“You have a hell of a commander in Jim Cragg,” said actor Joe Mantegna who hosted the grand reopening and naming ceremony at the local American Legion.
“This is a beautiful city in a beautiful state in a beautiful country,” Mantegna told the about 500 people gathered Saturday in front of the remodeled building on La Cruz Drive.
“In 2000, I was doing a film outside of Paris at Roubaix. As I was being driven, there was a French flag and an United States flag flying.” Mantegna asked the driver to stop and “we walked into this tiny little cemetery in France.
“I see the graves of all these Americans who gave up their lives,” Mantegna said, “That’s why I’m here [with the vets], because the tradition goes on and the sacrifice goes on.
“Let me paraphrase a saying,” he said. “Freedom ain’t free and some have to pay a higher price than others.”
CTN spoke to Mantegna after the ceremony. Since 2006, he has co-hosted the National Memorial Day Concert on the Mall in Washington D.C. with actor Gary Sinise. When asked why he agreed to emcee this event, he said, “They asked. The military is my hot button. Why wouldn’t I come if I were asked?”
Mantegna didn’t serve in Vietnam, but that was all about the lottery. Many may remember that all young men were drafted based on numbers drawn corresponding to their birthday.
“I guess I’m not doing that,” Mantegna remembers thinking, when his birthday gave him a high number. He said he and Gary Sinise have spoken about those who had served, and as they got older, felt they should honor them.
“It’s our calling to serve in other ways. Some of my friends didn’t come back from Vietnam,” he said. “I’m doing this for them.”
Mantegna feels strongly that all Americans have a debt to the military. “We live in a country with the freedom to voice our thoughts,” he said, and praised the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and “the military protects our rights. They defend the Constitution.”
He made his acting debut in a 1969 Chicago production of Hair and debuted in Working on Broadway in 1978.
Mantegna started working with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet and earned a Tony Award and a Joseph Jefferson Award for playing Richard Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross.
Mantegna, who has been in more than 45 films, was asked if there was a character or role he preferred and said, “I don’t have a favorite role.”
When asked about working with Mamet, “Anything with Mamet is a favorite,” he said.
His film career includes House of Games (1987) and Things Change (1988), both written by Mamet. He and his Things Change co-star Don Ameche received the Best Actor Award at the Venice Film Festival.
“I feel blessed,” Mantegna said. “I enjoy everything I’ve done.”
From 1991 to present, he has voiced the part of Fat Tony on The Simpsons. In 2007-2020, he starred in the CBS television show Criminal Minds, playing David Rossi.
A revival of Criminal Minds, called Criminal Minds: Evolution, picked up where the first series left off. According to Paramount+, after premiering on Thanksgiving Day in 2022, the series has become one of the streamer’s top five originals and has driven the overall Criminal Minds franchise to an increase of nearly six times in month-over-month viewership.
In 2011, Mantegna received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Mantegna was asked if he ever rides in parades. CTN thought this friendly, intelligent and pleasant person, might be the perfect Grand Marshall for the Palisades 4th of July parade.
“Yes,” the actor said, noting that he had been in the Huntington Beach Parade and that his co-honorary marshal had been a veteran, who had given him the Tuskegee Airmen jacket he was wearing.