Chris Messina says ‘The Sinner’ Season 3 ‘keeps everybody on their toes’

'The Sinner,' Part II Episode 302. Pictured: Chris Messina as Nick Haas. Peter Kramer/USA Network

The Sinner is back and this time around it follows Det. Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) as he begins a routine investigation of a tragic car accident on the outskirts of Dorchester in upstate New York.

Jamie Burns (Matt Bomer) and his old friend from college Nick Haas (Chris Messina) get caught up in a local conspiracy.

Bomer’s character Jamie is an upstanding local resident at the centre of it all when he gets into the car accident with Messina’s character Nick after he pays Jamie an unwelcome visit.

Ambrose uncovers a hidden crime that pulls him into the most dangerous and disturbing case of his career.

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Global News spoke with Messina about playing Nick, how his experience shooting The Sinner contrasts to shooting something like The Mindy Project and much more.

Global News: Can you tell me a bit about your character Nick?
Chris Messina: Nick has come to a place in life where he’s done with the bullsh–, done with the status quo, done with following the rules. There’s a philosophy that he practised when he was younger with Jamie and then he kind of abandoned it when Jamie abandoned him. He got a corporate job and rose up the ranks and made a lot of money. When he got there, he realized that it didn’t mean anything to him and it wasn’t worth anything. He went drastically down the road of checking out of life and he got the call from his old friend Jamie and the doors opened. He won’t leave Jamie alone until he sees that he’s just like Nick. I always imagined that Nick was Dracula and he was planning to remind Jamie that he was the Wolfman.

When Nick first shows up at Jamie’s doorstep there seems to be some hostility in the air. How would you describe the relationship between the two?
Yes, you know, it was kind of like a breakup. Nick feels abandoned and hurt. Jamie was the only person that understood him and saw him. He was the only person that he felt was on the same level and on the same planet. When Jamie abruptly abandoned Nick all that kind of heartbreak and rage is on the tip of his tongue in their first encounter. He uses it as manipulation and as a way to make a spell over Jamie. As angry as he is at Jamie, he’s also very sad and vulnerable like a little boy that got kicked off the soccer team.

It’s very mesmerizing to watch the relationship between the two. How was your experience shooting the car crash scene?
I’ve never done anything like that before. I had a great time doing it. I’ve never been in a simulator where they buckled us and turned us upside down. Things went flying and that was really fun and also nauseating after a while. The team had done an incredible job with the makeup. I had an eyepiece that made it look like my eye was full of broken blood vessels. They made it as comfortable as possible for me because I was hanging down through the windshield. That was so beautiful in that scene because there we were in the middle of the forest at two in the morning, saying goodbye to each other. It was kind of a magical evening, as horrific as it looked. It was a lot of fun to do. The team from The Sinner is some of the nicest people that I’ve ever worked with.

What’s it like playing someone who is dead? There are so many scenes where you come back to haunt Jamie.
There’s no right or wrong to play someone who’s dead because nobody can tell you that’s not the way it goes. It was fun and there were endless choices to how Nick might haunt him or come to him and why he would come to him. I think Nick is having a lot of fun with convincing Jamie that he is the Wolfman.

Were you disturbed by the subject matter at all?
Yeah, I was a bit. Whether it’s a drama or a comedy, whatever character you play kind of travels through your bloodstream, whether you like it or not. Whenever you’re taking a knife to Jamie’s wife’s throat, it doesn’t feel that fun. After a few takes, you want to be done with it. The moment with the baby, I was completely disturbed by. None of that feels great, you kind of want to get it over with. But if you take away the killing aspect of it, I actually found it very freeing to play a character that was done with bullsh–ting and wanting people to like him. That part didn’t feel disturbing at all and I was very grateful for that.

Why do you think people are so obsessed with shows that uncover hidden crimes or murder mysteries?
That’s a great question and I don’t know the answer to it but people certainly are obsessed with those types of shows. I guess people just want to know the answers to why people do things or how did they become a certain way. Were they born this way? Did their circumstances make them this way? Can they change? Can they be redeemed? What would it take to do some of these awful things? This show is not as much of a who done it but it’s more like why did they do it. I was a big fan of the show for the first two seasons and I actually begged Derek [Simonds], the creator, for the part. I liked the show because it’s super cinematic and smart. But people are certainly fascinated with The Sinner and with others like it.
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It is very addicting. Every time an episodes ends I want to watch the next one right away and find out what happened. If you could haunt anyone ever, who would you choose and why?
I don’t know why but John Cassavetes just came into my head. I’d like to have been a fly on the wall. He’s dead now but if he was alive I would have just liked to follow him around and watch him work and try to learn from him. But I would also want to be around my loved ones to remain close to them.

How does your experience shooting The Sinner contrast from shooting something like The Mindy Project?
They are both such different styles and obviously different genres. They all strangely complement each other because something that you learned on The Mindy Project, you carry to the next job and hone that way of working. From the time I got to The Sinner, the things you learned before moves and shakes and turns into a different thing. These jobs kind of keep connecting with theories on acting. I keep stuff with me like something that Mindy [Kaling] would teach me or any of the actors and make sure that I carry that to the next project. But they are very, very different genres but they all do complement each other. There is a looseness on The Mindy Project. Those actors were incredibly talented and very brilliant with improvisation and trying different things. That taught me a lot and I carry that to every job.

Is there any way viewers are going to be able to predict the ending of Season 3?
I don’t know, I didn’t. It’s really hats off to the writers of the show and Derek, the creator, because I don’t think you will predict the ending. I think creators of The Sinner have done it once again. They keep everybody on their toes. I hope you like the rest of the season.

(This interview has been edited and condensed.)

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The Sinner airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on Showcase.

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