“I love this film festival,” actor Chris Messina said on Friday night at the Tribeca Film Festival premiere party for “Fairhaven,” a feature film he co-wrote with actor-director Tom O’Brien. “It means a lot to me, because I was here in New York the first time it happened, and I remember going to the films and wanting to be a part of it. It’s like coming home.”
Messina, O’Brien, and cast members Rich Sommer, Sarah Paulson, Alexie Gilmore, and more were at The Darby in New York to mingle with friends and festival-goers after the world premiere of “Fairhaven,” about three high school buddies who are reunited after 10 years for a funeral in their hometown. Some of the residents of the actual town of Fairhaven, MA lent their homes and time to the production, and they attended the premiere with pride and excitement to see the finished film on screen.
“The town is a real character in the film,” Messina said, “so it’s important to me that they feel like we represented them authentically. They’ve all been so kind. They opened up their doors to us. Tom really went door to door knocking, asking ‘Can you help us out?’ And so many of them have helped us.”
Like Messina, Paulson now lives in Los Angeles and said that Tribeca is like a homecoming for her. “New York is my city,” she said. “I wasn’t born here, but I lived here since I was 5 years old. I went to school here, and I’ve done a lot of theater here. When I come to New York, all I want to do is see theater non-stop.”
Paulson told Back Stage that she will be seeing about half a dozen shows while she’s in town for the film festival this week. Her theater plans include “4000 Miles,” “End of the Rainbow,” and a third visit to “Other Desert Cities.” “Judith Light is a very good friend of mine and I think she is so brilliant in that,” she said. “And then I’m going to see Linda Lavin, who I did ‘Collected Stories’ with on Broadway two years ago, on opening night of ‘The Lyons,’ which I’m so excited about. She’s my favorite actress.”
Even with roles in upcoming film and television projects like “Mud” (which has been selected for this year’s Cannes Film Festival) and a second season of “American Horror Story” shooting this summer, Paulson said she wants to return to the stage soon.
“When I first started, I was doing a lot of readings at Playwrights Horizons,” Paulson recalled of her career beginnings. “Then I skipped town because I got a pilot, and I never came back until I did ‘Killer Joe’ in 1998. And I regret it sometimes when I think about it, because the more I’m on stage the better I become. Personally, I feel forward motion in my work as an actor when I’ve been on stage for four months. I feel like I finally have it all figured out by the closing day. And then I go to an audition and I’m like, ‘Let me at it!,’ because I feel like every muscle in my body is really exercised and warm, and I feel ready.”
Paulson added that Back Stage was her Bible when was starting her acting career, and called it “the New York Times for actors.” She offered her audition advice to help her fellow Back Stage readers:
“What I try to do is not separate me from the character,” Paulson said. “In Martha Graham’s letter to Agnes de Mille, she talks about how there is only one of you in all of time, and everything that comes out of you is unique to your way of expressing something. And if you stop that, no one will get to see it, because it only comes out of you in the way that it does. Some actors work from the outside in, but I like to work from the inside out and figure out where the ‘me’ is in the character, so I can connect to something real, and then I can layer things on top of it that aren’t me. But I have to start from what I recognize in the character. So in an audition situation, because you can’t possible prepare a fully realized performance for an audition, I try to not block my take on something. That’s the only way to separate me from the nine other people, or 90 other people, auditioning.”
Messina, who has appeared in films like “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and “Julie & Julia” and stars opposite Jenna Fischer in “The Giant Mechanical Man” (his second film to premiere at Tribeca this year), said he also got his start by reading Back Stage. He attended auditions for a play in New York after seeing the casting notice in Back Stage, and ended up earning his Equity card as a result.
“I crashed the audition,” Messina said. “It wasn’t an open call, it was an Equity call, and I didn’t have my Equity card. They saw me anyway. They gave me the job, and I got my Equity card. I was an understudy and a stage manager.”