This interview was conducted before SAG-AFTRA authorized a strike on July 13.
In 2019, Molly Gordon worked for three days on Ramy, the Hulu show about a man exploring his faith in New York City, and it changed her life. She was 23, in the nascent stages of a career she had been dreaming about since childhood. That year, she had roles in Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart and Gene Stupnitsky’s Good Boys, but her time on set with creator Ramy Youssef and executive producer Chris Storer served as what she describes as a “turning point” creatively.
This summer, she marked another professional milestone with the July 14 release of Theater Camp, her screenwriting and directorial debut, which she had been working on for years with longtime friends Ben Platt, Noah Galvin and Nick Lieberman. Gordon also stars in the mockumentary-style comedy about an eccentric group of artists working to save their summer camp for kids from financial ruin. She’s also starring in the just-out second season of The Bear (created by Storer) as the love interest opposite Jeremy Allen White. At one point, she was flying back and forth to the show’s Chicago set while frantically editing Theater Camp to make the Sundance Film Festival submission deadlines, a sacrifice she was more than willing to make. “I would have played a napkin on that show,” she says over Zoom from her kitchen in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood.
Gordon grew up in L.A., the only child of two working filmmakers: Her father, Bryan Gordon, has directed episodes of comedies like Party Down and Curb Your Enthusiasm, while her mother, Jessie Nelson, is best known for directing Corrina, Corrina and I Am Sam. They were successful but never too far from striving. She was a movie fan from the beginning (“I saw Anchorman and thought, ‘This is all I want to do’”) and after high school moved immediately to New York, where she briefly attended NYU before dropping out to wait tables at Balthazar and take improv classes.
Gordon describes it as a lonely existence for an 18-year-old, but her upbringing gave her intimate knowledge of the specific ways that the entertainment industry tests the emotional fortitude of anyone who dares enter. “I have this awareness about how hard it is to get a movie made, or that you can be a lead in a movie and not get another job for years,” she says. “It feels like this secret that I was let in on, but not everybody is.”
Theater Camp began as a short film that the four friends worked on during periods of unemployment, and they spent a few years attempting a TV format. They shot in the Adirondacks over 19 days. “We made that movie with, like, a Band-Aid,” she jokes, noting that Searchlight Pictures (which bought the film out of Sundance) offered necessary funds for test screenings and additional edits.
The film, which Gordon describes as a “bit of a glow-up” from its original form, is inspired by Christopher Guest and Robert Altman, collaborative directors whom she and her partners admire. “Moviemaking is a team sport, and if you don’t want to collaborate, then you should probably just go be a painter,” she says. The four collaborators wrote parts for comedians they love working with: Patti Harrison, Jimmy Tatro and Ayo Edebiri (who Gordon knows through Shiva Baby director Emma Seligman and star Rachel Sennott; Edebiri, Seligman and Sennott all also went to NYU.)
When Gordon and Edebiri reunited in Chicago for The Bear’s second season, they were joined by Youssef, who directed an episode. That all these people continue to find one another is something Gordon sees as an affirmation. “Sometimes on this crazy creative journey, through this industry that can be so icky at times, you meet amazing people. I feel very lucky to get to reunite with the good ones.”
A version of this story first appeared in the July 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.