02/24/1997 at 01:00 AM EST
HE GREW UP IN A SHOW BUSINESS family, but Christian Forte, 27, recalls with awe his days spent shooting Albino Alligator, a film he began writing as a college senior. Sitting in his office on the set, he says, "I hear a knock: it's Gary Sinise, and he's, like, 'Hey, Christian, I was wondering if we could talk about this scene.' Later, another knock: it's Matt Dillon. Then another: it's Faye Dunaway. I mean, Faye Dunaway is in my movie!"
If Forte seems as starstruck as any civilian, it's because he hails from a very different part of the entertainment industry. His father is Fabian, the late-'50s teen idol who had hits like "Turn Me Loose," costarred with John Wayne in North to Alaska—and still tours with fellow Philadelphians Bobby Rydell and Frankie Avalon. "There was a time," says Forte, "when I thought everybody's dad did what my dad did."
As a kid, Christian wasn't drawn to performing. His parents divorced when he was 6, and he and his sister Julie, now 25, split time evenly between their father and mother—homemaker Katie Regan, 55—in Sherman Oaks, Calif. He graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1993 with a history degree and was contemplating a teaching career when, he says, "I got real lucky." Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects) was looking for a small-scale tale of human foibles for his directorial debut. His agent stumbled onto Forte's script—his first, sent to agencies unsolicited—and Spacey liked the story of three thieves cornered by the FBI in a New Orleans bar.
Forte's dad admits he was reluctant to read it. "If it wasn't any good, I didn't know what I would say," says Fabian, 54. "But it was." Obviously several prominent actors agreed and signed on for the film, which is a modest art-house success. Fabian couldn't be prouder. "Christian," he says, "did it all by himself."