At the age of 66, actor Joe Mantegna shows no signs of slowing down. So though he is being honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce on March 28, he admits to wondering where the time went. “These kinds of things always get your attention,” Mantegna says with a laugh. “When I signed up for Medicare, it was like, ‘Oh my goodness, how did I get here?’ Sometimes those years do pass on by and the next thing you know you blink and I’ve realized I’ve been in this business for 40-plus years.”
In the course of those years, Mantegna has proven one of our most reliable character actors, often specializing in roles on one side of the law. Take his current TV gigs as an example: While he stars as FBI agent David Rossi on the CBS hit “Criminal Minds,” he has also been voicing mobster Fat Tony on “The Simpsons” for 23 years.
Mantegna began his career in the theater in his native Chicago, where he met his longtime collaborator David Mamet. He credits the theater experience with helping to keep long-running roles fresh.
“I know what it’s like to do a role for a long time, and where you’re actually even saying the same exact lines every night for multiple years,” he notes. “In a way, this is even more freeing because you’re getting different materials. You’re able to explore the character every time you do a new episode. So as long as you feel a connection to the character and to the people and the project, it’s really not so daunting.”
Because he only has a 10-week hiatus from shooting “Criminal Minds,” it’s been some time since Mantegna has done a full run of a play. But he still finds ways to perform; this will mark his 10th year hosting the National Memorial Day Concert in Washington, D.C. He will be co-hosting with fellow Chicagoan Gary Sinise for a live audience of 300,000. “That’s as close to theater as anything else I’ve ever done, in a sense of performing and being responsible for an audience that large.”
In addition, July will see the third season of Outdoor Channel’s “Midway USA’s Gun Stories,” which Mantegna produces and hosts. The show has been picked up for two more seasons.
“We get to look at things in an educational way, that traces the history of firearms,” he says. “It’s taken us to very fascinating places and I’ve met interesting people.”
There are other projects Mantegna says he’s managed to “squeeze in” on his last hiatus that will soon see the light of day, including roles in the films “Compulsion,” opposite Heather Graham, and a part in “The Bronx Bull,” which chronicles the life of boxer Jake LaMotta, made infamous by Robert De Niro in the film “Raging Bull.”
Says Mantegna: “These little projects are interesting to me when they come up because there will be some fairly nice featured roles where I get to play some characters that are a far feel from David Rossi and ‘Criminal Minds.’ And that interests me a lot.”
What: The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s 93rd Annual Installation & Awards Luncheon
Where: W Hollywood Hotel
When: 11:30 a.m. reception, lunch and ceremony at noon, March 28