Chris Messina: Challenges of a vet turned whistleblower on ‘Damages’
"In 'Six Feet Under' I was cast as a Republican lawyer, and then Woody Allen cast me as a Republican [in 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona'] … so when I went to meet with those guys I was very adamant about not being a lawyer on their show or a Republican," says Chris Messina referring to his first casting call for "Damages." He got his wish. Instead of a Republican lawyer, he plays Chris Sanchez, a traumatized soldier who becomes a whistle-blower against a powerful private defense contractor. He's a contender for Best Drama Guest Actor at the Emmys.
Messina's character suffers from post-traumatic stress following an assignment in Afghanistan. To prepare for his scenes, he says, he would "stay awake and not sleep, and then I'd go to work and right before action … I would drink two Red Bulls … I didn't have to act jittery – I was jittery and tired and kind of confused and emotional." Despite his treacherous storyline, which also saw his character kidnapped and tortured, he lives on and will appear in the fifth and final season of "Damages" this summer.
"I was really happy to go out with the show and that team of people," says Messina of appearing on the series through its last year. Though he was nervous to join a show in the middle of its run, he was welcomed by the cast. He explains, "At that point they had been on for three years, so they're a family … I remember when I first met [Rose Byrne], her just being so kind and inviting and really opened her arms to me joining this family."
Messina joins a very different television family in the fall. He is a regular on Mindy Kaling's upcoming sitcom "The Mindy Project." "I don't find myself very funny," the actor admits. "She wrote that part for me, and I was very grateful that she did … and I think I was afraid of it and turned it down a couple of times." But eventually he relented, and the show begins production this summer. Of the challenges of comedy versus drama he says, "You know what, acting, the whole thing is really challenging. There are often many days where I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing or why I'm doing it, and it's just a matter of time until the people I'm working for find out that they hired the wrong person … I just feel lucky, to be honest with you, to be working."
"The Mindy Project" is a far cry from his "Damages" role, to which Messina suggests, "Maybe I'll grow a beard on the show and she can torture me or something."