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Chris Messina on Monogamy

New York story Monogamy was named Best New York Narrative at TFF 2010. Catch it this weekend on demand or in a theater near you!

Note: This interview originally ran as part of the coverage of the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival, where it was named Best New York Narrative. Monogamy can be found on demand and will open in theaters on Friday, March 11. Find tickets.


Chris Messina: Monogamy
Chris Messina / courtesy Getty Images

Tribeca: Tell us about Monogamy.


Chris Messina: In Monogamy, I play a photographer named Theo, who’s about to get married to this musician Natalie, played by Rashida Jones. It deals with the fears about getting married, and the kind of downward spiral of a relationship right before taking that leap.


What’s going on with the relationship is that they are not being very intimate with each other, which is very common of married people. He starts to think, “Is this going to be the rest of my life?” Although, the rest of your life with Rashida Jones wouldn’t be the end of the world.


Tribeca: I know. She’s adorable. I love her in I Love You Man.


Chris Messina: She’s adorable.


Tribeca: What inspired you to take this role? What attracted you to the movie?


Chris Messina: Mainly, what attracted me to this movie is [director] Dana Adam Shapiro—I really loved his movie Murderball, and I was excited to work with a documentary filmmaker, in that he told me he wanted to make a documentary about these characters. So that was exciting to me—we weren’t going to put any marks on the floor, and we were going to use sometimes two cameras and we did 25-30 minute takes, and we were going to be able to get loose and improvise.


I’ve done a number of bigger studio films where you have to say the words, and you have to hit your marks. And although they’re a lot of fun and there’s a lot of great things that come with those [movies]—for me, I feel better suited to things that are a little more loose.


Chris Messina & Dana Adam Shapiro
Chris Messina, Dana Adam Shapiro / courtesy Getty Images


Tribeca: It felt very organic. I live in Brooklyn, and it felt very real—you recognize places... It felt lived-in.


Chris Messina: That’s all Dana. I think he did what he set out to do—I think he made a documentary about those people.


Tribeca: What’s the craziest thing that happened when making Monogamy? Filming on the streets of New York can be crazy enough.


Chris Messina: There were times when we were kicked out of locations. I mean, there were no trailers—they did a nice job of finding us rooms, or the basement of churches. But I think the craziest day was probably the last day, when we got kicked out of a location and we were changing clothes in the middle of the street. It happened to be warm, so it was okay, and it was kind of a great way to end the shoot.


Tribeca: Yeah, making a little indie movie—it’s great to have at least one of those experiences. What did you learn while making Monogamy?


Chris Messina: You always learn something. What I always learn each time out—maybe the most on this film—is to fight for what I believe in for the better of the movie, for the character. I learn that [a little more] every time out, because when you’re a young actor and you get hired, you feel lucky to be hired, and so you kind of shut your mouth and don’t want to be fired. And then the more you get the work, the more you feel like you want a say and you want to collaborate, and you don’t want to be just a puppet or a piece that’s kind of moved around.


So on this project, I used my voice maybe more than on any other project, and that was a great experience—only to serve the film, not to be a pain in the ass… Although I’m sure I was a pain in the ass at times, but it was only to serve the film and to get to the truth of the characters.


Tribeca: Do you have any interest in directing?


Chris Messina: I do. Tons of interest. I’d probably be a better director than I am an actor. But I haven’t yet found the right move, or script, but I keep talking about it.


Chris Messina: Monogamy
Chris Messina / courtesy Getty Images


Tribeca: I have to tell you, I loved Away We Go. I thought it was a charming movie.


Chris Messina: Me too. It’s a great movie. Thanks for saying that. People went after that film, not sure why. I made that movie and then I came home and my first son, Milo was born the next day. Obviously, with what that movie is all about and what my character is going through—it’s all connected, and it means a lot to me. I loved working with Sam Mendes. Loved it.


Huge lessons, man. I think every time out, you always learn something about yourself, or about acting problems that you have, or things you liked that other people did, or things that you didn’t like.


Tribeca: If you could have dinner with any filmmaker alive or dead, who would it be?


Chris Messina: John Cassavetes. I liked his rebel quality, and his not-sitting-around-waiting, and just taking, and going and doing. And his truth. I love his films, and I always feel like I wish I was born in a different time, and maybe I would have gotten to meet him and been lucky enough to work with him. I’m a huge fan.


Tribeca: What piece of art (book/film/music/what have you) are you recommending to people most often right now?


Chris Messina: I’m telling people to go see Greenberg right now. I have a very small role in it, but that’s not why. I think the movie is fantastic. Noah Baumbach is incredible—it’s the best I’ve ever seen Ben Stiller, who I think is amazing, and Jennifer Jason Leigh… and Greta Gerwig has a breakout role.


Tribeca: What would your biopic be called?


Chris Messina: He was a Big Fan.


Tribeca: What makes Monogamy a must-see?


Chris Messina: I think we somehow combine that improvised raw Brooklyn feel, and—it’s big for me to say Cassavetes—that kind of wannabe relationship thing with this sexual thriller element. So I feel like it kind of combines almost like a thriller aspect with this raw improv relationship film. That’s kind of exciting—I don’t know if I have ever seen anything like that.


Monogamy Cast
Rashida Jones, Chris Messina, Meital Dohan / courtesy Getty Images


Tribeca: What do you think happens in the end?


Chris Messina: Sometimes I think they get back together, and sometimes I think they weren’t supposed to be together. I think when we shot the movie, I think I thought they got back together. But then seeing the movie, I thought it wasn’t going to work—they’re almost better friends.


Tribeca: It’s a nice ambiguity.


Chris Messina: Rashida and I were friends, even before the film, and I think we brought that to it. But I know a lot of relationships where people become more like brother and sister, or best friends, rather than lovers. It’s hard to hold onto that romance, or that intimacy. It takes work. I got married very young—I wasn’t aware how much you have to stop, and check in, and kind of rediscover each other. So depending on when you ask me, I might say they rediscover each other, or I might say they moved on…


Monogamy can be found on demand and will open in theaters on Friday, March 11. Find tickets.


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