Behind the Wheel of a Killer Car, Newcomer Keith Gordon Revs Up Christine and His Movie Career

updated 01/09/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/09/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

On his first day of play school, 4-year-old Keith Gordon watched as other children clambered over the jungle gym. The teacher asked why he didn't join the fun. According to his mother, who claims that her son was always "spooky bright," Keith replied, "I need some time to adjust. I will participate when I'm ready to do so."

At 22, Gordon still prefers a shot of self-analysis prior to participating. Before stepping in front of the cameras for Christine, the current horror film in which he co-stars with a 1958 Plymouth Fury, Keith talked out the scenes ad nauseam with director John (Halloween) Carpenter. Sometimes, Gordon says, he did so much discussing before a scene that "I would start to say something, and John would just look at me and roll his eyes."

Collaborating with a car was a kick for Keith. Based on Stephen King's best-selling novel, Christine casts Gordon as a teenage twerp transformed into a swaggering tough guy upon purchasing a demonic vehicle. "It's a wonderful car," he says. "I developed this thing where I really did think of the car as a woman, though that bothers me politically." (Gordon considers himself a staunch feminist.) The role of Arnie let Keith live out his own revenge fantasies. "I was small as a kid and was the target of bullies. Boy, was it cathartic!" says Gordon gleefully.

Offscreen, Gordon is smart, articulate and cute, if you go for the intellectual type. But he acknowledges that he is out of the Dustin Hoffman rather than the Robert Redford mold. "I like to create characters, not just think of myself as a personality," he says.

A native New Yorker, Gordon comes by his acting talent naturally. His father, Mark, is an actor and director; mother Barbara is a former actress. Despite his early exposure to acting and a guest shot on Medical Center at 12, Gordon first wanted to become either an astronaut or a scientist.

Then, when he was 14, Keith's father appeared on Broadway with James Earl Jones in Of Mice and Men. Gordon saw the show repeatedly, crying each time as George finally shot Lennie. "Keith got that glint in his eyes," recalls his mother, and announced he was going to be an actor. "It was the first time I thought of acting as something that I'd like to do," says Gordon. "People left that theater different from what they'd been when they came in."

Several off-Broadway plays followed, as did a 10-month stint as shark bait in Jaws 2 ("What? You didn't see Jaws 2?" says Gordon in mock horror. "Well, you missed one of the great films of our time.") Gordon, then 16, dropped out of the prestigious Dalton School to pursue acting full-time. His parents were not thrilled. "It was not like I became a drug addict or was living out of a cardboard box on the Lower East Side," he says. After their son caught critics' attention as Angie Dickinson's boy in Dressed to Kill, "They saw that it was obviously for the best," says Keith.

Making movies has brought romance to Keith, too. He met Gloria Norris, his sweetheart and roommate of the past five years, while filming Home Movies, a low-budget Brian De Palma effort. Norris, 27, an aspiring screenwriter, shares a one-bedroom Manhattan apartment with Gordon, who also has a small Los Angeles apartment "with 17 movie theaters within walking distance."

Their relationship has changed Keith's perspective as well as his schedule. Gordon says, "Seeing her get up every day and make herself write has made me regiment myself a little more." The new grown-up Keith Gordon, he claims, rises at 9:00 rather than noon, goes to the gym three times a week, attends the movies only three times a week rather than daily and tries hard to "eat some protein between chocolate chip cookies." This schedule has enabled Gordon, along with collaborator and longtime buddy Mark Romanek, to write and raise money for a screenplay he describes as "like Frank Capra, but with an '80s cynical twist."

Suddenly realizing that he has sounded disgustingly adult, Gordon grins. "Hey, I'm not a real grown-up," he says. "I still don't do my laundry regularly. I still wait till I'm out of socks."

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