A Candid Conversation with CRIMINAL MINDS Star Joe Mantegna

Perfectly timed to coincide with North America’s celebration of Veterans Day (or as it’s known North of the 49th parallel as Remembrance Day), tonight’s episode of CRIMINAL MINDS shines a spotlight on the plight of homeless veterans. A plight near and dear to star Joe Mantegna’s heart as evidence by the fact that the actor recently took some time out of his busy shooting schedule to preview the episode, dish on what it was like reuniting with Meshach Taylor who guests on the episode as Rossi’s former Marine Sergeant Harrison Scott and the secret to CRIMINAL MINDS astounding success. See for yourself, after the jump.

You’ve now been working on CRIMINAL MINDS for 118 episodes and counting. As an actor who has made a name for himself by jumping from countless movie and television roles throughout his varied career, what keeps you excited to go into work after so many episodes spent playing the same character?
Joe Mantegna: Well, you know it’s funny, probably about fifteen years ago my dear friend Dennis Franz — who arguably had one of the greatest careers in television anyone has ever had — said to me, “You know Joe, I know you and someday you’re going to wind up on a TV series one day and you’re going to love it because you, like me, like the idea of ensemble acting.” Dennis and I worked together for five years at Chicago’s Organic Theatre Company — as did Meshach Taylor who is in tonight’s episode — and he was right. I’ve had a wonderful career, but a lot of it has involved travel that takes me away from my family, so I always knew in the back of my head it would one day be nice to gravitate towards something with stability where I could stay at home, yet still enjoy what I do for a living and work with a group of people that I like on a continual basis. And that’s what I’ve been able to find with CRIMINAL MINDS. We’re on season eight and I’m as happy as I possibly can be. I’m working with people I like to go to work with, I get to explore this character I enjoy and still have a hiatus that affords me the opportunity to do movies.

Based on the fact that you’re doing press for this episode, it’s clear you have a very personal connection to tonight’s episode. What is it “The Fallen” that has you so excited to talk about it?
This episode was an opportunity to explore a realm of CRIMINAL MINDS that I wanted to which was the military background of Rossi’s character and actually do something that makes a positive statement and bring an awareness to an important subject that is the homelessness of veterans. Also, to get to work with an actor that I’ve known for that long and have such a tremendous amount of respect for and who knocks it out of the park with this episode that people will discover when they see it.

What was it like reuniting with Meshach Taylor?
It was a dream come true. This episodes was one I had kind been advocating the produces for a couple of seasons now, kind of laying the groundwork and it was always my intention if we did do the episode that Meshach Taylor was the ideal actor to play the part. He was the perfect. The history that we relate to in the episode exactly mirrors our excellent history as friends. I’ve known him for over forty years and the characters in the episodes are two guys that span that kind of time.

Jeanne Tripplehorn joines the cast after Paget Brewester’s somewhat public exit. What has that been like adjusting to yet another new cast member joining the BAU?
Well I think it has been a pretty smooth transition. We all love Paget Brewster and miss having her around but this is a choice she made. She wanted to move on which she did and Jeanne came in for I’m sure were many of the same reasons I did. It’s a great opportunity to work with an ensemble of actors and lead a fairly reasonably life as a result of it and she obviously has got the right credentials to fit right into this ensemble. What I like about what we do on our show is that we tend to kind of bring a character in gradually. In other words, we let them feel their way around because it is a period of adjustment. Our fans are smart. We’re not just like soap opera that says, “And now the role of so and so is being played by so and so.” One character left, a new character comes in, you mourn the loss of one yet embrace the new and see what the person is about. And as each episode progresses we’ll see more about what the character of Alex Blake is about. She’s fitting in very well and I don’t think we missed a beat.

Eight season in, CRIMINAL MINDS is as strong as ever. What do you think the secret to its success is?
I don’t know if you can nail it down to one thing. It’s like asking why The Beatles became a hit when a million other bands didn’t. It’s a combination of all kinds of things. It’s a good idea that gets realized in a way that resonates with people. It’s like baking a cake, you try and use the best ingredients: A great cast, dedicated producers and fantastic crew where everyone feels like that they’re doing something special. It’s not just mindless entertainment. I think we think of it as a thinking person’s program and we have a tremendous amount of respect for it because it really is the FBI. It’s not like we’re some fictitious organization, we represent a very high level of the FBI and I think to honor them we try to make the show as carefully, professionally and entertaining as possible. Which I think the public responds to.

CRIMINAL MINDS airs Wednesday at 9PM on CBS (Tuesdays at 10PM on CTV in Canada) and stars Thomas Gibson, Shemar Moore, Joe Mantegna, Matthew Gray Gubler, Kersten Vangsness, Paget Brewster and A.J. Cook. Catch up on past episodes you may have missed for free online at clicktowatch.tv