One-On-One with Joe Mantegna

T32-09-COL-One-on-OneWe all recognize award-winning actor Joe Mantegna as ‘David Rossi’ on Criminal Minds, and we’ve heard him as the voice of ‘Fat Tony’ for the past 23 years on The Simpsons. He has taken home a Tony for his role on stage in Glengarry Glen Ross, an Emmy for co-writing Bleacher Bums on PBS, and earned a Golden Globe nomination for his incredible portrayal of Dean Martin in The Rat Pack. Additionally his career has allowed him to work with some of the most successful women in show biz.

Mantegna’s charmed life also includes co-owning a local restaurant with his wife Arlene here in Burbank and his involvement in numerous charities including the Gary Sinise Foundation, Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center, Easter Seals Chicago, and Actors for Autism.

He is currently working on a Ray Bradbury documentary and, because of his skeet shooting hobby growing up, he is also hosting/co-producing Gun Stories for the Outdoor Channel. Mantegna will be directing an upcoming episode of Criminal Minds in the near future and was recently named the Spokesperson for the Campaign to Build the National Museum of the United States Army.

What made you decide to become an actor and move to L.A.?

During high school in Chicago I had seen the movie West Side Story 10 times. When I tried out for the play I got up on that stage, did my audition, and I just knew in my heart this is what I wanted to do. I joined the Organic Theatre Company and my last year there I co-wrote a play called Bleacher Bums about the fans of the Chicago Cubs. During the summer of 1977 we were asked to tour the country with some of our plays including UCLA. My wife and I thought, “Wow, this place is like paradiso” because the weather was so great. Plus it reminded me so much of when I visit relatives in Southern Italy.

Why do you think Criminal Minds is so popular?

The writing and the chemistry; I think the characters are very well defined and the fact that we deal with the mentality of the criminals vs. just the evidence. And the show is hugely supported in places like Germany and France!

What was it like working with Cher in Suspect?

She’s a real “person.” When she wanted to go pick up her boyfriend at the airport she changed, then came back to the set to do my close up wearing black stretch pants, a yellow bumblebee shirt, her real hair — which was out to here — and she’s got metal chains wrapped around her legs! She looked like a whole other human being! I love her to death.

Madonna in Speed-the-Plow and Body of Evidence?

Let’s put it this way, if we hadn’t gotten along as well as we did doing [the play] Speed-the-Plow there was no way I could have been in that movie. It was hard because it was that 500-pound-gorilla-in-the-room type of thing. I’m not blaming her for it; the icon becomes bigger than the person. She was always down to earth with me; we’d go out to lunch sometimes. She didn’t buy into the whole entourage thing.

Michelle Pfeiffer in Up Close & Personal?

For someone whose business is being a big time Hollywood actress she’s very low-key and quiet. I found that interesting and refreshing. Acting doesn’t define who she is.

What’s it like to be part of the Godfather legacy?

A good friend once told me, “You’re in the Italian Star Wars!” (Laughs) To work with Coppola, Pacino, Diane Keaton … That was also the first time Andy Garcia and I met and he has since become a dear friend; we live blocks from each other and our kids went to school together.

Was playing Dean Martin in The Rat Pack intimidating?

It was like a dream come true and scary because whenever you play a real person there are these expectations. I did a lot of homework and really worked hard on it. I was happy with the result.

How about working with Stephen King in Thinner?

That movie was pretty cool because Stephen King did a cameo and also because we actually shot at the locations it was written for in all these areas in Maine. He is a brilliant writer and didn’t pull any punches.

Other highlights for you in your career?

Certainly House of Games, one of the roles I did for David Mamet. Working for Woody Allen, the two roles I did for Barry Levinson in Bugsy and Liberty Heights. Playing Dean Martin and Searching for Bobby Fischer were special along with several little films that didn’t receive a lot of play, but I loved the characters, like Elvis & Anabelle with Blake Lively and Mary Steenburgen.

In House of Games you were so naughty!

Yea, I was naughty alright! Rogers and Ebert wound up picking it as one of the 10 Best Films of the 1980s. It’s one of those things where you think you know what’s going on and then, all of the sudden, you really don’t. There’s a part at the end of the movie when I say to her [Lindsay Crouse], “What did you expect? I told you what I do for a living.” It’s like, “What do you want? You want me to carry your books? This is what I do. Sorry.” (Smiles)

Why does Woody Allen like you so much?

I know he saw me on Broadway a few times and I think he liked what he saw. He’s a guy of few words. He doesn’t rehearse, doesn’t talk to the actors; he basically says “action” and “cut.” If he doesn’t like you, you just get fired. I think as a filmmaker he’s pretty obviously one of our great ones.

What was it like to receive your star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame? And next to your boyhood hero!

It gave me an opportunity to have writer/director David Mamet, who’s had a big impact on my career, speak on my behalf. The other was General Willie Williams, the Director of the Marines. I am a big supporter of the military and I wanted them to be recognized. And I chose to be next to Errol Flynn, it was no coincidence; that was like a dream!

Switching gears, why do you choose to give your time to autism charities?

My oldest daughter has autism so I decided to use my position as an actor to put some focus on this.

And military causes?

My dear friend [the late] Charlie Durning got me involved with the Memorial Day Concert and it had such an impact on me. Gary Sinise and I now co-host it with a 300,000 person live audience while broadcasting on PBS. It’s like Woodstock!

You are also the National Spokesperson for the Campaign to Build the National Museum of the United States Army.

General Creighton Abrams asked me if I would be and I said absolutely. We are trying to build the largest military museum in the world to honor the greatest army to ever exist on planet Earth.

And finally, you brought a bit of Chicago to L.A. with your restaurant!

Yes, sir. Taste Chicago is really my wife’s dream. It’s where you can genuinely get the kind of food we love in Chicago.

Taste Chicago is located at 603 N. Hollywood Way in Burbank. Call (818) 563-1800.

For Nat Museum of the U.S. Army info, visit armyhistory.org. Visit joemantegna.com.

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