The November, 2012 segment that got into his character, David Rossi’s, background as a Vietnam vet also shined a spotlight on the problems of homeless veterans — with Meshach Taylor guest starring as Rossi’s former Marine officer whom he finds living on the streets. Mantegna, who suggested the original, envisions a follow-up “that kind of shows what happened and how he has thrived, how he recovered from that situation, which will give hope to those in similar situations.”
He notes that Taylor “has been my dear friend for over 40 years. He’s the godfather of my daughter, I’m the godfather of his son. Our relationship in the episode mirrors the relationship we have in life.”
The episode also showcased the work of veterans’ organization New Directions in Los Angeles, which Mantegna was delighted to be able to do.
Right now, the brilliant and beloved actor is in Washington, D.C., getting ready for The National Memorial Day Concert, which he is cohosting with Gary Sinise for the 9th time. In fact, Mantegna has been a part of the annual event honoring the military’s fallen since 2002.
“I had absolutely no idea it would become such a part of my life,” he tells us. “It started when Charles Durning, a dear friend, asked me if I’d come in and read a segment for the concert. Just the experience of doing it changed my life. It had such an impact on me I said, ‘Look, I’d be glad to participate as long as you’d like me to.” His third year, after former host Ossie David passed away, he was asked to continue on as host. “On the fourth year I decided I’d like to bring someone in on this who feels as passionate about it as I do.” That was Sinise, who brought along his Lieutenant Dan Band. “Afterwards, he said, ‘Joe, this is so important, I’d like to be involved as long as I can be.”
And so it is.
This year’s concert features Ed Harris, “American Idol” winner Candice Glover, “The Voice’s” Chris Mann, Broadway stars Katherine Jenkins and Alfie Boe, Colin Powell and many more. There will be a special segment in tribute to Korean War service members on the 60th anniversary of that conflict. And, Mantegna reports, there will be a segment on the difficult subject of the high incidence of suicide among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We’ll highlight that — there are some important things that will also be helpful, hopefully, for people watching the show. There will be highlighting of ways to get assistance for those going through these troubles associated with their time in the military.”
Hosting such segments is difficult, he acknowledges. “That whole thing of being in front of a live audience of 300,000 people, let alone the television audience. It’s pretty awesome, an awesome responsibility.”
Once the concert is through, he’s taking his family to visit his cousin, who owns a resort in Southern Italy. Then he’ll be shooting episodes of his antique firearms show for the Outdoor Channel in Italy and Germany, then on to Monte Carlo and London to do “Criminal Minds” promotion work.
As for “Minds” future — Mantegna is confident that the show will not only get an early pickup next year, but that his popular CBS drama will go right on through both Season 9 and Season 10.
He saw this year’s slower renewal coming, he says, “just because of the sheer volume of things that had to be worked on. All of our contracts — all the actors and the showrunners’ contracts — were up.” But now they’re all tucked in again with two-year deals.
“After that, we’ll see,” he says.
Mantegna never thought that the wrangling would lead to the series’ demise. “I’ve been in this business long enough to know the value of certain things. In this instance, even if CBS had for some reason said, ‘We don’t see you on our schedule,’ ABC would have picked us up in a heartbeat because we’re carried by ABC internationally.”
The nice guy actor always seems to be lending his celebrity to veterans’ and autism causes (one of his daughters is autistic) when he isn’t working. He says that’s partly because the older he gets, the more he feels “I want to give something back, to leave something behind. I read a quote that the noblest thing you can do is leave the planet in better shape than when you go there, and that’s what I think about. Of course there are people doing infinitely more than I am in any of the areas I’m involved in. I feel so grateful for the opportunity to be able to do something.”
It’s going to be hectic time for Gary Sinise next week in Washington, D.C., when the “CSI: NY” star headlines back-to-back events. On the 26th, he and his Lt. Dan Band will perform as part of the Rolling Thunder XXV motorcycle run festivities, by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
“Then I’ll leave right from there, race over and rehearse for the Memorial Day Concert the next day,” he tells us. “This will be my seventh year in a row doing the National Memorial Day Concert.” Sinise cohosts the concert Sunday, May 27 with Joe Mantegna. Sharing the bill are an eclectic lineup including Colin Powell, Dennis Franz, Ellen Burstyn, Natalie Cole, Selma Blair, Trace Adkins and “American Idol” finalist — and maybe winner — Jessica Sanchez. (Check your local PBS station for air times.)
Sinise has a full calendar of Lt. Dan Band dates this summer — before he goes back to work on “CSI: NY.” Talk about an eleventh hour reprieve. Up until last weekend, Sinise didn’t know whether the show would continue into a ninth season or be cancelled. Last Friday night’s season finale, in which his Mac Taylor character had a near-death experience, was designed to work either as a season-ender that opens up new territory for stories next year — or as goodbye.
“I thought the writers did a good job with that,” he says. Since it was a “reflective episode, there were a lot of wonderful scenes between my character and all the principle characters on the show” — including Mac’s new girlfriend, Megan Dodds.
Sinise had made it clear he wanted to go on with “CSI: NY,” and that the writers feel they have a lot more to say. Viewers can look forward to Mac opening up his personal life, now that he has finally been able to let go of the anguish of losing his wife in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Asked whether he’ll be involved in endorsing or campaigning on behalf of any candidate this election year, Sinise says, “I stay away from all that.” Though he is known to have strong political views privately, he takes a nonpartisan posture in deference to his ongoing, tireless charitable activities. His Gary Sinise Foundation to benefit military service members in 2010 is the latest.
“We’re out there all the time,” he notes. “We have to remember, each and every day should be Memorial Day when it comes to supporting and acknowledging those who fight for our freedom.”