It doesn’t take much prompting to get actor Chris Messina to list all the ways he and his “Air” character, the iconic sports agent David Falk, diverge. “I’m nothing like David Falk. He’s taller than me. He has no hair. He’s brilliant,” Messina said during a recent interview with IndieWire. “Our one similarity: we’re both from Long Island.”

But Messina’s obvious admiration for the guy — one of the primary movers of the landmark deal his client Michael Jordan struck with Nike as a rookie, a fascinating true-life story that serves as the basis of Ben Affleck’s latest film — shines through, too. As the fierce sports agent, supporting standout Messina spends most of “Air” hamming it up on the phone, negotiating deals, yelling a lot, and having a tremendous amount of fun.

“Falk can be ferocious, and there were some people that when Falk called, they probably didn’t want to pick up the phone,” Messina said. “But if you were one of his clients and he represented you, I think you were in great hands. I was never making fun of him. I was never judging him. I hope that if he’s sees the movie, that [he sees] I have the utmost respect for him. He was a brilliant guy who helped change the face of marketing and sports. … I felt like, in order to hang with Michael, that David Falk had to be just as intelligent, just as talented in other ways, obviously, and just as competitive. I tried to tap into that. Ben was very adamant about not being a caricature of any of these people and just finding the essence of the person.”

OK, but what if Falk did see the film? Messina laughed. “You wonder, ‘Is David Falk going to call me up on the phone and start screaming at me?,’” he mused. “It would be kind of a cool story to be like, ‘Yeah, David Falk cursed me out after this movie.’”

The film marks Messina’s third collaboration with Affleck, who first cast him in 2012’s “Argo.” “For whatever reason, he likes me, and probably [we share] some kind of East Coast sensibility, and he’s brought me along, ‘Argo’ and ‘Live by Night’ and ‘Air,’” he said. “He doesn’t audition me, he doesn’t interview me, he just gives me the part. Of course, it’s an honor to do it.”

He’s not kidding about the no-auditioning thing. Messina said he joined “Air” after Affleck sent him a simple text. “He texted me and said, ‘What are you doing this summer around this time?’ I was like, ‘I’m available!,’” Messina recalled. “And he’s like, ‘I have this movie. You’re in it. I want to find the best role [for you].’ I think at that point he was still figuring out who’s who and all that. It might’ve been like a week or two later, he sent [the script] to me and said, ‘Take a look at David Falk.’ Of course I read it and I was completely into it and excited.”

There was one small problem, however: Falk is mostly on the phone in the film, stalking around his office, yelling into the receiver, wielding tiny swords to kill the time. “Of course I was like, ‘Oh, these are great scenes, but they’re phone calls. I want to look in Matt Damon’s eyes. I want to be in the scene with him,’” Messina said. “Then he told me that he would film those scenes at the same time, which made all the difference.”


As Nike sports marketing rep Sonny Vaccaro, Damon spends most of his on-screen time wheeling and dealing with various stakeholders. Falk is the most fierce, but there’s a lot of humor in their various phone calls, which are some of the best parts of a film that’s rife with entertaining interactions. Part of that fun: Messina and Damon were actually on the phone with each other.

“It sounds so simple, but in my entire career of doing many phone calls [on screen], no one’s ever done that,” the actor said. “Matt was down the hallway. He had three cameras on him and I had three on me, so we could overlap and improvise. It felt like we were in a scene together. Those phone calls felt very much alive. Whatever Matt did or whatever I did, we could just kind of bounce off each other in real time.”

While the pair improvised a bit, Messina ad-libbing a number of colorful threats to Damon, Messina credits Alex Convery’s script with even getting him to a place in which that kind of off-the-page work was possible.

“You wanted to say his words because they were so well-written. It reminded me of ‘Glengarry Glen Ross; or some kind of David Mamet script. There was a rhythm to it, a rhythm to the cursing and the swearing,” he said. “There was a fun to it too. You could tell Falk was pissed, and there was a lot at stake for him in this deal, and yet there was an enjoyment of what he was doing. He was almost acting out a bit, playing the part, so I felt always when working on it, there’s room here to go a little further this way or that way.” 

Messina did get to spend some time in an actual room with the rest of the film’s starry cast, care of a final act boardroom scene that brings all of the players together to hammer out the final deal. It was Messina’s first day on set.  


“I was totally nervous,” Messina said. “It’s like the first take on my first day. I come in and I greet Sonny, Matt Damon, and the Jordans are with me. Chris Tucker comes in, and he’s a great improvisational actor, and he comes in late to the meeting and he starts improvising, and it’s going on quite long because it’s really good, and who knows what they’re going to use and what they’re not going to use. I’m standing there, and Jason Bateman’s off camera but he’s looking at me, and I don’t know what to do, so I start doing actor business. I start looking at my watch. And I’m looking in the back of the shot, and Bateman’s off camera, and he starts directing me. He’s like, ‘Fix your tie. Fix your tie.’ So I fix my tie and he’s just screwing with me. ‘Why don’t you slick your hair back?’ But there was that kind of vibe where it was very much a family affair.”

After three films with Affleck, Messina is used to that. He thrives on it. “There was just a looseness and a relaxedness and a playfulness,” he said. “When you’re in the hands of that kind of director that has that kind of cinematic IQ, he’s so smart, he knows what he wants, he knows when he has it, you totally trust him. A lot of times when you go to act, at least for me, you’re worried about yourself and the character and the scene. And then you’re also wondering, ‘Is the camera in the right place? Is it seeing what I’m doing? Is that the right note that the director gave me? Is the pacing right? Is it too slow, too fast?’ But when you’re with Ben, you go, ‘He’s got all that. All I have to try to do is talk, listen, and respond, and be in the moment. He’ll take it from there.’”

Messina is also quick to mention the rest of the team around Affleck, more of the filmmaker’s growing coterie of collaborators that make everyone’s work better.

“He surrounds himself with the greatest filmmakers,” he said. “You’re being shot by Bob Richardson, and Billy Goldenberg is editing you, and you’re talking to Matt Damon or you’re looking at Viola Davis’ eyes. You’re in great hands. They get rid of all your bullshit and they make you look better. Really, anybody who played David Falk and got to say those words would’ve just had a blast doing it.”

Messina’s affection for Affleck is obvious, but he’s got plenty of room in his heart (and his career) to extend that same feeling toward other filmmakers. Recently, Clint Eastwood seems to have joined those ranks for Messina. The veteran actor and filmmaker just wrapped his courtroom drama “Juror #2” in Savannah, Georgia, in which Messina appears alongside stars Nicholas Hoult, Toni Collette, J.K. Simmons, and Zoey Deutch.

“He’s 93, and he’s so present and focused and kind and gentle,” Messina said. “You think you’re going to get Dirty Harry or whatever, and you get a playful, loving man. Like Ben, I really think that actor-directors, they’re just awesome to be around because they know the actor’s life. They know what the anxiety, they know how to relax you. They know that if they cast it well, they can stay out of the way, and they don’t clip your wings, they let you fly. Clint was very similar to Ben in that way. Crew members that had been with him for 22 years. Not a lot of takes, one or two takes. You can ask for more, but he’s very, very at ease and he keeps you that way.”

Eastwood seems to have tapped into the same stuff that Affleck does, the kind of stuff that helps Messina get out of his own head and, as he said, basically let fly.

“It’s a great script, it read like a bullet train, it just took off and you were so curious where it was going to go,” the actor said. “Clint doesn’t like a lot of bells and whistles [when he’s acting], so that’s what he likes when he’s directing, which is kind of a great thing. He wants it to be as honest, truthful, and dropped in as possible, which is what I love. [It’s] certainly I wrestle with, wanting to be honest, wanting to be truthful, and then the ham inside you being like, ‘Do they like me?’ I loved working with him. It was a real honor.”

Messina has also taken his own turn behind the camera. In 2014, he directed and co-starred with Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the gentle dramedy “Alex of Venice,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and was eventually picked up by Screen Media Films for a limited 2015 release. Almost a decade later, Messina has yet to dip back into directing. Will that change anytime soon?

“It’s so sweet that you even remembered I did it,” Messina said with a laugh. “I’ve tried a bunch of times, and I always back out of the project. I think that I might make a better director than an actor, but I made a ton of mistakes on that movie. But there’s so many things I’m proud of, but because not a lot of people saw it, you get so gun-shy, I guess, about the next script and what it should be. I’m always exploring it. I have a new movie that I’ve been working on for about two, three years, and I’m excited about it now. I don’t know how I’ll feel in a couple days from now, but we’ll see.”

Unlike someone like, oh, David Falk, Messina doesn’t shy away from talking about that sort of thing: his anxieties, his worries, being gun-shy or a little cautious, plotting carefully. But it’s the stuff you can’t plan that gives him the big boosts, like a text message from Ben Affleck or a nice person on the street who recognizes him from his myriad projects.

“There’s certain projects where I get so excited when they know them, smaller stuff that it felt like nobody ever saw,” Messina said. “This usually happens just when your ego needed it, just when you were feeling like shit and you’re like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing with my life,’ and someone will say, ‘Hey, hey, I dig your work.’ And you’re like, ‘OK, guess I’ll keep going.’”

“Air” is now streaming on Prime Video.

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