No ordinary Joe
With one week’s notice, Joe Mantegna had a big pair of shoes to fill, writes Darren Devlyn
CRIMINAL Minds might specialise in plumbing the depths of the depraved, but it’s renowned as one of the happiest and most relaxed workplaces in TV.
No surprise then that there was panic on the Los Angeles set when star Mandy Patinkin decided, without consulting his castmates, that he simply wasn’t coming to work any more.
A.J. Cook, who plays Jennifer Jareau, says she wallowed in fear and disappointment when studio bosses told her the show was suddenly minus its leading man.
‘‘I was really sad. I loved Mandy, I loved working with him. He was a lot of fun — he would sing and dance. He was just . . . he was our show,’’ she says.
‘‘When we found out he wasn’t coming back, there was that panic— do I need to look for another job? And then there was anger and confusion. If he wasn’t going to be happy here, then by all means he needed to do whatever was going to make him happy.’’
Matthew Gray Gubler, who plays the greasy-haired, cardigan-wearing Spencer Reid, adds: ‘‘It was really out of nowhere when he (Patinkin) just didn’t show up.
‘‘I still can’t believe it. He really liked everybody, really liked the crew. The subject matter in the end I think wore him out. I think he felt ‘I don’t want to die on this TV show, looking at dismal dead prostitutes’. He wanted to die singing on Broadway.’’
Cue one of the most respected character actors in Hollywood, Joe Mantegna, who filled the Patinkin void in the role of veteran agent David Rossi.
Mantegna brings just the right amount of prickly irascibility to Rossi, founder of the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Unit.
He serves as a counterpoint to the other characters as they carry on their macabre duty.
‘‘It was pretty quick . . . less than a week,’’ Mantegna says of the casting process.
‘‘All of us in Hollywood knew there was this opening, that this role had been vacated.
‘‘I didn’t know much about it (show), then I immersed myself in it, got a crash course in it.
‘‘We use this analogy on the show a lot. We are the last of the white knights who are trying to slay the dragon. If this were medieval times, the serial killers are the embodiment of evil and we are the last defence.
‘‘We are the ultimate knights of the round table and go out and battle the dragons because somebody has to. I’m honoured to play one of these people.’’
Mantegna, 60, has been a soughtafter character actor for years in films such as The Godfather III, Bugsy and Baby’s Day Out, as well as TV series Joan of Arcadia and The Simpsons, in which he voices mafioso Fat Tony.
While Mantegna has never been a ‘‘celebrity star’’, peppering the tabloids with exploits, he has observed them up close.
‘‘I feel movie stars are not made. I think the public first and foremost decides who the real stars are. A lot of people have had a lot of publicity and they’re really well known, but I wouldn’t call them movie stars,’’ he says.
‘‘Some people are famous for being famous, yet work in the movies and make big money and have big roles. It escapes me, like they went from zero to 100 overnight . . . to me the true movie stars are the people 10 years from now, 50 years from now, we’ll look back on their work and say, ‘Wow, that guy was great’ — the Humphrey Bogarts, Robert Redfords, the Cagneys, Cary Grants,’’ he says.
‘‘I think the true stars are the ones that embody not just admirable qualities, but try to live a full and complete life with some class and grace as opposed to being this wild cannon going off and saying ‘Everybody get out of my way.’
‘‘What it takes to stay where I’m at, it takes consistency, dependability,’’ he volunteers. ‘‘When somebody hires me I always go in with the feeling they’ll get their money’s worth and more — within reason.
‘‘They’re not gonna have any trouble. Anybody meets me half way I’m going to meet them half way and then some.
‘‘There are a lot of temptations in this business, but you gotta keep at it and ride the waves, especially having children. I take that responsibility very strongly.’’
Mantegna and his wife, Arlene, have two daughters, Mia, 20, and Gina, 17. His older daughter is autistic.
‘‘It’s an ongoing problem. She’s got learning disabilities I’m going to have to deal with all her life. That’s the stuff that’s important. That’s the stuff that makes losing a part pale in comparison,’’ he says.
‘‘You learn patience, certainly (as a parent). You learn that not all things fall into a certain kind of pattern that can be predictable. You learn to accommodate. You learn nobody gets a free ride and that you do the best you can.
‘‘You know, I have a very public life. I’m in the wrong racket if I don’t want a public life. I’m not hiding it (his daughter’s autism).’’
Mantegna has become a public face of autism fund-raising and awareness campaigns in the US. Criminal Minds, M Channel 7, Wednesday, 8.30pm FBI drama Duration: 1 hour
(from left) Matthew Gray Gubler, Paget Brewster, Shemar Moore, Thomas Gibson, Joe Mantegna, A.J. Cook and Kirsten Vangsness.