Mantegna Puts His Mind to 'Criminal' Matters
Mandy Patinkin's unexpected departure from "Criminal Minds" created an opening for a new team leader. Building on his two years as the father on "Joan of Arcadia," stage and screen veteran Mantegna gets back in the series game by joining the typically dark CBS crime drama as its third season continues Wednesday, Oct. 31.
"It's a great group of people," Mantegna says. "I actually knew half the crew because they came over from 'Joan,' so this is familiar to me in many ways." The actor admits he didn't watch "Criminal Minds" much before signing up for it, "but I'm not really a follower of any series. Movies and television are like busman's holidays for me. I tend to watch more news and sports and things on Discovery Channel and Food Network."
Having gotten up to speed by watching the past seasons of "Criminal Minds" on DVD, Mantegna plays David Rossi, an FBI veteran who helped establish the Behavioral Analysis Unit. He returns after having built a second career as an author and lecturer.
"This is a guy who's financially solid," Mantegna explains, "so some of the mystery is the underlying reason he's coming back. He explains it initially as just wanting to help, which is fine, but we may find out there are other motivations as well."
Indeed, "Criminal Minds" may be a procedural, but it still allows for development of its regular characters. "They are spending a little more time getting into the personalities and stories of the individual members of the team," Mantegna says.
"I've really liked the stuff they've done with Shemar Moore's character, in terms of his having gone through abuse as a child, and Thomas Gibson's character has had domestic problems. The writing staff is really dedicated, and for me, that's where it starts."
Another lure was the heritage Chicago native Mantegna shares with the show's creator, Edward Allen Bernero, also an executive producer. "He's an ex-Chicago cop of Italian descent, so you couldn't get any closer in terms of my being able to relate to somebody," Mantegna muses.
Harvey Keitel and Geena Davis were among others floated as possible replacements for Patinkin. Mantegna says, "I think [the producers] realized, 'OK, what's the best plan of action? Do we go with a woman? Is it an older or younger character?' They had to go through all those permutations."
In a nice irony, Mantegna is now adjacent to a close friend -- Gary Sinise, whose "CSI: NY" follows "Criminal Minds" in CBS' Wednesday lineup. They've also co-hosted PBS' telecast of the National Memorial Day Concert the past four years. "It's very serendipitous," Mantegna says of their new network kinship. "I couldn't be happier with that arrangement."
Also pleasing to Mantegna is the chance to represent law and order after such bad-guy stints as Joey Zasa in "The Godfather, Part III" and voicing Fat Tony on "The Simpsons."
"I said, 'I'd like you to make the character an Italian-American,' which they've done," says Mantegna, who won a Tony for "Glengarry Glen Ross" in 1984. "It gets mentioned here and there, part of it being that I like to level the scales a bit. I have no qualms about playing [mobsters], but given the opportunity to show it's just as common for an Italian-American to be the cop as to be the robber, I'll make that choice."