Joe Mantegna has had emotional Memorial Days, but the next one could be unto itself.
The star of CBS’ “Criminal Minds” has been the longtime host — along with Gary Sinise (“CSI: NY”) — of PBS’ annual telecast of the National Memorial Day Concert, set this year for Sunday, May 29. Part of the program will be a 10th-anniversary commemoration of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and with last weekend’s elimination of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces, Mantegna anticipates the Washington, D.C.-based occasion being particularly significant.
“The first time I ever did the concert,” he tells Zap2it, “the segment I did was a tribute to firemen who lost sons in 9/11. I basically had to eulogize four firemen who were sons of four retired firemen sitting in front of me. On the screens next to me, they were showing the planes going into the World Trade Center, and the orchestra was playing Mozart’s Requiem. That was the moment I realized this event had taken on proportions I was not prepared for.”
Even after six years as host of the concert (five of those with Sinise), Mantegna still doesn’t know what to expect. He was a guest, with the late Ossie Davis hosting, when he made his first appearance in 2002: “I was just doing it on pure instinct. It transcended being an actor trying to do his best to convey the information, and it was all I could do to get through it.
“Art and life combined,” adds Mantegna, who received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last Friday (April 29). “It was not a play, not a movie, not a re-enactment. It was the real thing, and it hit me like a ton of bricks how important the holiday is. In my mind, it’s become the most important holiday we have.”
And how will Mantegna respond to the sure-to-be-heightened emotion this time? “The short answer is, I don’t know. But that’s OK. Some things don’t take preparation; some things, you just have to experience and let happen. The bottom line is that we’re doing it, and I think it’s a great thing that we do. Collectively as a nation, it serves a purpose to have these kinds of shared moments.”