At Home With Joe Mantegna
The Criminal Minds actor shares what home life means to him.
You're now in your fifth year of playing FBI Supervisory Special Agent David Rossi on Criminal Minds. What's new with your character this season?
We did one episode that was particularly meaningful to me because it was an idea I'd pitched to the producers. It dealt with my character's background in the U.S. military, and was co-written by Danny Ramm, my assistant. In this episode, the unit is examining a crime on Skid Row in Los Angeles, and my eye catches the eye of a person in a homeless shelter. I realize this is a guy who was one of my commanders in Vietnam, and the show looks at the issue of homelessness veterans. I'm a spokesperson for an organization called New Directions at a VA Hospital in Los Angeles that takes in veterans with problems and gives support to them. We're bringing back hundreds of thousands of troops from the Middle East, and after 10 years of war, there's going to be a lot of problems. It's great when we can use the power of television to examine such issues.
Criminal Minds is now in its eighth season. What makes the show different from other crime shows, and why do audiences love it so much?
The show can be grim and dark, but we don't talk down to our audience. We show that there are people who do horrific crimes, but we also have these great people in the FBI who can catch them. It's not a fantasy show. This kind of stuff does happen. I like to think we put a lot of effort into it, and the show makes a difference. You can learn something from it. You see us break these crimes down into minute detail, and if you pay attention, you can learn how not to put yourself in dangerous situations. People have always been fascinated by crime shows. When they're done well, even going back to the Godfather movies, it's a peek into a netherworld. I'm very happy doing what I do on Criminal Minds. Not many shows have the legs to go beyond eight years.
Have you ever been the victim of a crime?
My wife (Arlene) and I had our apartment broken into when we lived in Chicago years ago. It was a dicey neighborhood, and I thank God it was nothing like the horrific crimes on our show. Anybody can be a victim. I grew up in an urban existence and I've taught my children that you can't go around with blinders on.
What do you do when the show is on hiatus?
I have a secondary show on the Outdoor Channel called Gun Stories, which traces the history of historic firearms. I enjoy doing it because it's historical, and I get to go out in the field and shoot some of the guns. This year, I also did two films,: The Bronx Bull, based on the life of Jake LaMotta as a teenager and as a boxer, and Compulsion, a thriller with Heather Graham. I did all three things in 10 weeks. I also just did the book-on-tape of my friend Tony Bennett's Life Is A Gift: The Zen of Bennett. I'm blessed. I love what I do.
How important is it for an actor to have a grounded family life?
Family life is why I sought series work. Prior to that, I was traveling around the world with my family, doing movies and other things. The kids had to adapt to what Daddy was doing. But there comes a time, especially with my older daughter who has autism, when kids need more routine. They need to maintain friendships. You can set up a home wherever you happen to be, but it became apparent to me that maybe I needed to change my lifestyle. Doing series work was the golden opportunity to come home every night 10 months of the year.
Where did you grow up, and what was your home like?
I never lived in a house as a kid. My father was disabled, and my mother supported the family. I grew up in Chicago, and we always lived on the second floor of an apartment. We moved from apartment to apartment when I was a kid. The first house I ever bought in 1986 was the first house I'd ever lived in. My wife would ask, "Why are you walking on tiptoes?" and I realized there was no one living downstairs. I don't take having a house for granted.
So owning a house has special meaning for you.
There's something I find comforting about single-family homes. Most of my investments are in real estate because I equate a house with stability. Many of my uncles were in the building trades, and I picked things up. So I've fixed up some of my houses as the contractor.
Tell us about the first house you ever bought.
We moved from Chicago to Los Angeles in 1978. A dear friend had a house in Studio City, and offered us his garage "guest room" for a month. We got our first apartment in Studio City, and things were going well. So we found a little 1950s house in Studio City, about 1,200 square feet. Both our children grew up in that home, and we still have it. We rent it out now.
Where do you live now, and what do you like about the neighborhood?
Our second house is in Toluca Lake, and is very different from the one in Studio City. Our current home is a big English Tudor, 7,400 square feet, and we just moved back in after a two-year renovation. When we bought this place, I found a local moving company, and a friend rode in the van with the driver. When they pulled up to this house, the driver asked my friend, "Did he win the lottery?" We also bought a third place in the Hollywood Hills that's ultra-modern with a view of the canyon that's our getaway house.
Over the years, we've stayed in the San Fernando Valley. I like this area because it seems very homey. Toluca Lake has a small- town feel in the middle of Los Angeles. There are little shops that are family-owned. We don't have a sidewalk. This is the neighborhood where Bob Hope and Bing Crosby lived.
How would you characterize your home?
The decor here is very comfortable. My wife is from Chicago, too, and I'm Ricky to her Lucy. We had 1,000 kids show up for Halloween. She decorated it with all these moving things. We've been married 37 years now. Friends gravitate toward our home as the clubhouse. We have Christmas parties, Fourth of July parties, St. Patrick's Day parties. It's a lived-in home, but has grandeur to it because my wife has good taste.
What's your favorite room in the house?
We redid the kitchen because my wife's an incredible cook. We got state-of-the-art stoves, dishwasher, ice machine. It's cutting edge with mode Italiano. That's my favorite room in the house because that's where everybody gathers. We can sit down at our kitchen table and have dinner for 14.
So home life is about staying close to those you love.
I grew up in a tight-knit family where everyone got together at holidays. Besides your children, your friends become very close, and I try to keep it that way. Home is about taking the gifts you've been given in life and leaving the world a little bit better because you were there.