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Joe Mantegna On His Relationship With Peter Falk And Being A TV Detective - Exclusive

When you've been in the acting business as long as Joe Mantegna has, you're bound to cross paths with any number of quality collaborators. In Mantegna's case, this is especially true given the high-profile projects in which he's been involved, from the third installment of one of the most esteemed movie series in history with The Godfather to the longest-running TV series of all time in The Simpsons. Both in front of and behind the camera, the actor has worked with greats like Francis Ford Coppola, Al Pacino, and David Mamet, just to name a few.

Still, there are artistic partnerships that stick with you, creating bonds that transcend the call of "cut" or the rolling of the credits. For Mantegna, there are a few of these. In a recent interview with Looper, he told us about a special moment he had while shooting Criminal Minds with his good friend Meshach Taylor. "There have been many," he said when we asked him to highlight someone with whom he particularly enjoyed working. One name, however, stood out — and perhaps not coincidentally, it's another actor who made a name for himself as a crime-solver on TV.

Joe Mantegna's special bond with Peter Falk

According to Mantegna, one of his closest professional-relationships-turned-friendships was with veteran of stage and screen Peter Falk. Falk, perhaps best known for portraying a homicide detective on the classic TV show Columbo, crossed paths with Mantegna when the two were part of the cast of Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross. "I did a year on Broadway with the play, and then we toured for six months, and Peter Falk did the entire tour with me for six months, playing the Shelly Levene character to my Ricky Roma character," recalls Mantegna. "During that six-month tour, he and I got to be very, very close. And that friendship stayed that way right up until his death."

Mantegna relates that Falk's Columbo-driven fame never bothered the actor, as it sometimes can with other actors closely associated with a particular role. "What I loved about him is, a lot of actors when they had done a role that was identifiable, they kind of almost resented it," remembers Mantegna. "I know Carroll O'Connor was always bugged by the fact that everybody thought he was Archie Bunker. And I get it, because his politics were the exact opposite. Whereas Peter, he had that personality where... we would do the play, and people would wait at the stage door, and they'd see him, these old ladies going, 'Oh Lieutenant, Lieutenant.' But Peter got it. He embraced it, he realized, 'That's what their point of reference is to me as Columbo, and it's okay.'"

Unfortunately, Falk passed away in 2011, but Mantegna's love for his friend transcended mortal boundaries, leading him to spearhead a posthumous tribute. "He never got a star in the walk of fame," says Mantegna. "I mean, they offered it to him back in the early '70s, but Peter was one of those guys. He almost was a lot like Columbo. He never did what you're supposed to. So, when he passed away, I took it upon myself to get him his star on the walk of fame. So posthumously he got that star, and I requested him be allowed it, since there was an empty space next to mine. So that was kind of that relationship that he and I had, and the fact that now forever our stars are next to each other in Hollywood, I'm glad that was able to happen."

Just one more thing... about playing a detective on TV

One more thing Falk and Mantegna had in common is that they both played detectives of a sort on television — Falk as Columbo, and Mantegna as part of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit on Criminal Minds. In the process of researching for the role, Mantegna had to learn a lot about what makes real profilers tick. "First of all, I was impressed at how close we were to the real deal in what we're doing," Mantegna says. "And they appreciate it, and that was very important to me. At the end of the day, we tried to honor them and the aspect of that being true to what they have to do. That's what they really appreciated about our show is that we took it seriously and we tried to represent in a pretty honest way what they really do."

So, what was his take on the FBI's real-world BAU agents? "I think there must be one thing that must run through them all: desire to perform service," Mantegna muses. "In other words, in a sense of what defines me as a person is doing service to others, whether you're a soldier, a policeman, a fireman, a doctor, an FBI agent, that's in your DNA. In a way I'm surprised at how diverse the people are who all share that same thing... That's kind of what makes it interesting, so you can actually meet somebody the eight of us, you put us all in a room, we're different types, we look differently, we're different ages, we're different nationalities, we're different everything. But yet there's that one common thread of trying to do what you think is the right thing. Trying to be one of the good guys in a world of bad guys."