When actor Chris Messina called on a recent afternoon, he had a good excuse for running late: He accidentally nodded off with his 2-year-old son.
You can hardly blame the Northport native for being tired -- he's one of the busiest actors in Hollywood. This year alone, he appears in six films (including "Ruby Sparks," which opens Friday on Long Island) and three high-profile TV shows ("The Newsroom," "Damages" and the upcoming "The Mindy Project").
Success was a long time coming for the actor, who turns 38 Saturday. After graduating from Northport High School, he enrolled in Marymount Manhattan College on a theater scholarship. Seized by doubts about acting, he dropped out, moved home and worked odd jobs -- delivering pizza for the now-defunct San Giacomo, assisting a lobster boat captain, cleaning homes for Merry Maids in Huntington.
After a year, he decided to try acting again. He had his moments, like starring alongside Al Pacino in "Salome," but it was a roller-coaster ride. "I have a million and one amazing stories about struggling in New York," he says.
When he moved to Los Angeles seven years ago, the struggling continued. Life was a marathon of couch-surfing, auditions and rejection. Discouraged, he booked a flight back to New York and was en route to the airport when his agent called about one final audition. Messina reluctantly did the audition, then headed right back to the airport.
As it turns out, he got the job -- playing Ted Fairwell on HBO's "Six Feet Under." "I had heard 'no' so many times," he says. "I was really waiting for another 'no.' "
It was just the break Messina needed. He went on to snag a series of prominent "good guy" roles, like the supportive boyfriend in Nora Ephron's "Julie & Julia" and a cuckolded fiance in Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." (He framed the hiring letter that Allen sent him.) Since then, he's diversified his resumé with films like "Greenberg" and "Monogamy."
NEW TV SERIES
Starting Friday, you can see him in "Ruby Sparks." He plays the brother of an author (Paul Dano) whose protagonist (Zoe Kazan) comes to life. Next month, he tackles comedy in the new Fox TV series "The Mindy Project." (He plays one of the doctors in the OB/GYN practice in which Mindy Kaling of "The Office" is the main character.) "This is what I was dreaming about," he says of his banner year.
Messina credits his early interest in acting to his mother, Phyllis, a former dance teacher, and to high school theater teacher John Gavriluk. Messina still visits his family in Northport, where you might spot him at Gunther's bar.
"If it wasn't for my family, I'd never be on the phone with you right now," he says. "They paid for thousands of dollars of acting classes, and they never said, 'What the hell are you doing?' "