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Creative Minds: Chris Messina enjoys being bad boy of 'The Newsroom'

The actor cites Judd Hirsch's acting in 'Taxi' and Harrison Ford's in 'Star Wars' as inspiration for his in TV's 'The Mindy Project.'

August 25, 2012|By Yvonne Villarreal, Los Angeles Times
  • HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 20: Actor Chris Messina arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of HBO's 'The Newsroom' at ArcLight Cinemas Cinerama Dome on June 20, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage)
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.

yvonne.villarreal@latimes.com

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