Welcome to TV Guide’s 12 Days of Chris-Mas, a festive celebration of famous dudes named Chris. Every day leading up to Dec. 25, we will honor a single Chris, counting down to the best Chris of the year. Today, that honor goes to Chris Messina, the fourth best Chris.
When you think of a Chris, you likely picture a tall (6-feet minimum), all-American type with sandy hair and a near-perfect, symmetrical face. Chris Messina just doesn’t fit the bill. At 5-foot-9 with dark hair, dark eyes and a boyish, crooked smile, Messina is distinctly not a Chris as Hollywood has come to define one. He isn’t a superhero. He isn’t leading any big-budget blockbuster franchises yet (although he has signed on to play the villain in DC’s Birds of Prey). And while Messina is undoubtedly a hunk, he isn’t the type of hunk that typically covers glossy magazines like Hemsworth, Evans, Pratt and Pine. Last year, Vanity Fair even went so far as to say Messina isn’t a Chris, he’s a Jim.
But for many, Messina is not only a Chris, he’s the Chris. And the reasons listed above are precisely why. There’s something about Messina, a distinct blend of humble everyman and cerebral actor, that makes him almost the antithesis to the Hollywood homogeneity that the main Chrises have come to represent through no fault of their own.
Despite having starred in several big projects, Messina still isn’t a household name. (Once when I was speaking about him with my sister, she thought I was referring to John Cena‘s daughter “Christmas Cena,” who, by the way, doesn’t exist.) Messina’s first big role came in 2005 when he landed a recurring part in Six Feet Under‘s final season as Claire’s (Lauren Ambrose) love interest, Ted Fairwell. But it wasn’t until he played nice guy Doug in 2008’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona that Messina’s star truly began to rise. Following the Woody Allen film, Messina’s credits began racking up in quick succession, including roles in Julie & Julia, Argo and The Newsroom. Yet while Messina built his career on dramatic acting (he is, if you didn’t know, a very Serious Actor. The kind that keeps his life private on purpose, in part because he doesn’t want that knowledge to influence the audience’s interpretation of his performance), it was Messina’s first foray into comedy, and a broadcast sitcom at that, that launched him onto the path to become a real contender in the Hollywood Chris conversation.
When Messina signed on to star opposite Mindy Kaling in Fox’s The Mindy Project in 2012, the choice transformed him into something new: an internet boyfriend. As Danny Castellano — a role which took full advantage of Messina’s charming New Yorker-ness by having him exclaim “Ma!“ at every possible opportunity — Messina became synonymous with the idea of the lovable curmudgeon, someone who’s too stuck in their ways to often admit how they really feel. This is likely why many contrarians and curmudgeons who believe themselves to be above the whole Chris rankings debate find themselves drawn to Messina. He’s the Chris for the counter-Chris culture. The kind of guy who says there’s only one real Hollywood Chris (Chris Walken) and who wants to get rid of his phone because he’d rather “look into your eyes and not be taken constantly somewhere else.”
A self-proclaimed dinosaur, Messina’s lack of social media has created a surrounding air of mystery, turning the few glimpses we get of his true, intimate self into extremely valuable commodities. Whenever a new profile, talk show interview or throwback pic comes out featuring him, it’s often much more thrilling than ones of the traditional Chrises because you just never know what you’re really going to get with Messina.
Despite this unknowability that Messina has purposefully fostered, he’s still one of the most relatable Chrises around. While you can see Pratt geeking out over his snacks or Evans getting heated over sports and think “ugh, SAME,” there is still that air of glamorous movie star about them that they just can’t shake, no matter how many cute dog pics they post. Messina, on the other hand, doesn’t seem like a star; he seems like a regular person who just happens to have inspired hundreds of GIFs on Tumblr. He isn’t a brand. He’s just being himself. All that sweat in Sharp Objects? That was real! It was an artistic choice to give viewers of the HBO mystery a sense of the suffocating southern heat, but it also was about having the actors reveal their authentic selves, which in Messina’s case meant showcasing the fact he’s sweaty as hell. Stars, they’re just like us!
What’s so charming about Messina, though, is that no matter what he’s doing — even talking about his own sweat stains — he does so with a level of dignity I, for one, couldn’t even aspire to. There is a stillness, an unassuming, unflappable confidence in Messina that elevates everything he does. No matter what he’s tasked with doing, Messina does it with conviction and never holds back, even when it might otherwise be embarrassing. Because of this, everything he does is done with the same amount of attention, intensity and respect, whether it’s dancing around nude in 28 Hotel Rooms, talking about his penis on Conan or doing a strip tease for Mindy Kaling to Aaliyah‘s “Try Again.” (If this makes it sound like Messina is always naked, getting naked or talking about being naked, it’s kind of true. And you know what? We aren’t complaining.)
Chris Messina is a Chris built on contradictions. He’s mysterious, but relatable. He’s a prestige actor who also does strip teases to ’90s R&B. He’s private but very open about his penis. He’s a Chris but also not a Chris, which is exactly why for so many, myself included, he’s the Chris that really matters.