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The Transformation Of Joe Mantegna From Childhood To Criminal Minds

It is likely that Joe Mantegna is most well-known today as David Rossi, the head of CBS' long-running drama "Criminal Minds." Mantegna appeared on the series for over 270 episodes, joining the show as a replacement for original lead Mandy Patinkin (via IMDb). Even for those unfamiliar with Mantegna's body of work, it was still clear from the beginning that he brought the right mix of gravitas and style to Rossi. 

"Criminal Minds" reached new levels of success with Mantegna taking over Patinkin's duties — not to mention that Mantegna also directed multiple episodes — but "Criminal Minds" was scrapped by its network CBS in 2020 after 15 seasons. Fan demand for a return, however, has been high, and there has already been talk of a reboot of sorts, bringing back some of the original cast. Mantegna has commented himself, saying the project is "getting close" (via Backstage Chicago with Lisa Fielding). 

Rossi and the disturbing world of "Criminal Minds" are not things Mantegna or his fans seem ready to leave behind, which is made all the more impressive by Mantegna's unusual yet passionate journey into acting — and, eventually, "Criminal Minds."

Joe Mantegna the actor was once Joe Mantegna the musician

Born in Chicago, Joe Mantegna gained an early appreciation for acting, even appearing in hospital shows to entertain others when he was just eight and sick with rheumatic fever (via Chicago Tribune). He did, however, also gain an appreciation for music, eventually playing as a bassist for a band called The Apocryphals. The band began as a school project on British culture and the Beatles, but Mantegna and his bandmates decided to make a real go of it and ended up touring through the '60s with some pretty famous people, including future members of the band Chicago (per Chicago Reader). 

The story goes that Mantegna's band built up a name in Chicago, playing covers at places like the Cheetah and the Holiday Ballroom. According to the Chicago Reader, The Apocryphals also opened for major acts like Paul Revere & the Raiders and Neil Diamond. Mantegna continued to play with the band until 1969 when acting became the bigger draw as he attended the Goodman School of Drama at DePaul.

Joe Mantegna began in theater

Joe Mantegna moved on from the music scene after he landed his first professional acting gig in the 1969 Chicago production of the classic musical "Hair," keeping in line with his rock and roll past (via Chicago Tribune). Mantegna spent years mastering his craft and becoming a signature name in Chicago theater, and eventually made his Broadway debut in "Working" in 1978 (via Playbill). 

At this time, Mantegna was moving beyond just acting, also co-writing and performing in "Bleacher Bums," a highly-praised 1977 stage production based around being a fan of the Chicago Cubs, which Mantegna notably is (via Chicago Tribune). The play went on to tour around Chicago, and it was eventually adapted into a TV movie in 2001 (via IMDb).

Mantegna went on to win theater's top honor by taking home a Tony Award in 1984 for his work in "Glengarry Glen Ross," a David Mamet-written play that would also later be adapted to film, albeit far more successfully (via Broadway World). Mantegna portrayed ace salesman Ricky Roma, later played by Al Pacino in the 1992 film. 

David Mamet made Joe Mantegna a movie star

After years in theater, Joe Mantegna began appearing in various supporting roles in movies, even working in "Xanadu," a role that was cut from the final movie (via AV Club). It wasn't until David Mamet cast Mantegna in the critically-acclaimed "House of Games," released in 1987, that people really began to notice Mantegna as a screen presence. Their collaboration led to far more recognizable roles for the actor, in everything from 1994's "Airheads" to 1990's "The Godfather: Part III." 

Mantegna has explained that immediately after Mamet informed him that Al Pacino was taking his role as Ricky Roma in the "Glengarry Glen Ross" film, Mamet showed Mantegna two scripts and promised to never make either without him. One of those scripts was for "House of Games" (via The Hollywood Reporter). 

The partnership between Mantegna and Mamet has continued through the years. Works like 1991's "Homicide" and 2000's "Lakeboat" — which Mantegna actually directed from Mamet's work — didn't quite reach the heights of success that "House of Games" did, but the movie also arguably introduced friends Mamet and Mantegna to new roles as go-to director and leading man, respectively.

Joe Mantegna moved into television

The '90s marked a big time for Joe Mantegna as he continued landing strong supporting roles in critical hits like 1993's "Searching for Bobby Fischer." Some of his meatiest roles, though, were in television projects — two of his major roles in the '90s both landed him Emmy nominations.

Mantegna was no stranger to television over the years, even making an appearance in the '80s reboot of "The Twilight Zone," but his most major work on the small screen came with "The Last Don" in 1997. The television miniseries was a major event, as it acted as an adaptation to Mario Puzo's novel by the same name. Excitement came not just from the fact that the writer of "The Godfather" was back, but that he was back with something that sounded "Godfather" to its core, with the series following an aging Mafia boss (Danny Aiello) and his struggles between business and family. Mantegna earned an Emmy nomination for his role as Pippi De Lena (via IMDb). 

Mantegna dabbled in TV further with both a "Last Don" sequel in 1998 and a "Rat Pack" TV movie in 1998, where he played none other than Dean Martin. Mantegna was nominated for an Emmy yet again for that performance (via Emmys). 

Criminal Minds was a dream role for Joe Mantegna

Joe Mantegna was introduced in "Criminal Minds" as David Rossi, replacement leader to Mandy Patinkin's Jason Gideon, in Season 3, Episode 6. He fit into the world perfectly for fans, leading "Criminal Minds" for far more years than Patinkin and arguably becoming more synonymous with the show. Mantegna was almost 60 when he joined "Criminal Minds," making it not-exactly a breakout gig for the actor, but rather a well-deserved victory for an artist who worked himself to the bone playing music, writing, directing, performing on stage, and more. 

Mantegna has called his "Criminal Minds" role a "dream come true," saying it was enjoyable work that provided him more time with family and away from the business. "I spent many years traveling to do movies or theater, or whatever it was. So, to find something with legs that would keep me local and give me some sort of a life was real attractive to me," he told Collider

Fans still don't know if they have seen the last of David Rossi, but considering his nonstop creative output, it will be long time before we see the last of Joe Mantegna.