Heather Gordon hasn’t spent too much time in Novato lately. She’s busy being a movie star. And it has not gone to her head.
Gordon, a 2002 graduate, visited with Novato Patch last week to talk about her big-screen debut in Seducing Charlie Barker, which has a two-day run at the Rafael Theater in San Rafael starting Friday. As we sat at , she stirred her hot tea and seemed just as excited to talk about seeing her hometown again as she was about the film, a low-budget indie that is raking in awards.
“This is always home to me,” she said looking down Grant Avenue. “It’s the people, the community. I love it here … I know I’m going to be back someday. I have never felt love for any place like I have for Novato.”
Today the 27-year-old lives in West Hollywood and is making a living through her acting — a claim many young actors in L.A. and New York City wish they could make. You might see her in some TV commercials she shot recently, one for Citibank and one for Listerine. She’s shooting a Christmas film for the 2012 holiday season titled December Dilemma with veteran actors Richard Benjamin and Tony Dow (yes, Wally from Leave it to Beaver), and she’s doing two voice duties for an animated film titled Skyforce.
“Work has been pretty steady for me,” she said, “although I’ve had a lot of close calls. … I’ve been down there for a year now and I haven’t been forced to take a (non-acting) job.”
The screenplay for Seducing Charlie Barker morphed from a play by Theresa Rebeck called The Scene that ran at SF Playhouse and starred Melrose Place graduate Daphne Zuniga and an up-and-comer named Heather Gordon. The West Coast debut garnered industry buzz almost immediately.
“The executive producer (of Seducing Charlie Barker) saw the stage performance and thought it was an amazing story,” she said. “Just being in that play was a breaking point for me, and then he said I had to play the role in the film.”
Barker (played by Stephen Barker Turner) is a struggling actor whose wife (Zuniga) is growing impatient. He meets another actor named Clea (Gordon), a sexy temptress who lures him into an affair. The R-rated story that unfolds is a dark but humorous morality tale.
“It’s very funny but also very intelligent,” Gordon said. “It definitely connects with audience with everybody in the cast. It’s really about the human condition and human relationships.”
In a way, Gordon was seduced to play Clea, a party animal just in from Ohio who is vulnerable and naïve while being cunning and manipulative.
“I can only do what I can do as an actor, and they you put it in the hands of the director, editor and cinematographer,” she said. “The writing of the story is the star, for sure, but there are some gorgeous scenes with Clea.
“I loved it from the moment I read the script when I first auditioned for the play. Theresa is funny. She gets it. She gets how people talk and how people think in that scene. She wrote about her own experiences, from the people she has met, and it’s so rich. I was just a Marin girl who had no experience in that when I started the play.”
Novato’s Linda Kislingbury remembers Gordon in her first drama class at San Marin High in 2000. Gordon, who said she was inspired by drama teacher Mary Pritchard while at (Pritchard is now principal there), made a huge impression on Kislingbury, a rookie teacher at the time. Kislingbury had worked in the private sector for three decades before taking over the drama program at San Marin, and the timing of her meeting Gordon was serendipitous. The two keep in close touch to this day.
“She was so darling to me, so helpful,” Kislingbury said. “We had so much fun. She was such a doll.”
Gordon’s first big high school play was Arsenic and Old Lace, and Kislingbury cast her in one of the lead roles. There was The Lottery, which was performed at a regional drama festival called Lenaea. There were several others — A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe and Juvey among them — before she was connected with Kaiser Permanente Educational Theater Programs, her first professional opportunity. She travelled throughout Northern California promoting healthy decision-making among the teen population.
After San Marin, Gordon went on to College of Marin, regarded as one of the top community college drama programs in the country.
“I really think her first breakthrough role was in Born Yesterday at COM,” Kislingbury said. “I didn’t even see Heather Gordon there, just her character. She was so amazing.”
Gordon earned her AA degree and started in many shows, earning the Robin Williams Scholarship and five best-actor awards while working closely with the late Carla Zilbersmith. Gordon accepted roles in local companies such as Marin Classic Theater and Stapleton Theater Company and went to work for a while in the advertising department. In 2008, she was crowned Miss Marin County and was a top-10 finalist at the Miss California pageant, helping her earn scholarship money to continue her education.
Gordon started applying to graduate drama programs and was accepted to Harvard University’s advanced acting program at American Repertory Theater/Moscow Art Theatre.
“I didn’t know you could just go there and audition for Harvard with an AA degree,” Kislingbury said. “You gotta hand it to her. They picked her out of 2,000 applicants and I think they only took 17.”
“I know it’s strange that I went from getting an AA degree to getting a master’s,” said Gordon, actually just one of 15 accepted in the Harvard program.
Gordon shot all her scenes for Seducing Charlie Barker while on a 10-day break from Harvard.
“I really couldn’t explain to my instructors why I was going on a hiatus,” she said with a slight laugh. “They know now.”
Gordon said she has high hopes that her first major movie role will prove her chops and open doors in the profession. She said it’s an honor to have worked with the film’s crew, including director/producer Amy Glazer, and she feels lucky that the role has earned her three best-actor awards at indie film festivals all over the world.
“There are not that many characters like this for people my age because it’s very layered,” she said. “It showcases me playing a varied role instead of a niche part, which is something I’m really excited about.
“Now that we reached a distribution deal and it’s coming out in the States, it’s all about getting butts in the seats. It will be on Showtime in April and then On Demand and Netflix after that. We’re starting out on the indie level, sort of like Sideways or Little Miss Sunshine — films that are edgy but aren’t going to get the real big hype when they first come out. You just hope people start hearing about this film, and then you never know what will open up for you.
“This whole thing is something I’ve dreamed about.”
MEETING HEATHER GORDON
Heather Gordon is participating in a Q&A session after the Dec. 3 screening of Seducing Charlie Barker at the Rafael Theater in San Rafael. It is open to the public.
Gordon also is speaking to drama students at San Marin High School on Dec. 12 and critiquing scenes of an upcoming student performance.