It is always refreshing to have your expectations met; it’s even better when they are exceeded.
As I was preparing to chat with Emmy hopeful Chris Messina, I was struck by the ridiculous amount of work he had been putting in for the past decade (Seriously, look at his imdb page). This lead me to expect an interesting chat with this workhorse of an actor and I ended up having one of the more fascinating interviews I have had in a while.
Check out what he had to say below and don’t miss him this fall in the upcoming FOX comedy series “The Mindy Project” starring Mindy Kaling which premieres Tuesday, Sept. 25 (9:30-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.
You’re quite a busy person with all the projects you have going on. ‘Damages’ was big for you last year. This year you have ‘The Mindy Project.’ You are in some really good movies, ‘Celeste and Jesse’ and ‘Ruby Sparks.’ Starting with ‘Damages,’ what was the experience of working on that series and playing that character like?
Chris Messina: That was amazing. That was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had. The creator saw this small, little, tiny movie I had done called ‘Monogamy,’ also with Rashida Jones. No one had really seen the film, and somehow they saw it and they had me come in and talk with them and they offered me this great role, a role that not a lot of people, I think, would think I’d be able to do or would cast me in off movies like ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ or ‘Julie and Julia.’
So, I was really excited. I’m from New York and I’ve done a lot of plays. In the theater I got to play all these great delinquents and drug addicts and gang leaders and really interesting characters. When I came to Los Angeles I got cast in ‘Six Feet Under’ and I was a republican lawyer and then Woody Allen took me and put in as a republican lawyer and so on and so forth. I love all those experiences. I’m super excited about them, but ‘Damages’ was kind of a return to my roots in terms of character. It was really hard to do and I was nervous to get the role which is always a good sign that it’s a good part.
‘The Mindy Project,’ which looks really funny. Can you talk about your character Danny ?
Chris Messina: Yeah, that was another scary thing. I’d never done a network television show and I’d never done a comedy on TV. Mindy [Kaling] wrote the role for me, and I said no a bunch of times, only because I was scared and wasn’t sure if I’d be any good. We kind of started talking about the role and collaborating on what it could be. She’s such a talented writer that in the course of a couple of days changed this character and made it so cool I couldn’t say no. It’s really fun to play. She’s incredible.
What do you think viewers will see in this show?
Chris Messina: I think it’s going to be a funny but edgy show. I think it’ll be something that I hope kind of pushes the boundaries of network television and it seems like FOX is really behind it. So, hopefully that’ll be where it’ll go. She’s [Mindy Kaling] a great writer and she’s hired a great team of writers. So, I’m hoping that they’ll kind of keep pushing it because when you see the pilot I think it’s pretty edgy for network television. It’s hysterically funny, but it’s got a truth to it and a heart to it that I responded to.
When you see the pilot, there’s a scene with Mindy and I at the end of the pilot in a rec room. It’s a pretty long scene and it’s funny, but it’s heartfelt and it’s slow. They didn’t cut the scene down. They left it as it was, and I’m was super impressed by that for network television. I thought they’d kind of take out the silences and they didn’t. So, I think that they’re really behind it and they should be because she’s super smart.
What’s your overall approach to finding a character to play?
Chris Messina: First and foremost it’s the writing and it’s the people involved, the people you’ll act with and the director. Then you initially have a feeling, like, ‘Oh, I’ve done this before,’ or ‘I’ve never done anything like this.’ A lot of time when you’re scared, I always think that’s a good feeling because that means there’s something at risk and I think that’s a good thing. I was so excited to do those movies, like ‘Vicky Cristina’ and Julie and Julia,’ excited to do that and lucky to do that, to work with those people and learn from those people.
That’s an extremely rare thing and I will cherish that forever, but to be honest with you, it gets boring, not as challenging to play the same thing over and over again, the nice guy or the uptight guy or the supportive husband. So, I kind of look for things that I haven’t done before.
If you could step back in time and talk to yourself at the beginning of your career, what advice would you give yourself, knowing what you know now?
Chris Messina: I think I would probably tell myself to relax more and enjoy the ride of it because it’s long and it’s up and down. It’s very up and down. You started the conversation talking about my stamina and I really appreciate that, and in truth it took a lot of stamina to do all those things because there’s just a lot of running around and trying to prepare and not enough time and all of that, but there have been many days that weren’t at all like that, months or years that were really slow and really depressing and sad, wondering if I was doing the right thing and wondering if I’d work again.
That’s for all actors, not just me. It’s an up and down, roller coaster ride of a profession. So, I think that I would probably inform myself to take more breaths and try to enjoy the ride. It’s really a marathon being an actor, at least my career thus far. I’ve been incredibly lucky, but sometimes there’s been a lot of small, tiny little steps.
If you could guest star on any other TV show, which one would it be?
Chris Messina: This is such a great time in television. I really think it’s the golden age of TV. If I were to guest star on anything that’s on right now, I think it’d be ‘Boardwalk Empire.’ I really love that show. But I think that ‘Girls’ is amazing. I think ‘Breaking Bad’ is amazing. I would’ve loved to have come on ‘Luck’ for that first season. Someone I’ve always worshipped my entire life is Dustin Hoffman. I would’ve come on that show and said two lines to him. I would’ve been a waiter that delivered something to his table, anything with Dustin Hoffman. There are so many great shows. I guess the one that I watch consistently and really love all the actors and love the world of it and the writing and the directing and the cinematography would be ‘Boardwalk Empire.’ I think it’s a great show.
If we wanted to go back in time, I’ve been watching ‘Taxi.’ I’ve been watching a lot of comedies because it’s not always the thing that I choose to watch. So, I watch ’30 Rock’ and ‘Parks and Rec’ and ‘The Office.’ I’ve been watching ‘Moonlighting’ and ‘Cheers’ and all of them are terrific. But ‘Taxi,’ I’ve just fallen in love with it. I remember a little bit of as a kid, but I’m seeing it in a whole different way right now.
When you talk about what people can expect from our show, actually ‘The Mindy Project’ is so different from ‘Taxi,’ but I hope that we could be really funny and really entertaining to people and at the same time have a real truth to it because to me that’s what ‘Taxi’ does. Those actors were hysterical and amazing characters, but they were all super flawed and they were really sad. Some of them were really lonely. I think if we can do that on ‘The Mindy Project’ I’d be extremely happy and proud.
Photos: Courtesy of FOX.