'Criminal Minds': Joe Mantegna 'leading the troops into battle' by doubling as director

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Joe Mantegna often is seen calling the shots on "Criminal Minds," but that's more the case than ever this week.

The veteran actor, who plays FBI Supervisory Special Agent David Rossi on the long-running CBS drama, also directs the show for the first time Wednesday (Jan. 22). Titled "The Road Home," the story references a 2012 tale about Rossi's former Marine sergeant (again played by guest star Meshach Taylor), whose disappearance separates Rossi from the rest of the Behavioral Analysis Unit as he launches a search.

"They knew I'd directed before," Mantegna tells Zap2it of being offered the chance by the "Criminal Minds" producers. "I directed a feature years ago called 'Lakeboat,' and our executive producer Erica [Messer] had seen it. Matthew Gray Gubler has directed the show several times, and Thomas Gibson directed his first episode last season ... so she said, 'We'd like you to do one if you'd like to.' And I said, 'Sure.'"

Agreeing to the job also let Mantegna help conceive the story he'd be guiding: "I said, 'Do you think it's possible that we can do one that brings back that character Meshach Taylor played?' They agreed to it and assigned a writer to it ( Bruce Zimmerman), and he did a wonderful job and knew exactly what I was talking about and what I'd hoped to do." 

Mantegna admits the thought of directing "Criminal Minds" had been "in the back of my head" ever since he replaced original star Mandy Patinkin in the show's third year. However, he notes, "I wanted to allow Thomas and Matthew to get that opportunity first, because they'd both been there two seasons more than I had. It was important to me that they got their shots at it."

Directing longtime co-workers gave Mantegna particular pleasure, but he reasons, "There's always going to be the inherent intensity of being a director. You're leading the troops into battle, so you have hundreds of people basically waiting for your command. It's time-consuming, and it takes all your attention ... and it spans more than just that one episode.

"You're casting and doing technical scouting and pre-production during the episode prior, then you're editing while also doing the episode after. You're an actor in all three of them, so having worked with many of the same people made it so much easier, because of the shorthand. That was a real advantage."

Still, an extra concern for Mantegna was his hour's ending, since it sets up the next new episode: the 200th for "Criminal Minds," airing Wednesday, Feb. 5.

"I think they threw in a little extra money," he says, "so I could do some things above and beyond, just in terms of equipment and things like that. It was the same with the 200th episode, which is more like a small movie as opposed to a regular episode. You want to goose those things a little more, as well you should."

No. 200 itself is "a milestone," Mantegna affirms. "Doing nine years of one show in television is pretty rare these days, especially a one-hour drama, and we're all very proud of that. Our numbers are still very good and we have a great fan base, so we're doing something right."
Photo/Video credit: CBS
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