Whether obsessing over a demonically possessed '58 Plymouth Fury in Christine or stepping behind the camera to direct an adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s classic novel Mother Night, Keith Gordon has experienced a lot in his filmmaking career. If audiences hadn't suspected the awkward, bespectacled teen's ambitions following such early efforts as Home Movies and Dressed to Kill, they were in for a pleasant surprise when the young actor eventually grew into a seasoned director.
A New York City native whose parents were both actors, Gordon began a love affair with films when he accompanied his father to a screening of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Gordon was thrilled by Kubrick's imaginative sci-fi vision and the seemingly limitless possibilities of the medium, and in the years that followed, he took part in numerous stage productions at school. In the summer of 1976, he was spotted by a casting director while appearing in two plays at the National Playwrights Conference; two years later, Gordon landed his first major screen role in Jaws 2. Though it was only a bit part, the experience he gained on the tumultuous set was invaluable. Subsequently cast in the 1979 miniseries Studs Lonigan, he eventually left school for a film career. Though Gordon initially rejected an offer to try out for the 1979 Brian De Palma feature Home Movies, the audition was in his neighborhood, so he reluctantly gave in. Not only did Gordon win the role of a young student obsessed with filmmaking, but he also received even more valuable experience by having opportunities to discuss filmmaking with De Palma. Following a brief role in All That Jazz (1979), Gordon made his most prominent film appearance to date in De Palma's controversial 1980 thriller Dressed to Kill.
Gordon excelled at playing twitchy, eggheaded teens throughout the '80s in such efforts as Christine (1983), The Legend of Billie Jean (1985), and Back to School (1986), and though his onscreen career seemed to be coming along swimmingly, his creative ambitions were left unfulfilled. As the screenwriter of Mark Romanek's 1985 cult film Static, Gordon saw his aspirations finally beginning to come to fruition. He later made his feature directorial debut in 1988 with an impressive adaptation of Robert Cormier's novel The Chocolate War (Gordon also wrote the screenplay), which earned a Best First Feature nomination at the 1989 Independent Spirit Awards. He gained momentum and crafted a unique anti-war movie with his 1992 sophomore effort, A Midnight Clear, before moving to television to direct episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street and the sci-fi miniseries Wild Palms. Gordon was next faced with one of the more challenging projects of his career when he filmed Mother Night.
A dark, dramatic period tale of love and loss, Gordon's fourth feature, Waking the Dead (2000), earned generally positive notices, as it further established the star status of its clear-eyed leads, Jennifer Connelly and Billy Crudup. In his next feature, Gordon re-teamed with Back to School dormmate Robert Downey Jr. for an updated version of Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective (2003). Although he coaxed a stellar turn out of Downey, however, Gordon's take on the material did little to convince critics that the film was in need of refreshing.