Very few actors get a chance to connect with a character for as long as Joe Mantegna has had to portray Rossi on Criminal Minds. Now, the show is gearing up for its 15th and final season and Mantegna has a chance to look back at the role that he has owned for a decade plus.
CBS Local’s Matt Weiss spoke to Mantegna about what the role of Rossi means to him, some of his favorite moments on the show and the impact Criminal Minds has had over the years.
MW: Joe, good morning, how are you?
JM: I’m good Matt, thanks very much.
MW: Happy to hear it as we draw closer to the end of a 15-year saga for Criminal Minds. Can you talk about what this show has meant to you over the last decade and a half?
JM: Well, it’s been a real pleasure to do. First of all, you go into shows like these and you have no idea how long it’s going to go. Obviously this is unique going on 15 seasons. That puts us in rarefied air, 325 episodes who would have thunk it? So for me it’s been great.
Before this show I was kind of looking for something, I’ve done a lot traveling in my career and with my family, I have two daughters, I have a child with Autism, so we always travel together, the entire family, my wife, my two daughters, it was great, a lot of adventures, we traveled all over the world. As they got older, it became a little bit more difficult for me to have that almost gypsy lifestyle, where you never know where the next jobs is going to take you, maybe it won’t be convenient to take everybody because the girls are getting older, it’s a little harder to adapt to the change and they were in school and stuff.
It was a blessing to be able to go home every night for me, I did 13 seasons of the show, to be able to have a job that, basically the studio is 10 minutes from my house and the locations were never that far away. It was a real blessing on top of doing a real successful show, so it all worked out really well. I’ll miss all of that and I feel really blessed to have this opportunity to do it.
MW: That’s awesome that you’re able to have that stable life where you could work from home and still have this incredible career on this really remarkable show.
MW: As you look back now, what are some of your personal favorite Rossi moments?
JM: Wow, there’s been a lot of them. Certainly, we did an arc, a three-episode arc that dealt with a character portrayed by Meshach Taylor, who is one of my dearest friends in life, I mean I’m the god-father of his children, he’s the god-father of mine. We started our careers together back in the late 60s with the play Hair. He’s very close to my wife and I and I’m close to his whole family. It was kind of my idea to bring him in because he’s a wonderful actor, but he had mostly done sitcoms in his career, to let him do some dramatic acting on the show.
He portrayed my commanding officer in Vietnam, a story line my assistant Dan Ramm, who’s been with me going on something like 20 years now co-wrote. The initial episode that dealt with the story line dealt with my commanding officer from Vietnam, I find homeless on the streets of Los Angeles. That led to a whole arc of shows which ultimately led to when the actor Meshach became diagnosed with cancer and became terminally ill it dealt with that.
Ultimately that character passed away on the show and we did a funeral for that character and for me it was special because it was more than just a character dying it was one of my best friends in life dying. I’ll forever be grateful that we were able to do those episodes. Not only did I think they were very poignant episodes because it dealt with my character’s career in the Marine Corps in Vietnam and all that, but also to do that with a dear close friend of mine. That’s one I’ll remember forever. I feel very blessed that I was able to do that.
MW: Wow, that’s amazing and a very nice touching tribute to your friend as well.
MW: So moving to this week now as we kick off season 15, the BAU team is investigating a person who has some ties into Rossi’s past. So what do you have in store for viewers as we delve into someone entangled with Rossi’s past?
JM: Yeah, we never really resolved the fact that Rossi was involved with this character, The Chameleon, because he was so in depth in changing who he was and getting involved with these women and things like that. It was really an incredible nemesis because we ended the season with that guy being in the position where he could’ve taken me out, but he didn’t, he kind of toyed with me, I started to even doubt myself. The character starts to think, maybe I’m getting too old, maybe I’ve been in this game too long, maybe it’s time to step aside.
It takes my new old wife Gayle O’Grady who portrays Crystal, we learn I remarried my 3rd ex-wife, who is now part of the show. She’s the one who kind of instills that courage in me again, like hey you still got game, you know, let’s get back at this, which I do. So over these 10 episodes we’ll see that Rossi is hell bent on trying to get to the bottom of this this guy who’s turned out to be his major nemesis, probably over the entire 15 seasons of the show. Then some other story lines are resolved and dealing with the other characters of the show as well. Hopefully giving a very satisfying ending to our fans who have been watching the show for so many years.
MW: I actually spoke with Erica Messer and that was a big point she touched on as well. Giving this show a proper send off and really being able to tie everything off with a nice bow…
JM: Yeah that’s a vital importance, because I think we owe it to our fans. People have been following this show, like you said, for 15 years. Some people grew up with this show, started watching it as a teenager and now have children of their own. I think we certainly owe it to them, in that way I feel responsibility, so we shouldn’t go out with a whimper. We should be going out as satisfying as possible. We want people to say say they’re glad they invested all that time watching this show.
MW: And last question here, you touched on it a little bit there, to those fans who have been watching for 15 years, what message do you have for them?
JM: First of all, I’m grateful and appreciative for their support. I get a lot of fan mail from people that say this show in essence changed their life, some lessons were learned from the show, that in some instances literally saved the person’s life. We did that, in other words, purposely, there were parts of our show that were very informative, that were very educational.
I know it may sound a little strange, Criminal Minds, what can that do? But just like some of these shows that alert you to what to be on the lookout for, what to watch out for, I think we did a good job in portraying situations. We have a huge female fan base; I think a lot of women appreciated that our show dealt with the psyche of these people who are hell bent on doing us harm. If there is something to be learned sometime in some of these episodes, it’s perhaps how to keep yourself out of a situation or what to do if a situation arises. I think that’s a good thing and hopefully we’ve done that and I know we’ve done that in some instances because I can tell that from the fan mail. So I thank the people for watching and hopefully down the line I can do something else as rewarding for them as it is for me.
MW: I’m sure you will. Thank you so much Joe, it’s been a pleasure watching you all these years and all the best with whatever you move onto next.
JM: Thanks very much, thank you for that.
Catch Joe Mantegna as the incomparable Rossi while you can Wednesday nights at 9:00PM ET/PT, only on CBS. Check your local listings for more information.