In a recent performance of “Alice by Heart,” the new musical inspired by Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” a prop wristwatch accidentally flew from the onstage actors’ hands, clocking a woman in the audience in the throat (she was fine, rest assured).
The show’s Alice, 23-year-old actress Molly Gordon, found herself a bit out of her depth as to how to proceed.
“I’m very new to doing this,” Gordon says from the lobby of Off-Broadway’s MCC Theater, home to “Alice by Heart,” in her few hours of downtime. “It’s very different than the film stuff that I’ve done. A lot of mistakes happen — and publicly — and you kind of have to learn to just not be hard on yourself and let it go.”
A bit of quick thinking is not beyond Gordon, who is primed for a breakout 2019, between her stint on the New York stage and two buzzy comedies due this summer.
She grew up in Los Angeles, the daughter of filmmakers: Her mother, Jessie Nelson, wrote the scripts of movies like “I Am Sam” and “Because I Said So” and was the writer of the Broadway adaptation of the movie “Waitress.” Her father, Bryan Gordon, has directed episodes for series such as “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Following in their footsteps was never a question for Gordon, who started in theater as a kid before moving to New York five years ago to pursue acting professionally.
“Alice by Heart” — which opened a few weeks ago and hasn’t exactly been loved by critics — has been part of her life since she was 15. Her mother is, incidentally, the director of the show, and co-wrote it with Steven Sater, the writer of “Spring Awakening.”
“My mom and [Steven Sater] were writing an animated movie together and she said, ‘Why don’t you come see my daughter and her friends, [they’re] doing a benefit and they’re singing ‘Spring Awakening’ music,’” Gordon says.
Sater was intrigued enough by what he heard that he asked Gordon and her friends to workshop a new play he had written. “And then he brought my mom on as a director and so it became this beautiful family affair,” she says.
Her acting foundation is in comedy, with her most recent film role as Melissa McCarthy’s daughter in last year’s “Life of the Party.” She diverted briefly, however, for a part on the drama “Animal Kingdom,” which has run for three seasons on TNT.
“I love comedy more than anything. I grew up watching ‘SNL’ and going to The Groundlings’ shows in L.A. So that’s kind of where I more saw myself going,” Gordon says. “But then I got cast on this very dark show called ‘Animal Kingdom,’ which is the literal opposite.”
She returns to form this year with Olivia Wilde’s feature-length directorial debut, “Booksmart,” and the Seth Rogen-produced “Good Boys,” both of which premiered to buzz at SXSW.
“I think what I realized is I want to do everything, but I love to always go back to comedy,” she says. “And I think we’re in this time where the world is in a very f–ked up place. So I love getting to do something that makes people laugh and feel happy. Because though I think it’s beautiful to tell dramatic stories, I think right now we need a lot of laughter.”
In “Booksmart,” she plays opposite her real-life best friend Beanie Feldstein as the hot, mean high school girl who is both brainy and, self-proclaimed, quite talented at giving hand jobs.
“What I like about this movie is that it’s not the stereotypes. Beanie also is kind of being mean to the girl that’s mean to her, and she’s judging the sexual girl. She’s judging the band. Everyone’s kind of judging each other, rather than it just being like one person is to blame,” Gordon says.
“Good Boys,” which Gordon calls “very funny and very inappropriate,” is about three 11-year-old boys who get invited to a kissing party; Gordon plays their neighbor and is one of two main adult characters in the film.
“Both of the movies, they all feel like very real kids, even if it’s a more of a broad comedy,” she says. “They’re not just ‘the mean girl’ or ‘the smart girl.’ It was a very fun summer. It was a lot of very funny stuff.”
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