HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 20: Actor Chris Messina arrives at the Los Angeles premiere… (Jeffrey Mayer )
Chris Messina, at 38, is the "It" boy of 2012. The summer saw him in two movies ("Ruby Sparks" and "Celeste and Jesse Forever") — and in October, he'll appear in Ben Affleck's "Argo." On the TV front, he's appeared on the final season of "Damages" and plays ratings-obsessed bad guy Reese Lansing on "The Newsroom," which wraps its first season Sunday. This fall, he'll costar in the new Fox comedy from "The Office" alum Mindy Kaling — "The Mindy Project" — as her insufferable, anti-romantic-comedy co-worker Danny Castellano.
You've got photos of Harrison Ford and Judd Hirsch in your trailer — can I ask what that's about?
They're both sort of inspirations for my character on ["The Mindy Project"]. I've been watching a lot of "Taxi" — it's amazing. Judd Hirsch, for me, is a big inspiration. Because I haven't done a lot of comedy, I sort of look to him as how I want to come across. Yeah, he is really, really funny, but he's also honest and real so that's why I have him up on my wall, to sort of remind myself to not push. He never pushed for laughs, and I like his character [Alex Reiger on "Taxi"] so much because he's so flawed and dark and complicated. I think we're trying to do the same with Danny. He's got secrets and a broken heart — his divorce really shattered him. As for the image of Harrison Ford as Han Solo from "Star Wars": I just think he has a swagger that I like. And it's a reminder to have fun with the character, to not make him just grouchy.
You have quite a few grouchy jerks in your career —
Well, you know, it's funny because I came from New York theater where I played all these great characters and then I came here and I got "Six Feet Under" and I played a Republican lawyer — everyone thought he was a jerk, but then he ended up being a good guy. Then I got cast in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" as Doug, who people sometimes thought was a jerk, but he really loved his wife. And then I played such a nice guy on "Julie & Julia," so I think I've kind of been rebelling and finding these roles like "The Newsroom" to really get in there.
But will we see the nice side of "The Newsroom's" Reese, because I don't see it happening — and you only have the finale to show it!
Yeah, I understand. He's such a bastard, isn't he? Yeah, he's such a bastard. Well, I come back in the finale — I won't ruin it for you — but Reese gets into some … He's constantly pushing everybody's buttons, you know? But it's fun to play that role, especially when everyone else on it is so into aspiring to be better and hold news to a high standard. It's sort of fun to be the antagonist of it all.
Look, I'm sure you've talked to a lot of actors. It's not always easy for us — there's a lot of ups and downs. It's a great time to be able to do something like "The Newsroom," with that writing and that cast, and then to come over here [to "The Mindy Project"] and to be with these people doing something entirely different.
What was your goal when you set out to be an actor?
I grew up wanting to do "Dog Day Afternoon," so sometimes I'm like, what the hell am I doing on "The Mindy Project"? What the hell happened here? But you know, I think, look, it's obviously a different time. It's the golden age of TV. I watch a lot more TV shows now than I go to the movies — sometimes I'm hard-pressed to find a movie I want to see. And then, when I did "Damages" and I did "The Newsroom," I kind of loved being able to take a character over a long time so I did read a lot of scripts this pilot season and when I read the script for "The Mindy Project," I was laughing out loud. I saw that it was complicated. It wasn't just joke, joke, joke. There was a lot of heart to it and I felt I could do something with Danny.
So you're binge-watching "Taxi" to help you in that endeavor. What else is getting heavy rotation?
"Cheers" too. Oh, it's amazing. Sam and Diane, the way they play that love-hate relationship, I just love it. I think "The Mindy Project" can have that same potential. I have "The Bob Newhart Show" in my bag; I haven't started it yet. I've been watching "Star Wars." And then on "Taxi," there is an episode called "Blind Date" and I was just sitting in my trailer crying. First, I was hysterically laughing and then I was crying. I'd love to be a part of something like that.
Comedy isn't something I'm used to. It's hard. That's the Judd Hirsch of it all. I feel like I should be doing something funny at all times. But then I think about him and remember just to be real. For me, the truth is really funny. I'm still getting my sea legs a little bit.