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Chris Messina isn’t lacking for work.

He appeared in romantic comedy “Ira & Abby,” which won last year’s Los Angeles Film Festival’s Audience Award, and has roles in Woody Allen’s upcoming unnamed film and Alan Ball’s directorial debut, the controversial “Nothing Is Private,” due out in 2008.

On the TV side, he had a part in the new J.J. Abrams medical drama series for HBO. The project, however, was not picked up for series.

But it was only a couple of years ago that the then relatively unknown New York theater actor was ready to give up on Hollywood after a pilot season that didn’t yield any series work and a meeting with director Martin Scorsese that failed to land him a role in “The Departed.”

Then came the turning point in Messina’s career. Ball cast him as Ted Fairwell, Claire’s conservative attorney boyfriend, on the last few episodes of “Six Feet Under.”

“In the theater, I had always played runaways, drug addicts, delinquents and pimps, so all of my theater friends were like, ‘A Republican lawyer?'” Messina says. “Only Alan Ball would cast me as that.”

And he’s glad Ball, who later cast him as a slacker in the indie pic “Private,” took the chance.

” ‘Six Feet Under’ changed everything for me. It was only six episodes, but they had such a huge impact on people,” Messina recalls. “I remember walking out of my house, and the UPS guy being like, ‘Ted!'”

The role not only grabbed the attention of viewers but casting directors and directors as well. In fact, seeing Messina on “Six Feet Under” led Allen to cast him in his film.

Messina studied Allen’s many Gotham-centric films to prepare for his starring role in helmer Robert Cary’s “Ira & Abby,” which finds him playing a neurotic, insecure New Yorker who jumps into marriage with a free spirit played by “Kissing Jessica Stein” star Jennifer Westfeldt, who also wrote the script.

Messina, a self-described chameleon who loves to change his appearance for whatever role he is playing, grew a beard and packed on 30 pounds for the film because he wanted to feel as “schlumpy” as Ira felt.

“And I did,” the actor, now happily fit and trim again, says with a laugh.

MOVIE MUSINGS

AN ACTOR SHOULD ALWAYS: “Take risks.”

I’M INSPIRED BY: Daniel Day-Lewis

FAVORITE FILM CHARACTER: Travis Bickle (played by Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver”)