Chris Messina on Making His Directorial Debut and The Mindy Project’s Unsure Future

Chris Messina. Photo: Amy Graves/Getty Images

Tuesday night’s Mindy Project finale, with its grand romantic gesture, left us wondering if this could perhaps be the end. (Say it ain’t so!) Not only that, but Mindy stars are already off doing other things — take Chris Messina, who is making his directorial debut with Alex of Venice (in theaters and VOD on April 17), a sweet indie drama that stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a young working mom whose family is thrown for a loop after her husband (played by Messina) decides to leave. We spoke to Messina about doing triple duty, being a first-time director, and the future of The Mindy Project.

You’re out in L.A., right?
I’m in L.A., where it’s very sunny. Sorry.

It’s always nice there. While I was watching Alex of Venice, I kept dreaming of Venice, California. It’s so kooky and great.
Yeah, it’s a great place. I love it. I was happy to shoot a movie there. Everybody kept telling us that it would be hard to shoot a movie there, and they were kind of suggesting that the people that lived in Venice wouldn’t be accommodating, but it was quite the opposite. Everybody was very kind and welcoming.

Was the movie originally written to take place in Venice?
It was one of the major draws for me. The first draft of it that I read was almost like Singles. Remember that movie Singles? It had like a lot of different characters, like a collage of all these different characters that lived in Venice. The characters that really kind of spoke to me [were] the family, and we kind of started taking away everybody else that didn’t really fit into the family, so concentrating on Alex (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and George (Messina) and [their son] Dakota (Skylar Gaertner).

You’ve done so many indie movies in the last two years, you are the king of the indie movie right now. It must have been interesting going from being in these indie films to making one of your own.
It was fun, because I had a lot of experience — I mean, obviously not as a director — but I had seen a lot of friends’, and mine, and just other directors I work with kind of dealing with that budget level. You know the stresses of making a movie in about — I think we made it in 20 days. I felt like all those movies really taught me a lot of what I wanted to do with the film and what I didn’t want to do with the film.

Were you doing all of this at the same time as Mindy?
No, I had finished the first season of The Mindy Project, then I shot the film, and during the second season of The Mindy Project, I was editing and shooting. I have done a lot of dumb things, but that was pretty much the No. 1 dumbest thing I have ever done.

You had homework every night.
It was too much because the movie needs time to breathe, and you want to get away from it and come back. It just kind of never let up, so that was a mistake to take on that much at once, and you know, when you do that, everything suffers.

Yeah, so what was it like directing yourself playing this kind of shitty guy?
Well, I didn’t direct myself. I had a buddy Matt Del Negro, and my friend Matt Ross, who directed me in 28 Hotel Rooms — they were both on set at different times and would direct me. I actually don’t think that George is a shitty guy. I mean, he does leave his family, which is shitty, but everybody in the movie is in the middle of change, some kind of change. In Alex’s case or her father’s case, the change is thrust upon them, and George wants a change in his life. Maybe the way he goes about it is shitty, but ultimately, something is not working in their relationship, and there needs to be a change there.

You get to play these guys on film, and a good guy like Danny on Mindy.
That is the fun of being an actor. You play all different kinds of people. That’s like why a bunch of us got into it, to try on different people’s shoes and walk in them for a bit. You get to explore these different people, so yeah, when I can, [I] try something new.

Mindy hasn’t officially been renewed yet, but the finale felt like it could be the end or lead. Do you think that that was written that way specifically?
I don’t know the answer to that! I think the writers write kind of what they are attracted to. I don’t know if they are thinking about the future. I just think they are thinking about that particular episode.

Are you anticipating Danny and Mindy having a baby to take care of?
I just sit back and really trust whatever the writers are going to do.

Would you direct an episode of Mindy next season?
You know, it is such a different format. I don’t know if I would be any good at it!

Messina on a Directorial Debut & Mindy’s Future