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Joe Mantegna Biography


Home > Actors > M > Mantegna, Joe > Biography


Birth Name: Joe Mantegna
Born: 11/13/1947
Birth Place: Chicago, Illinois, USA


Joseph Anthony Mantegna was born on Nov. 13, 1947 and raised on Chicago's South Side. An avid baseball player, young Mantegna never considered acting until he caught word of auditions for a school production of "West Side Story," which happened to be his favorite movie. He and a fellow baseball player auditioned on a dare and even though he failed to land a part, Mantegna was captivated by the idea of being a performer. He enrolled in the school's drama department and finally made his way on stage, first in school plays and later as bass player in several rock bands.

After graduating from Morton East High School in 1965, Mantegna enrolled in the Goodman Theater School at DePaul University. In 1969, he got his first acting paychecks for playing Berger in a touring production of the musical "Hair." He also portrayed Judas in "Jesus Christ Superstar" before joining the newly formed Organic Theatre Company - which went on to become one of the most innovative and influential companies of the 1970s Chicago theatre scene. With the Organic, Mantegna toured internationally and worked alongside actor Dennis Franz and playwright David Mamet, who would tap Mantegna's talent in decades to come. In 1976, Mantegna had an idea for a play based on the regulars that inhabit Wrigley Field on game days - thus, "Bleacher Bums" was born, first produced by the Organic Theater in 1976. The following year Mantegna landed a high-profile role at the Goodman Theater in "Working," a musical adaptation of the Studs Terkel book that was taken to Broadway in 1978.

In 1979, PBS picked up "Bleacher Bums" and Mantegna enjoyed the honor of appearing in his own work on public television. Over the next few years, he quickly attained "working actor" status following an appearance as The King's right hand man Joe Esposito in ABC's TV film "Elvis" (1979) starring Kurt Russell. For the next several years, he appeared steadily on sitcoms and enjoyed a recurring role as Juan One on the off-kilter comedy "Soap" (ABC, 1977-1981).

But it was Mantegna's stage work that still met with the most acclaim. In 1983, he returned to the Goodman where he originated the role of Ricky Roma in David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross." The play debuted on Broadway the following year and Mantegna's unforgettable performance as the supremely slick real estate broker was honored with a Tony Award. Film offers began rolling in, and though "The Money Pit" (1986) and "Three Amigos" (1986) may not have been worthy of the award-winning stage actor, a starring role in Mamet's 1987 feature "House of Games" showed film audiences the steady, captivating presence he had been bringing to the stage for nearly two decades.

The role brought in more dramatic film work for Mantegna, but all too often he was cast as heavies or gangsters - such as in "Things Change" (1988) and "The Godfather: Part III" (1990). Woody Allen cast him as a down-to-earth jazz musician in "Alice" (1990) before Mamet gave him a chance to shine again in "Homicide" (1991), which sealed his reputation as a pre-eminent interpreter of Mamet's work.

While David Mamet provided three-dimensional characters for Mantegna, Hollywood seemingly did not know how best to utilize the versatile actor's vast talents, and throughout the 1990s he appeared in artless fair like "Airheads" (1994) and "Forget Paris" (1995), before landing meatier - albeit Mafioso - work in the CBS miniseries "Mario Puzo's The Last Don" (1997), for which he earned an Emmy nomination. He had also begun to have some fun with his reputation when he took on the recurring voice role of mob boss Anthony "Fat Tony" D'Amico on "The Simpsons." Television began to emerge as the medium willing to offer Mantegna a wider range of characters, so in 1998, he earned Emmy and Golden Globe nods for his portrayal of Dean Martin in the HBO biopic, "The Rat Pack." Mantegna assumed the role of Boston-based private investigator "Spenser" in a series of mysteries by Robert Parker including "Small Vices" (A&E, 1999), "Thin Air" (2000) and "Walking Shadow" (2001). That same year Mantegna's directorial debut "Lakeboat," written by buddy Mamet, premiered at the L.A. Film Festival, and in 2002 he was delighted when his 1976 play "Bleacher Bums" was again turned into a TV movie by Showtime.

After living out of suitcases for two decades, Mantegna decided to seriously explore the option of a stable TV role that would keep him close to home with his wife and two daughters. Accordingly, he finally accepted CBS president Les Moonves' longstanding offer to join the network. His first starring role in a weekly series was the short-lived Supreme Court drama, "First Monday" (2002), where he played the decisive (and bearded) Justice Joseph Novelli. The following year, he took on the role of Will Girardi, Chief of Police and father of a realistically appealing family on the surprise hit "Joan of Arcadia" (CBS, 2003-05). The critical favorite was unceremoniously cancelled after only two seasons, but Mantegna had already made enough of an impact to land on the TV Guide list of "50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time" in the #40 spot.

In 2005, Mantegna returned to the big screen in the ensemble film "Nine Lives" which was favored at Sundance and landed on Ebert and Roeper's Top Ten list for the year. Mantegna continued to surprise with his acting bag of tricks and shone again in USA's miniseries "The Starter Wife," earning an Emmy nomination for his role as a conniving movie producer. After reprising "Fat Tony" in the summer smash "The Simpsons Movie" (2007), Mantegna signed on to join the fifth season of the crime drama "Criminal Minds," playing a retired FBI agent and filling a void created by the unexpected departure of the show's star Mandy Patinkin earlier in the year. Never one to sit idle, Mantegna reunited with Mamet to co-star in the martial arts drama, "Redbelt" (2008).