of a writer-director and encouraged her to pursue those. She’d go on to produce “Theater Camp” for Gordon, too.
After “Theater Camp” sold at Sundance, Gordon got to work on what she likes to call a “glow-up” of the movie. She got to test it with audiences, learn what worked, what didn’t and tweak the many other options she had. Often this would be at night on her computer since she’d also gotten an impossible-to-pass-up call to be in the second season of “The Bear," where she joined on as Chef Carmy's love interest, Claire.
“We just found a way to do everything,” she laughed. “I felt rather free because I was just so tired and kind of more honest, which was I think was good for me because going into being on a show that’s so successful is a very nerve-racking thing.”
Gordon is happy bouncing around between acting, writing and directing. She wants to do it all and feels lucky that she got to nurture both sides of that this year, regardless of the toll on her sleeping hours.
“Directing is such a huge responsibility. So after doing that, you kind of want to go into an acting job where you don’t have to do the schedule at the end of the night and you can just hang out with the cast and the crew,” she said. “And when that’s over you’re like, I want to go back and direct.”
She has a film and a show that she’d like to do next, but she won’t be working on anything until a fair deal is reached.
“It’s so upsetting that people can’t just get paid for their work,” she said. “And I can support the strike in every way, but I also still hope that people show up to the theaters and see movies."