Chris Messina on Returning to ‘Mindy Project,’ His Sexy New Thriller ‘Blame’

Chris Messina courts controversy in “Blame,” a new thriller about a substitute drama teacher who develops an unhealthy obsession with an emotionally damaged student.

The film earned solid reviews at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival and marks the feature debut of Quinn Shephard, a 22-year-old wunderkind who also edited, produced, wrote, and stars in the film as the object of Messina’s desire. Messina shot his part in the indie drama in a little over a week, as he juggled several different projects, but he wanted to do the film because he was convinced of Shephard’s talent.

The “Mindy Project” and “Julie & Julia” star keeps busy, hopping between big and small screens. He’ll next be seen in Jean-Marc Vallee’s HBO limited series “Sharp Objects” with Amy Adams. Messina spoke with Variety shortly before “Blame’s” festival premiere about working with Shephard, his openness to returning to “The Mindy Project,” and why he wishes there were fewer mindless blockbusters.

Why did you want to be in “Blame”?

It seemed personal on the page. It was a very fresh take on school life. It seemed like Quinn knew these kids. It seemed authentic. There’s a tension she’s built in the script and in the cut that I saw. There’s a fear something is going to happen. There’s almost a thriller aspect.

What’s Quinn like as a director?

She’s got a great eye and aesthetic. She reminds me of early Gus Van Sant or Sofia Coppola. There’s a dreamy quality. I directed a small movie, but to have the size role she has, and to pull that off, and give the performance she gives, is a big feat.

Is it different being directed by filmmakers who are also directors?

I like being directed by actors, because they know the anxieties that actors can have and our fears. They can speak the same language. There are many great directors that aren’t actors, but I enjoy it. I do a lot of work with people who are directing even as they’re acting in scenes, and I always find it fascinating to watch them juggle it. I did it twice with Ben Affleck [“Argo” and “Live by Night”].

You left “The Mindy Project” as a series regular in Season 4. Are you going to return for the sixth and final season?

I don’t know yet. We haven’t talked about it yet. I love those guys, though, and I would love to come back. It’s an amazing group of people. I love Mindy [Kaling]. I love that character that she wrote for me. That whole experience was like a master class in comedy, watching all of those actors. The writers were super gifted. I would love to come back. I’m not sure what’s going to happen yet, but I hope so.

You directed “Alex of Venice” in 2014. Do you want to direct again?

Sure. In the meantime, I steal from Quinn. I steal from Woody Allen. I steal from Ben Affleck. I steal from Jean-Marc Vallee. Sam Mendes. I’ve been lucky to work with some great people. Everybody runs their set differently. Everybody has a different style of working. It’s all fascinating. Some of it works for you and some of it doesn’t. Sometimes you steal, and say, ‘I don’t like that. That’s not how I would run it or how I would work.’ Sometimes, it’s so beautiful what they’re doing, that you want to copy that.

You move back and forth between television and features. Do you see a difference in quality between the two mediums?

The difference is that it’s hard to go to the movie theaters today. It’s hard to find movies that I want to see. The difference is there’s a lot of television that I’m fascinated with and want to watch. It’s a great time for television. I loved going to the movie theaters, but I could probably do with fewer big-budget, blow ’em up films and some more stories about people.

Your partner Jennifer Todd produced this year’s Oscars. Do you want her to return as producer next year?

She had a great time doing it. I hope she does it again. She loved the people. It was kind of amazing to watch her do it. It was an amazing show and very well produced.

It was certainly a dramatic finish with “La La Land” being announced as best picture instead of the correct winner, “Moonlight.”

It was an amazing moment, but I love those kind of moments when I’m watching any live event. It’s like going to the theater. You think, what’s happening? This is not planned? I thought there was an energy. Usually by best picture, you’re tired, and of course excited to see who wins and what not, especially if you’re involved in one of the films, but it just brought you to life. And I felt both groups of people, everybody on stage handled it with such grace. That was nice to watch.

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