Most viewers, though, probably know Messina best for his work on “The Mindy Project,” starring as the sometimes ill-tempered, sometimes charismatic Danny Castellano opposite the series creator, Mindy Kaling. When casting began in 2011, Kaling was specifically seeking actors she “hadn’t seen do a lot of comedy” or, if they were experienced, “weren’t the usual suspects they always send you,” she said in a recent interview.
She knew he was perfect straight away. Describing him as one of the most comical actors she’s worked work, she said Messina was “so rooted in the truth of his character that he can’t help but be funny.”
She attributes that expressly to the fact that he is not a traditional comedian. “Your average sitcom actor wants to hit their moments, make the day, and go home. Chris isn’t like that,” she said. “It’s almost exhausting, the level of honesty and truth he brings to every scene. He was really listening to my character and reacting if the character did something funny or absurd. He made me a better actor. I was listening better when I was with Chris, because he set the bar so high.”
Although Messina proved well suited for the role, he originally didn’t even want to do it, turning down the part multiple times before relenting. (“Mindy wouldn’t take no for an answer,” he explained.) He was, he said, “very worried about every aspect of it,” including the commitment to a network comedy with 20-plus episodes per season, potentially for many years — perhaps making it more difficult for him to do the kind of serious work he dreamed of as a performer.
“I wanted to do ‘Dog Day Afternoon.’ I wanted to do ‘Midnight Cowboy,’” he said. Though he liked the role and Kaling, “I was afraid of it running forever.” And, of course, he was afraid of something else: the genre. “I was afraid of not being able to keep up with them comedically,” he said. “I am afraid of jokes.”
On the other hand, being afraid is what Messina wants. “Being scared of a role, of an opportunity, being challenged, that’s what I’m looking for. Maybe it’s corny or too actorly, but I do like finding closed doors inside of me.”