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'The Mindy Project's' Chris Messina talks rom-com finale

'Mindy Project' finale: Chris Messina on taking a cue from 'The Graduate,' Danny's glasses + Bradley Cooper
'I think Mindy completes Danny.' - Chris Messina, discussing 'The Mindy Project' season finale
Chris Messina says Mindy Kaling 'can carry on the torch' of smart rom-com after the late Nora Ephron

It happened one night. Tuesday night, actually. Mindy Lahiri, at long last, got her romantic comedy. 

[Spoilers ahead!]

After a false start in their coupling, the Season 2 finale of "The Mindy Project" gave its leading lady a happily ever after with the man (Chris Messina's Danny Castellano) dauntless enough to memorize the choreography to Aaliyah's "Try Again" as a Christmas gift.

Tuesday's closer was a tale of when Danny met Mindy atop the Empire State Building, a rom-com landmark, in a bid to prove his devotion to the lovesick heroine (played by Mindy Kaling). And in true Mindy fashion, the Deborah Kerr/Meg Ryan-inspired moment wasn't without unwanted exercise and a bit of bickering.

Show Tracker spoke with Chris Messina about being Mindy's Tom Hanks, his favorite Danny quirk, and his favorite Mindy-Danny moment from the Fox comedy, which will return for a third season.

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What were your thoughts when you read the script and you saw how things were going to play out between Mindy and Danny?

I knew kind of what was going to go down — I knew where we were heading with the story line. When [Mindy] writes the scripts — I mean, I love all writers, obviously. But her writing is really phenomenal. When I read it, I was super excited to do it. You could tell she had put her expertise to use.

When you’re running to get to the top of the Empire State Building, was Mindy off on the sidelines behind the scenes saying, “Chris! You need to run more like Harry in ‘When Harry Met Sally’” or “have a look more like Tom Hanks in ‘Sleepless in Seattle’”?

No. Wait, were you saying that while watching it? I'm nervous. But, you know, the episode is such an ode to those great romantic comedies that you can’t help but not think of those moments in those films. I was mostly thinking of “The Graduate,” when Dustin Hoffman is running to stop the wedding and “Mrs. Robinson” is playing. [hums “Mrs. Robinson."] And his car breaks down. I thought about all that. I love that movie so much. 

The cool thing about running through the streets is we shot a lot of that on the Universal backlot, but then we got to come to New York and actually do it, so, as you know, there’s nothing like shooting in New York City. It’s so electric. When you’re really running and bumping into people, and people are like, “what the hell is this guy running in the middle of the street.” It just causes a certain amount of chaos that is just perfect.

What is it about Mindy, you think, that has left Danny spellbound? Is it the way she mixes prints?

I think a little bit of everything. I don’t think he understood how much he was in love with her until they split apart. I think although the two of them are so different, that there is a part of Mindy that kind of completes Danny.

I love this. Are you quoting “Jerry Maguire”?

Ha! Yeah, I think Mindy completes Danny — he might have a hard time admitting that, even to himself. He really missed her. He missed their friendship. I think she gives him a certain kind of life that he has never had and has shied away from or is too grumpy to embrace. She kind of keeps him young. She has all these silly quirks that are just so endearing, she makes no apologies for wanting the fairy tale.

Looking back on the season, do you have a favorite Mindy-Danny moment? When Danny read “Bridget Jones’s Diary” to Mindy in the hospital bed, I must have received a dozen texts asking if I was still alive.

Oh, man. That was a good one. That moment is great. I mean, as an actor, I like the emotional stuff. I know that people were mad about it, but I loved doing the breakup because there was so much tension and love between them. And he was clearly scared out of his mind and didn’t want to go down this road again — either get his heart broken or break someone else’s heart. I just like how a show like this can tackle that kind of moment with such heart and go for it. Certainly, it wasn’t a moment you probably liked, Yvonne, but as an actor, it’s nice that they give me that stuff to play with.

But of the nicer moments, yeah, I loved the “Bridget Jones” moment. I really liked the stuff in the hospital bed with me and her. When I was super horny and trying to get her … I think I said something like, “Can you graze it?” It was so weird and funny. Also, it’s fun just laying in bed while people come around you. I didn’t have to learn where to walk or hit a mark. I was just in this bed and everyone came to me!

Has there been a characteristic, or detail about Danny that you've enjoyed? Danny is a peculiar guy. He can make an awesome gingerbread house, he can move better than One Direction, he brews funky ale and gets off to Julianna Margulies while watching “The Good Wife.”

Oh my God. Right? They’re all pretty great. He’s a strange guy. I like that Ike [Barinholtz] and Dave [Stassen] gave me those incredible red reading glasses. I really like those. I don’t know why. I feel like such an old man when I put them on. But putting them is also why I love them. I could do it all day long. They are so perfect.

I like that he’s a character that’s super set in his ways, and it’s fun to have people bump up against those ways. Or certainly, Mindy trying to tease him or make fun of him. There’s something fun about playing that. I mean, I was terrified by the dance thing. I was stupid to tell them that, because there I was having to do it. Again, thanks to the writers, it was a really fresh, interesting way to have Danny do a romantic gesture for someone. It’s super romantic to choreograph a dance for somebody. So that was cool. That was really fun. I was glad I ended up doing it. But leading up to it and that day, I was a nervous wreck.

We had a great dance choreographer, he was really very helpful and patient with me. I met with him once, and I went home. I think I had a weekend with it. Every time I passed a mirror at my house, I would do the dance. My kids were completely confused.

So much of this finale called up moments from “You’ve Got Mail” — even with the coffee ordering, Danny dropping by when Mindy is sick, etc. And you were in that movie, brilliantly playing a puzzled bookstore clerk. Tell me Mindy held a screening of the movie before you guys shot.

That movie is always on television. Whenever I’m flipping around, I see that it’s on. I didn’t watch it for the episode, but I feel like I’ve seen it every couple of weeks as I flip through the television. I won’t watch the whole thing, but I’ll watch sections of it. Is that one of your favorites?

Hello, yes. All I want is a bouquet of sharpened pencils.

I don’t know what that means.

I don’t know how Mindy allows this.

You know, I feel like Mindy ... it’s such a shame that Nora [Ephron] and Mindy weren’t able to collaborate or do something together. Nora would have flipped over this show. She would have loved it. I know that they met each other and knew each other a little bit, but she would have flipped over the show. It would be cool to have seen them team up to do something.

I feel like Mindy can carry on the torch. I feel like she’s going to write the next great thing so that when you’re interviewing someone years from now, they’re talking about Mindy’s film as a classic romantic comedy. I really feel like that is going to happen. She’s fantastic. It’s wild to watch her — I mean, she’s always been extremely funny, but I feel like her acting has just gotten better and better. The scene in the bathroom in the finale, I remember as it was playing out, just thinking in my head, “Oh my God, she’s fantastic right now.” She has a relaxation about her that’s probably caused by two things: 1) it’s her own show; she can edit it, change it, fix things. 2) she’s on camera everyday, so she’s never nervous. That’s the key to success with acting, is just being loose. I watch her and I’m so amazed.

Also, what was up with Danny only waiting an hour before leaving to grab a slice of pizza?

That’s amazing. Oh, gosh, I feel like I’m answering to Mindy. I don’t know. He’s a hungry guy? He’s a hungry guy. Love makes you very hungry.

And how could he not know who Bradley Cooper is?

He’s living in the dark ages, that guy. I think he knows who some of those people are, but he’s just pretending. He knows it annoys her. Some of them. I’m not sure. I haven’t made my mind up about Bradley Cooper. It’s hard not to know Bradley Cooper. But I share Danny's feelings on suits with a lot of elements. I was sweating in all that.

Also, can we get Danny to write a book? His way with the written word is truly a wonder. When I get a text that says LOL, all I think of is “lots of laughs.” And his fake emails were straight out of a bad romance novel.

That’s awesome. The Danny Castellano Diaries. There’d be a whole boring chapter on his beer, a few chapters dedicated to his brother and his mom.

 

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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