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Joe Mantegna On Criminal Minds, The Simpsons, And More - Exclusive Interview

When Criminal Minds wrapped up its run in February of 2020, it was more than the end of an era for one of procedural drama's most enduring titles. It also marked the conclusion of a remarkable 13-year effort for actor Joe Mantegna, whose portrayal of FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit head David Rossi anchored the show through most of its existence. Already a TV and film veteran with a long list of credits under his belt, Mantegna provided a sturdy, centralizing presence on Criminal Minds, and while his character's long-foreshadowed retirement didn't materialize, the way things wrapped up for Rossi and the BAU team left fans feeling satisfied.

With Criminal Minds now fading in the rearview, we sat down with Mantegna to discuss his time on the show and what he learned about being an FBI agent through his work on TV. We also touched on his other long-running gig — as Springfield-based gangster Fat Tony on The Simpsons — and the relationships, both on screen and off, that he's found most profoundly affecting. 

Joe Mantegna's most memorable Criminal Minds moments

So, first things first, let's talk about Criminal Minds. It came to an end earlier this year. What's your perspective on it coming to a close after so long?

Well, it was bittersweet. There were a lot of different changes all during the course of the 13 years I was doing the show. But ultimately, it was just a wonderful experience, and I think everybody would agree to that, and especially the final eight of us, as it wound up being. The chemistry seemed really great — not that it wasn't before, but people do come and go and it changes things. But everybody was pretty much on the same page in the end, in the sense that there was not one of us that felt like "Okay, this is good, we're glad it's over, time to move onto something else." In a heartbeat, I think every one of us would have said, "Let's do season 16. Let's do it again."

So that's nice. And to this day, we stay in touch. We text almost daily. And it's always just the complete confluence of personalities that really worked. But I think on the other hand too, I think we were very grateful to have had the experience we did, because it's pretty rare to do 325 episodes of a show. That puts us in kind of a unique category.

So on one hand, you feel some regret, but on the other hand, you feel fortunate to have had the experiences as long as one did.

This might be hard given the length of time that you were actually on the show, but were there any particular moments that stick out to you as favorites that you're going to carry forward from the set of Criminal Minds?

Well, there were a few. I would say the two major ones would have been the opportunity to work with my daughter, my real daughter in real life, right in my very first season on the show, which was season 3. She had been an actress already and been working. The producers came to me and said, "We know who your daughter is, we've seen some of her work. There's this role that we think she'd be really good for if you don't mind her playing it." She was only 17 at the time, and it was to play a daughter of a hitman. And it was a kind of dark episode, and her character is somewhat dark.

I said, "Hey, no look, I'm very open about all that. If she wants to do it, if you approach her and you like her for the role, go for it." So she did it, and it was great to work with her on the show like that. Then what kind of completed that circle was that 10 years later, they came to me and said, "Okay, we've got this idea." That really was a wonderful episode, I felt it was one of our better episodes, because first of all the ending was very unlike many of the endings on these kind of shows. I don't know if you're familiar with the episode, but at the very end of the episode, she basically tells her father who was a hitman to kill the unsub, to kill the guy who kidnapped her. And she's going, "Kill him daddy, kill him, kill him." So it was very dark, and the guy winds up doing it. The network even gave us initially some heat about making an ending like that, where a guy basically murders somebody in front of us.

But it all made sense. It's what really would have happened in that situation. You don't kidnap the daughter of a hitman and expect to get away with it. So anyway, they thought, wouldn't it be interesting to see what happens to a character like that 10 years later? So they brought her character back and did a whole arc with her, and you see that she has obviously been influenced by her father's lifestyle, and the father has actually cleaned up his act, but she's kind of taken the reins. So to be able to do that in my occupation — cross over to part of my real life that way — is great.

And the other incident would have been the fact there was a whole arc of shows, three shows actually, that dealt with the character who was my sergeant in Vietnam, played by Meshach Taylor, who in real life was one of my dearest and closest friends from 1969 on. He's the guy that first told me about Criminal Minds. When the first show first went on the air, its first season, he said, "Man, Joe, you got to catch this new show. I really think it's great." He was really into it. I'm not a real big TV watcher. I said, "Oh, that's great Shach, I'm glad you like the show." But I didn't watch it, I didn't watch anything. I just don't watch a lot of television.

But then when I got on the show I thought, wow, wouldn't it be great, because he's such a wonderful actor, and most of his past career was done in comedy mostly, and nobody knew the serious acting jobs he had. I thought, let me see if I can come up with a scenario where he can do an episode of the show, because he loves the show so much. Well, it turned out it worked out that way. My assistant actually was one of the co-writers, and I created an episode based on the fact that he was my former commanding officer in Vietnam, and I find him homeless on the streets of L.A. so it opens up that whole ball of wax about homeless veterans, and I run into the guy who saved my life in Vietnam.

So we did that episode, and it was wonderful. It was so wonderful to be able to do that, but the following year, he contracted cancer. And we thought it would be good to do a follow-up episode, so we did. And he was getting treatment all during the time we shot that second episode, and I directed that episode, one of my episodes I directed, that second episode with Meshach. A lot of scenes from that episode parallel him and I in life. There are scenes in which we're walking arm-in-arm, I've got my arm around his shoulders and stuff as if he was my officer friend from Vietnam, with people not knowing he's also one of my closest friends in life, and godfather to my kids, I'm godfather to his kids.

And then, at the end of that year, shortly thereafter, he passed away. I was fortunate enough to have Criminal Minds allow me to finish that saga, so we did a third episode, and I also directed that one, and it dealt with the death of that character. That episode actually opens with me getting the news that my sergeant has passed away, and then we do a whole Marine funeral. I flew two real Marine generals in from Washington DC to be part of the funeral. I used real Vietnam veterans as if it was our squad from Vietnam, and they attended the funeral. So there was a lot of life imitating art and art imitating life going on in that episode. Also, CBS allowed me to put a thing up at the end in memory of Meshach Taylor. One of the very last moments in the episode, you see the casket and we shot it at the veteran's cemetery in Westwood, and you see there's a little photo on the casket of our squad from Vietnam.

We had these young actors play us as young men in the flashbacks so they're in the photo, but you see my hand putting my hand on top of that photo on the casket. Whenever I see that episode I run across it, that's so meaningful for me, because I'm not saying goodbye just to that character, I'm saying goodbye to one of my closest friends in the world.

So those two things, the fact that working with my daughter on that one arc, and to be able to do the one with Meshach in that other arc out of the 325 episodes of Criminal Minds, those instances will of course resonate very strongly with me forever.

Joe Mantegna on bringing Criminal Minds to a close

How did you feel about where your character ended up? There was a lot of talk about retirement, and then at the end, the twist is that he's doesn't retire.

Yeah, that was a surprise to me, to tell you the truth. It's not unlike the episodes with Meshach — I don't like to interfere with the writers, where they're going to go with the stories. You don't run a show for 15 seasons if you have a weak writing staff. I think we were fortunate enough to have a very good staff, and so it was somewhat of a surprise to me where they went. Maybe in a way they were covering their bases in the sense of, who knows, maybe if the time ever comes and we want to revisit this, we've at least let everybody land in a situation where it's conceivable they're still able to do something. I don't know. I never really asked, because it was the final episode anyway.

But in a way, what I liked about all of that was that I think it was important not to have a finale finale. It's not like Mary Tyler Moore, where they all hugged and bounced around the room, and this is it, you shut the door. We represented a real organization, and I've been to Quantico numerous times and visited the real people who do that job, and I've become friends with some of them. Knowing that there is a real Behavioral Analysis Unit of the FBI and the fact that they are, as you and I speak right now, doing something in Quantico in terms of protecting our country.

So I think the point that was trying to be made with that ending was, the beat goes on. It might be a little different, but in other words, night's going to fall, everybody's going to go to bed, but in the morning some of these people are going to have to go on and keep doing this job. And as it turned out I was one of them. Where it would go from there, who knows? Maybe six months down the line, Rossi decides you know what, maybe it is time to hang it up. I don't know.

But I thought the ending was pretty good. It was kind of seen through Kirsten's character's eyes. and it gave everybody enough wiggle room that anything could happen, and people could use their imaginations as to where it went from there.

So, there's been no talk then of anything continuing, or special one-offs, or anything like that, yet?

No, but I will say this: It's been a pleasant surprise to see how much it has lived on. You may have caught it, there was that whole thing on TikTok in the L.A. Times about how this one person started doing this one thing, and all of a sudden it went viral and all of a sudden there were 15 million people. It was crazy. We knew all along that we have a very huge international following and we do very well in syndication, especially in terms of streaming right from the very beginning — we're still number eight on every streaming platform. In other words, we noted this show has resonated well over a long period of time.

Plus, the fact that a lot of these other shows are able to spin off and have successful spinoffs — they tried twice with our show, and it didn't work. I'm not trying to say we were better than these other shows, because they're incredibly talented people involved, and everything else, but sometimes there's a certain chemistry or mixture of things that lend itself the thing, and anything else is not quite... you know what I'm saying? If I knew the answer to it, I would solve it.

So there's something to that. It's like the Beatles became the Beatles and to try to dissect it and try to say what caused that to be the success it was, you can only go so far. The rest is the way things fell into place. So I don't know. Let's put it this way: If there was an instance where something else could go on, I think it would be probably warmly received by those of us who enjoy doing it, but you don't count on that. Be happy for what's already happening, and on to whatever's next.

What Joe Mantegna learned on Criminal Minds, and what you can learn from it, too

You mentioned having visited the people who actually do this job in your life, can you talk a bit more about the research that went into playing this role and playing someone who does that type of job?

Yeah, for me it was very important that there was as much research as possible, because it's one thing as an actor when you're playing roles that are... I mean, there are different gradations of that. In other words, let's say you're doing a role like I played in one of the first movies I did, a thing called Compromising Positions. I played a dentist, so obviously it was important for me to find out as much as I can of what it was like to be a dentist, because there were scenes where I'm actually doing stuff, and I didn't want to have every dentist in the world look at me and say, "What the hell? That's not the way you clean a tooth." So you do that kind of research.

But beyond that, the personality of character is all on me. Research doesn't come in there. Then, you go to another extreme when I had to play Dean Martin in the movie The Rat Pack — that was much more daunting, because this is a character, it's not just a dentist. This is Dean Martin, a character many human beings on the planet think they know who he is, what he looks like, what he sounds like, all that. So my research was so much more in-depth on something like that, because it's not that you want to totally impersonate this person, but you want to leave them with a semblance when they see it that okay, for the next 90 minutes or whatever, I buy that you are that guy.

In terms of David Rossi, it's somewhere in between that. In other words, much of it was me, but that was intentional. I requested that we make him an Italian-American. I learned this lesson from Don Bellisario, who was a producer on the first series I did, which was called First Monday and was about the Supreme Court, years ago. Don suggested to me when I played that character, he said pick a name and character and personality not too far from yourself, because the difference between doing a movie and a TV series is this thing goes on and on and on. You may live with it, as it turned out I lived with it for 13 years.

So I think that was good advice, so I purposely made him an Italian-American, and gave him qualities that I appreciate, whether it was food and music and just my personality in general of always being the wiseass at times. So that was important, but then the occupational aspect of it, again was very important, because it's the real deal, these people really exist. So for me, it was paramount that I go to Quantico, and luckily we had the opportunity to do that, because one of our staff writers from day one was — at the time — still active with the FBI and actually retired during the run of the show.

And so he arranged for that to happen, so I was able to go there and spend time, and really... first of all, I was impressed at how close we were to the real deal in what we're doing. And they appreciate it, and I will say that was very important to me. In other words, I think they understood that it's still a TV show, we have to create this drama, but at the end of the day we tried to honor them and be true to what they have to do. Of course, it's condensed, concise and we have 44 minutes of excitement, while they have things that may last over months and years. But I got from them that they really appreciated about our show that we took it seriously and we tried to represent in a pretty honest way what they really do. I remember meeting some of the women who did the kind of job Kirsten did on the show playing a technical analyst, and a lot of them would say, "Ever since watching the show, we dress a little more casual. A little more extravagant." Because they realized, why do I have to be always so buttoned up because we're behind a computer all day? So I thought that was kind of fun.

So anyway, bottom line is, research was very important to me, because you never want to feel that you're just faking it. It's one thing if you're doing a movie about playing a supernatural hero and just inventing s***, but it's something else when you're portraying somebody who could be watching the TV and saying, "Wait a minute, that's crazy, I do that job and that would never happen." So you try to avoid as much of that as possible.

There's obviously the technical side of the job that you had to learn about, but was there anything you learned about the type of people, when we talk about personality, that get into this line of work, that you used in the show?

Yeah, that's a good question, and that's a difficult question because to tell you the truth, I'm not so sure about that. I think there must be one kind of thing that must run through them all in the sense of, it's the same thing almost as being in the military. You have to have that one kind of grain of not ambition, but desire to perform service. In other words, I want to be in the service industry. I want to in essence wear a uniform, even if it's not a uniform. What defines me as a person is doing service to those others, whether you're a soldier, a policeman, a fireman, a doctor, or an FBI agent, that's in your DNA almost in a way.

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: You can actually meet 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.

When the show first started, the analogy that Ed Bernero, who was our initial showrunner, made, and which was why they chose to round table... because in the real Quantico, they do have a room like that. That's pretty close to the real deal, but their table is a very long rectangular one, because they have to accommodate a lot more agents at any given time. Ours is a little round table, and for Ed, he wanted to make the analogy that it was like King Arthur knights of the round table. We are the knights, and the unsubs are the dragons. And thank God we have knights in the world to confront the dragons. Too bad we have dragons, but that's life.

Just to wrap up on this show, you guys obviously have, as you said, a dedicated fanbase, but what's something that fans might not know about making Criminal Minds that you think they should?

First of all, I was always amazed by how big our fanbase was in terms of women. Females make up a big part of our fanbase, and a lot of the fan mail and the interest. More than once, I've had people contact me because their daughters wanted to go into this line of work, and in a couple instances — I know definitely two where literally I spoke to them when they were kids out of high school and today they're FBI agents. I used to think about that. What is it about, especially the women that are so taken by this show? Because a lot of people would think it's so graphic and it's so this and so that, and scary. And I've always defended that aspect of the show. I know others have felt like, "You're going too far, it's too creepy." And my attitude is no, we really can't go too far, because the real people go that far and beyond. For us to cut corners, and for us to sugarcoat it, is a disservice to what these men and women really do.

We put it in your face, but the point being this really happens, and this is what they have to deal with, and that could be shocking. You don't have to look at it, and it maybe freaks you out, but that's why when people say to me, "Hey, does it bother you when you do those scenes," I go, "Hell no." When they say cut, that person there laying with the arrow in his eye gets up and pulls it out and gets a sandwich. Ask the real agent if that bothers him.

But to get back to your question about that thing, especially with the women, I think part of it is, it's about the psyche of these people. And I think women for the most part, and understandably so, find that very interesting and fascinating because it's something they want to be on top of, be aware of. So it's got a defensive principle — like these are people out there in the world, and what can I do to educate and protect myself?

And what I kind of in retrospect also felt is that major aspects of our show were very educational. I always point to one example, and that was in an episode in which the unsub was a car park, he was one of those guys that parks your car. Matthew Gubler, his character would often be the guy that put two and two together quicker than the rest of us. There was a scene in the episode in which he goes, "Oh wait a minute; I think I know what happened." And then they were showing flashbacks of each thing he said. He says, "It's the valet. What happened is, she gave him the car, he took the car, he punched the button for home on her navigation system, all of a sudden he knows where she lives."

She's got a garage door opener on her visor. He takes it, he's got a device he can copy her garage door opener. So now he knows where she lives, and he has a way to open her garage. And he goes, and he says, "Most people who have a home, with a garage attached to the house, they don't lock the door between the house and the garage, because they know the garage door is closed." So in that one-minute speech, I know watching it myself I thought to myself, "Well, f***, I'm not going to label home for my home on my navigation system, I'm not going to leave the thing on the visor, and I'm always going to lock that door." I've gotten letters from people who literally have said, "I want to thank you all because watching your show ultimately saved my life because of dot, dot, dot, dot." And they'll go into detail, even the episode that taught them something.

So that maybe is not something that comes first to people's minds as to why they like Criminal Minds or why it was so successful, but I think that's kind of an offshoot of it, and in a way a beneficial offshoot of it. Some people say it's dark, it's grim, I have to look away. And a lot of the women would tape it and not watch it in primetime at night, but they'll watch it, they're real huge fans, and will watch it in the daylight. I get it.

Joe Mantegna finds Fat Tony on The Simpsons

Alright, shifting gears slightly, the other TV show that you've been on for a long time is The Simpsons, voicing Fat Tony. What is it about that character on that show that keeps you coming back? You very famously said that no one else can play Fat Tony, right?

Well, I feel that way in general about anything I do in acting. In other words, I've had instances where I've been in a movie and they'll say, "Oh s***, we need something with Joe's hand grabbing the doorknob," and they'll call for the stand-in. And I'll say, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. No, no, I'll do it." They say, "No, no, it's all right, it's just your hand." They said, "Nobody will know." I say, "Yeah, I'll know. If I see the movie and I see this f***ing hand going there and it ain't my hand and it's supposed to be my hand, I'm going to know that's not my hand." So why do that? I understand if it's impossible, but even if it's one word, if that's the character I'm playing, that's what I'm going to do. So there's that aspect of Fat Tony.

When they first came to me, I don't doubt that it came probably out of the fact that Godfather III had opened, which ironically is going to open again I see now this Christmas, the recut 30-year version that Coppola's just done, which is kind of amazing, I'm looking forward to seeing what that's going to be like. It had just opened in that December of 1990, and so now it was February of '91 I think when it came to play Fat Tony. And I thought, I get it, they created this character, and since I played Joey Zasa, I played the big mean villain in probably most high-profile part of a trilogy of movies ever made, I get it, why they thought maybe that would be fun for me to play the character.

So going into it, getting there that first day — and you've got to recall, this was only the third season of The Simpsons. So they were still recording in the basement of Fox with little microphones, there's a ping-pong table — they were not the juggernaut that they became. So I'm down there and I'm thinking, "Okay, nobody's here to really tell me exactly what to do with this character." Which is fine. But my one thing was, I thought to myself, I don't want it to be a reboot of Joey Zasa. In other words I didn't want to create that this character is an offshoot of that character. That would just be a mistake.

So what I did is, I have a dear uncle, my Uncle Willy, my mother's brother. My father died when I was only 23 years old, so my Uncle Willy kind of became a surrogate dad for me for the rest of his life — he lived into his 90s. At this point in his life, he was probably in his early 70s. He had throat cancer at one time, and so he talked like this, that was his voice. And he and I were so close that I thought to myself, you know what, it might be fun to use Uncle Willy's voice as my voice for this character. So when I first got to my first lines of Fat Tony and I had to say whatever I had to say in that first episode, I just started talking like this. Nobody said stop. So I just did it, thinking okay, we'll see. Anybody who knew me well or knew my family or my relatives, they'd know instantly that I was doing Willy.

But then after the episode was made and aired, I thought that was it. I thought it would be a one-off deal, but they came back to me and said, "Hey, you know what, we kind of liked the character, would you consider doing it again?" Probably that's when I first said that thing, "Hey, yeah, if you like the character I'll do it as often as you want me to do it, because I had a good time." Again, I started watching the show and thought this is actually really smartly written. I love that it's satirical, and all the aspects of it. It was smart, and it was more than watching a cartoon, like a kid cartoon.

So that really was the genesis of it. It really hasn't changed. What I like about the whole organization is it's very true to its roots. This year because of the COVID we don't do these group read-throughs like we normally do, but you go in, you do a big read-through in a big tape room, at a big table. There are guests there, and Matt Groening is right there, and he hasn't changed a bit in the whole amount of time; he's still that guy. And many of the writers and the staff, some of them were kids when the thing started, or fans and became part of the organization. So they've been true to themselves. They latched onto a formula and it's working. And they've kept the quality of it up I feel, and I'm happy to do it. I'm happy to be part of it.

You've done that, you've done some voice work in film, What are the big challenges, or things you enjoy, when it comes to doing voice work versus acting where you're actually appearing on screen?

Well, I won't concentrate on the lack of challenges — I don't have to dress up, I don't have to put on a costume, I don't have to do makeup when I do those jobs. I always think of the people on The Simpsons who are the regulars on that show, and I think they've got the best career in the world. They can do it at home. I've literally done episodes here in this house. This is the house I have on the ocean. Because of the COVID thing, they sent a guy here with a truckload of sound equipment and we set it up in my closet upstairs, and I knocked out a couple episodes, and then they packed it all up and took it away. I thought, I can't do that in Criminal Minds or any other kind of on-camera thing.

So that aspect of voice-over work is one of the easier parts, or more fortuitous parts. As to the challenges, I don't know. I've done a lot of books on tape, but I still do them on occasion. I've been doing that for over 30 years. So I mean, to me, one's voice, it's one of the tools in the tool bag as an actor. You've got your voice, you've got your body, and that's basically it. I always feel like a script is the source material, and your job as an actor is to translate it. In other words, this man or woman has written this material, now your job is to translate it in a way that the person watching it gets it, and get it in the spirit of the way that person wrote it. And taking it from the written form to the audio form or the visual form or a combination of both.

So on voiceover work, it's obviously all audio. But you find yourself doing a lot of the same stuff you would do as if you were on camera. I mean, when I'm doing Fat Tony and I'm at the mic, if there was a camera on me, I would be... not that I'm trying to be Fat Tony, but obviously whatever emotion I'm trying to bring to it, is affecting me as a person, as an actor as well. So that's all. I don't think it's anything more or less than that. I think sometimes people try to make more out of something that doesn't need to be. So in a sense, you just do it, you perform it, you just do it for a mic, and you do it if you're on camera, you're doing it for a camera, and if you're on stage. I come from a theater background, so whether I'm on a stage or in front of a microphone, or in front of a camera lens, to me it's all basically the same deal. It's just a variation of how you do it.

Joe Mantegna's special relationship with Peter Falk

You mentioned your daughter and Meshach Taylor as people who you liked working with. Is there anyone else over the course of your career who you particularly enjoyed bouncing off of as a scene partner, acting-wise?

There have been many. One in particular is Peter Falk. And we're talking about, that goes into my theater background. The thing that really changed my career was in 1984 when I did the play Glengarry Glen Ross on Broadway, the original production. I was fortunate enough to win a Tony Award, the show won a Pulitzer Prize, so those next few years certainly changed my career and my life as well. I had been banging around as an actor for about 15 years prior to that, but that was the big, definitive move. 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 this Shelley Levene character to my Ricky Roma character.

And so 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. I'd go to his house, hang out with him, my wife and I were close to him and his wife, and he was just — first of all he's just a brilliant actor. What I loved about him is, a lot of actors when they had a character, like him with Columbo that they had done a role that was identifiable, they kind of almost resented it. 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. So people would say, "Hey Archie!" He'd be like, "Ooh." I get it. 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, and there'd be these old ladies going, "Oh Lieutenant, Lieutenant." But Peter got it. In other words, his attitude was, he embraced it, he realized that's what their point of reference is to me as Columbo, and it's okay. At least they came, they saw the play, and hopefully they liked that too.

And he did such other brilliant work at so many other things. So I considered that a real gift that we had the friendship we did, which ultimately culminated when he passed. He never got a star in the walk of fame. 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. You have to follow through. You have to pick a day, have to say okay, I'll do it. He never did it. So when he passed away, I took it upon myself to get him his star on the walk of fame. His wife said, "He never wanted that." I said, "Shera, it doesn't matter he didn't want it. The public needs to have it. He deserves that." So I was able to kind of make that happen, so posthumously he got that star, and I requested him be allowed it, since there was an empty space next to mine.

And 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. I just feel good about that, because he was such a dear friend and such a great person. Just a huge talent.

But I can go on with different people. I mean, we'd be here for another hour. Saying oh yeah there's so and so and so and so. I've been blessed, I worked with a lot of great people. David Mamet has been like a guru to me over the years. It's a pretty long list of wonderful people that I've worked with, and people that have had an impact on my life.

Joe Mantegna looks to the future

So now Criminal Minds is over. Looking forward, are there any roles, types of roles, or genres or franchises or anything that you would really like to be a part of, or that you're sitting there thinking would be cool to do?

I've made my entire career based on the fact that I'm not a planner. There are people who are great at that, and I admire that. They could say, "You know what, here's what I'm going to do, I started this company where you develop this, and I got the rights to this book, and duh, duh, duh, duh." I've always been like, here I am. Let's see if there's a door that opens that I can walk through. Almost my entire career has been that. In other words, I put it out there. It's not like I sit by the telephone waiting for somebody to give me a job. But I go out, I've done a lot, like I said, I used to do a lot of theater. I was in a theater company for five years in Chicago. You just keep putting it out there, and it just turned out that way. Criminal Minds just worked out. If Mandy Patinkin wouldn't have left that show, I would have never got that call, and that wouldn't have been part of my life. I didn't seek that out, it just happened.

I have another show. I did a pilot for Amazon and it got picked up. We're supposed to start shooting it early next year. Everything is so fluid now because of the situation with COVID. But it's a wonderful series created by Jason Katims, who did Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, among other things. It's about three young adults on the autism spectrum. My oldest daughter is on the autism spectrum, Jason has a son on the autism spectrum. This deals with the lives of these three young adults, and these actors really are all on the spectrum. And the pilot I thought came off just wonderful. It's funny, it's touching, it's shocking, it's all those things, which those of us who are parents in that world would be able to say, mm-hmm, yep, that happens, that's right.

And so I'm looking forward to that, and I'm glad that opportunity came up. I got that script early on after Criminal Minds ended, and when I read it, it was one of those scripts, it's like when I first read the script to Searching for Bobby Fischer. You read the script and you go oh man, that's so nuts, this is special, this is something really special.

So I look forward to that, but when you say do I have this hidden thing that I'm looking to do or want to do? No. Like I said, I've been very blessed that way, that my career has been bouncing here and there and everywhere. I've done comedy, I've done drama, I've done movies, TV, stage, books on tape, directing. To try to say oh yes, this is what I want to do next, I feel like that would be disingenuous and very kind of like who the hell am I?

So, you don't have a Marvel superhero that you're going to start emailing Kevin Feige about?

No, no, no. This career has been very, very good to me. And the background I had growing up, for me to be in the position I'm in right now — we used to joke about it. I grew up in the west side of Chicago in Cicero, Illinois, and we used to joke that when you're from that background, you have two choices: You either became a cop or you became the guy that the cop was chasing. As a kid I always wanted to be a policeman, so I guess being in the FBI will suffice on TV.