Monday, November 21, 2011

Chris Messina, a storytelling vessel

(Published Nov. 20, PDI-Entertainment)

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit


Actor Chris Messina believes that his career is moving “slowly, and probably at the right tempo.”

Messina, 37, started acting in the mid-1990s and appeared on episodes of “Law and Order” and “Six Feet Under.” His recent film credits include roles in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and Nora Ephron’s “Julie and Julia.” He recently appeared in nine episodes of the acclaimed legal drama “Damages,” starring Glenn Close and Rose Byrne.

Describing the creative and production team of “Damages” as “super-terrific, smart guys,” Messina said he was pitched a character after he made a specific request. “I told them that I had no interest being on their show as a lawyer wearing a suit and tie,” Messina told the Inquirer in a phone interview. “I was looking to do some other stuff. They pitched me the character Chris Sanchez.”

Messina revealed that Chris Sanchez was a soldier who served in Afghanistan and later worked for a security firm. The role required a lot of research. “I wanted to try my best to portray a soldier as truthfully as possible,” he said. “I felt pressure, a responsibility to get it as right as I could.”

Working on the show initially felt daunting. “It’s very nerve-wracking because they’re a family, not only the actors, but the creators and the crew. They’ve worked together for three years so you want to be welcomed to their family. But I was lucky because Glenn Close and Rose Byrne and all the [others] were very welcoming!”

Messina finds it “interesting” that his acting jobs continue to give him opportunities to become “vessels” to tell stories, whether on TV or film. He also appreciates the growing number of acclaimed and consistently well-crafted programs. “It’s just a different time,” he said. “It’s the golden age of television. I think there’s mostly better stuff on TV that’s coming out than the movies. Where was once independent film, I think it’s now television.”

His co-star Close, known and praised for her film roles, successfully made the transition a few years ago. She was an endearing and empowering presence behind the scenes, according to Messina. “She’s amazing,” he said. “She has a love for acting that I really admire. I would always ask her questions about films and plays she did. She’s very kind. She’s a real leader of that show. She represents the kind of work ethic that is required on that show.”

The father of two young kids sometimes feels “exhausted and beat up” after portraying his “Damages” character. But being part of this cast specifically taught him an important lesson: “To listen – you constantly have to remind yourself to stop and to listen,” Messina said. “The writing of the show happens so quickly that new pages are coming at you. So I guess one of the biggest lessons was to embrace the style, structure and fast pace of it all and not to get frustrated and angry. I like to prepare; I could prepare for years and still not feel ready. On this show, you never felt ready but you have to embrace that.”

Messina hopes to portray a different character someday, one that he can develop for a couple of years. He also considers directing a “very interesting” option. For now, he’s grateful for his opportunities, even if he’s not as immediately recognizable as some actors.

“I feel like I’m the guy that people often stop at the street and say ‘I think I know you!’ or they know I’m an actor but they don’t know where I’m from. There’s something great about that in a way. I don’t want people following me with cameras. I don’t want that kind of life!”

The fourth season of “Damages” premieres on December 9, 11:30 p.m., on AXN Beyond.

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