As a young actor working in New York City, Chris Messina grew accustomed to playing a variety of characters, and showed a particular penchant for playing dangerous, untrustworthy sorts, despite a long run of good guy roles once he arrived in Hollywood. Messina first came to national attention as Ted Fairwell, the upstanding Republican boyfriend of Lauren Ambrose's Claire on HBO's "Six Feet Under" (2001-05), and would reprise the type in a variety of successful films by talented directors, including Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (2008), Sam Mendes' "Away We Go" (2009) and Nora Ephron's "Julie & Julia" (2009), in which he co-starred as the dutifully hungry husband of Amy Adams' Julia Childs-obsessed chef. Messina would dramatically and decisively break out of type with a guest role on "Damages" (FX, 2007-2012) as a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who turns whistleblower in a case against a private security firm. A sharp contrast to the parts for which he had come to be known, Messina's work on "Damages" hearkened back to his grittier, more complex theater roles, and kicked off a new phase in the actor's career, one which included Messina writing and executive producing his own projects to ensure new and exciting roles to come. Messina went on to greater TV success as the grumpy yet charming OB/GYN Danny Castellano on "The Mindy Project" (Fox/Hulu 2012-16) and as TV executive Reese Lansing on Aaron Sorkin's "The Newsroom" (HBO 2012-14). During this period, he also appeared in films ranging from romantic comedy "Ruby Sparks" (2012) and Ben Affleck's directorial efforts "Argo" (2012) and "Live By Night" (2016) to small-scale indies "Cake" (2014) and "Digging for Fire" (2015). Messina also made his directorial debut with the drama "Alex of Venice" (2014).
Chris Messina was born on Aug. 11, 1974 in the Long Island suburb of Northport, NY. He discovered a love of acting while attending Northport High School, where his drama teacher encouraged Messina's interest in improvisation. Inspired to pursue legitimate stage training, Messina enrolled in a theater arts program at Marymount Manhattan College but dropped out after a single semester. He would return to Long Island and buy an old Volkswagen van, with plans for a Kerouac-style journey across America. By the time he had saved the money to make the trip, however, he had made up his mind to be an actor. He returned to Manhattan, found a tiny studio apartment with two roommates, and began to devour theater in every form, seeing every performance and attending every class that he could afford. When he lost out on auditions, he would find out where his competition studied and take private lessons with their instructors. By 1998, his hard work began to pay off; he became a member of the fledgling All Seasons Theater Company, where he would try his hand at directing as well as acting, and landed his first feature film work with small roles in "Rounders" (1998), "The Siege" (1998) and "You've Got Mail" (1998).
For several years, Messina would bounce between bit parts in New York-based television productions such as "Third Watch" (NBC, 1999-2005) and "Law & Order" (NBC, 1990-2010), and in live theater, including the 2001 New York Theater Workshop production of Caryl Churchill's "Far Away" with Frances McDormand, and a 2003 Broadway appearance in Oscar Wilde's "Salome" with Al Pacino and Marisa Tomei. In 2005, Messina found himself for the first time with more feature film work than television or theater. Cast in three small independent feature films shot in New York - "Road," "The Crooked Corner," and "Bittersweet Place," starring Seymour Cassel - Messina decided that the time was right for him to make his move to Hollywood. Compared to his burgeoning career in New York, however, his Los Angeles adventure was a disappointment. After months of chasing down auditions by day and crashing on friends' couches by night, Messina decided to accept defeat and return to New York. He was, in fact, at the airport awaiting his eastbound flight when he received a call with an offer for the job that would first bring him to national attention, playing Claire Fisher's upstanding Republican boyfriend, Ted Fairwell, on the final season of Allan Ball's acclaimed series, "Six Feet Under" (HBO, 2001-05). Fairwell would become a favorite character for fans of the series, as his stable boyfriend (and future husband, as the finale would reveal) provided an unexpectedly happy ending for Claire's story.
After wrapping "Six Feet Under," Messina went back to work in feature film with the independent romantic comedy "Ira & Abby" (2006), in which he graduated from supporting character to leading man. Alan Ball would also cast Messina in the first of his own post-"Six Feet Under" projects, the controversial 2007 film, "Towelhead." Messina's work garnered attention from other talented directors as well, leading to roles in Woody Allen's "Vicky Christina Barcelona" (2008), Sam Mendes' "Away We Go" (2009), and Nora Ephron's "Julie and Julia." Though grateful for consistent work in quality films, Messina began to feel typecast as the supportive boyfriend or husband, a role he had played repeatedly since his success on "Six Feet Under," so he sought out work of the variety and intensity he had found in live theater. In 2011, Chris Messina was cast in a guest star role on "Damages" (FX, 2007-2012) playing Chris Sanchez, a PTSD-inflicted soldier-turned-private security contractor whose increasing paranoia may well be justified. Sanchez' descent over a nine-episode arc from skittish whistleblower to tortured kidnap victim was a powerful showcase for the range and complexity of Messina's talent. The usually cleanly handsome Messina grew out a thick beard for the role and deprived himself of sleep for days before shooting, making him a jittery, emotional presence on the set. It was a far cry from the assured, conservative types he had played on "Six Feet Under" or in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and worlds away from the warm, soft men he'd embodied in "Away We Go" and "Julie and Julia."
Messina's mission to break type was accomplished and critics took notice. Emboldened by his work on "Damages," Messina began to take on another kind of role, that of executive producer. In 2012, Messina executive produced two independent feature vehicles for himself, "Fairhaven," a character drama about the homecoming of childhood friends, and "28 Hotel Rooms," a romantic drama co-starring Marin Ireland. Both films allowed Messina the freedom to improvise and explore new territory as an actor. He brought that new sense of freedom with him into other projects as well, including a supporting role in "Ruby Sparks" (2012), the second film from the directors of "Little Miss Sunshine;" a romantic lead opposite Jenna Fisher in the quirky indie love story, "The Giant Mechanical Man" (2012), and as Dr. Danny Castellano on the first post- "The Office" offering from Mindy Kaling, "The Mindy Project" (Fox/Hulu, 2012-16).
As the relationship between Kaling and Messina's characters became that show's primary focus, Messina also worked steadily in both TV and film, including a recurring role at network president Reese Lansing on Aaron Sorkin's drama "The Newsroom" (HBO 2012-14) and a supporting role in Ben Affleck's Oscar-winning "Argo" (2012). Supporting roles in indie drama "Palo Alto" and David Gordon Green's "Manglehorn" (2014) were followed by Messina's directorial debut with the drama "Alex of Venice" (2014). Messina next appeared in the Jennifer Aniston drama "Cake" (2014), Joe Swanberg's "Digging for Fire" (2015) and "Ordinary World" (2016), a vehicle starring Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong. Messina reunited with Affleck in Prohibition-era crime drama "Live By Night" (2016).
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Cast as Claire's (Lauren Ambrose) love interest on HBO drama "Six Feet Under"
Co-starred with writer Jennifer Westfeldt in the romantic comedy "Ira & Abby"
Co-starred with Ben Stiller and Greta Gerwig in "Greenberg"
Co-starred with Rashida Jones in romantic drama "Monogamy"
Guest starred on FX crime drama "Damages"
Re-teamed with Rashida Jones in "Celeste & Jesse Forever"
Appeared as a network suit on HBO drama series "The Newsroom"
Cast as gynecologist Danny Castellano opposite Mindy Kaling on "The Mindy Project" (Fox)
Cast in political thriller "Argo," directed by Ben Affleck