Joe Mantegna hasn't been with “Criminal Minds” for its entire run, but he surely has been there for most of it.
Mandy Patinkin was the show's top-billed star when it began in 2005, and other regulars have come and gone ... including Jeanne Tripplehorn, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Paget Brewster (who came and went and came back) and founding cast members Shemar Moore and Thomas Gibson. However, original co-stars Matthew Gray Gubler, A.J. Cook and Kirsten Vangsness and later additions Aisha Tyler, Adam Rodriguez and Daniel Henney remain with Mantegna and Brewster as the internationally popular CBS crime drama begins its 15th and final season Wednesday.
The concluding round won't last long – slated to end Feb. 19, it's bookended by two-hour telecasts – but Mantegna feels it wraps up the saga of his David Rossi and the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit well, especially having had enough advance notice to prepare a definitive conclusion. Production ended in April, and sincere “Glengarry Glen Ross” Tony Award winner Mantegna says, “I've been in this business for 50 years, but this is a unique situation. Outside of 'The Simpsons,' which I've been doing sporadically for almost 30 years (as the voice of Fat Tony), this is the one place I've been going to for the longest period of time.
“Usually, something ends and you're on to something else ... so there's been that experience of, 'Wow, I'm not actually getting up every day and going to that studio or to a location and seeing the same people.' I've been very blessed to have the opportunity to do it as long as I have, and the last eight of us (in the core cast) have been very close and have kept up a text thread with each other about what's going on and when we're all going to get together again. Some very strong friendships were made, and that includes people on the crew. Anything that lasts this long will have that kind of impact, and it has for me.”
While he's open to new projects coming his way, Mantegna is staying active. Continuing as the host of Outdoor Channel's “Gun Stories,” he directed the play “I'm Not a Comedian ... I'm Lenny Bruce”, which recently extended its engagement in Mantegna's native Chicago after Los Angeles and off-Broadway runs. He also plans to return to co-host the National Memorial Day Concert on PBS in May, but for now, he's as eager as anyone to watch the rest of “Criminal Minds” play out.
“I think we gave it a fitting ending,” Mantegna reflects. “It was important to all of us to do justice to the show and not go out with a whimper.”