With Criminal Minds Season 8 wrapping up on Wednesday, TV Fanatic jumped on the phone with star Joe Mantegna this week for an exclusive preview of the two-hour finale.
What does the romantic future hold for Rossi? What was some of the background impetus for the remarkable episode "The Fallen?" What sort of cliffhanger is on the way? Read on for excerpts from our Q&A...
How long ago did you guys shoot "Brothers Hotchner and "The Replicator" When do you guys get the script?
I think we finished near the end of April. We usually get the scripts about a week prior to taping.
Have you known how the season was going to end with the Replicator story arc? Was it a surprise?
I personally didn't know until we got the scripts. To tell you the truth I'm not one of those actors who likes to know. Even if given the opportunity I don't think I'd like to know how the whole next season is going to be from beginning to end. To me it's like somebody telling you "this is exactly what's going to happen to you every minute of the day for all of next week." I like to discover things as they happen.
I know there's all kinds of anticipation about this episode with the Replicator. The fact that they're airing these two episodes back to back suggests that they're connected. Is the Replicator in both or is he in just the last episode?
They're pretty much one long episode, which is what it should be. I mean we have the advantage and privilege of being a successful show (and one that's going to continue) being able to take that last episode and turning it into a two hour version of our one hour program and really get into it.
Without giving any spoilers away, can you hint at any surprises viewers can expect?
I think there will be some surprises. You want to leave them with something that they can kind of chew over during the time off. People will say "Man. Wow. Didn't see that coming." It's going to be interesting to see how it kicks off the next season. So there are things that are going to happen, and we take advantage of the fact that we have two hours to tell the story.
In "The Fallen" we got to see more of Rossi's backstory, this time involving his military experience. Great work by the way! And in Alchemy, Rossi had a couple of really great lines, one involving bad acid trips and the other when he said to JJ after she asked about a bar server who had hit on him "That was the fourth Mrs. Rossi, if I'm not careful." Any chance we're going to see Rossi develop a love interest any time soon? And, if so, does he HAVE to marry her if he does?
[laughs] As we've established, Rossi hasn't had a lot of good luck with marriage. I think there will be some indication of a romantic thing in Rossi's life coming up. It's funny that you mentioned aspects of both of those episodes. Both episodes are ones I've pushed for, for a long time. One that had dealt with one of my former wives, which we did a couple of seasons ago. And then The Fallen episode which is another I'd pushed for, which was co-written by my assistant, because I'd been such a strong advocate of doing an episode which deals with my military background. And I'm such a strong advocate for our U.S. military anyway. So it's nice to have a writing staff and production which respond to that. Sometimes before the season even starts we go in and meet the writers and sometimes there are ideas. In both of those instances, those were ideas that I kind of threw out - nothing much more strongly than that - and then the writing staff reacted to it and responded positively. So I feel good about that.
When it comes to Rossi's love life, I think there's something that will rear its head at some point, but beyond that, I don't know. That's what great about having seven main characters: there's so many story lines you can go to.
Speaking of the military part, I know that there's a project you're passionate about - the building of the National Museum of the United States Army. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I'm in my twelfth year as a participant in the National Memorial Day concert, my ninth year as the host of it, along with Gary Sinise. And it's something I feel very strongly about. It was during one of these events a few years ago that General Creighton Abrams (retired general from the U.S. Army whose father was the famous general who they named the battle tank after) asked me if I would be the celebrity spokesman for the building of the National Museum for the United States Army. I was flattered and appreciative and I agreed to do it.
I'm not a political person; I've been an independent my whole life. So I cherish the ability to be able to do that in a country where we have the ability to make these choices, whether you want to be a Democrat or a Republican or an independent or a Catholic or Protestant or a Jew or a Gentile….you have all these choices. When you do an exploration of world geography and history, you realize that it's not that common, the kinds of freedom we have in this country. And the reason we're able to ensure it, is because we have a military for who over two hundred years have given their lives in many instances to preserve this Constitution and Declaration of Independence and all these things that we live by.
So it's very important to me - it's probably the most important thing I do. I've lived a pretty blessed life. As an actor I'm pretty much what many people consider the top of the game, working in the arena that I do, and have for many years. I try hard not to forget those who helped make that possible.
One thing I learned after watching The Fallen, was that the organization New Directions actually exists. I was happy to see that because it's such an important work that's being done. I take it you're involved with that organization as well since you pushed for that episode, right?
Exactly right. I happen to be the spokesman for that organization. So when we put together, I said "you know we have this power on television, and here's a show that reaches fifteen million people plus every week. Here's a chance to do something positive. Here's this organization that reaches out and helps these addicted and homeless veterans. Why don't we use that power to actually highlight this real organization rather than make up some pretend thing." And thank God the network and the show responded and agreed and said "sure, why not?" It's almost like being able to do a PSA for them. So I was really pleased to be able to incorporate this real organization into this episode.
Have you received much feedback from vets?
I get feedback all the time. I take my lead from dear friend Gary Sinise who is the greatest friend of the military that they have, certainly in the entertainment business. This is a guy who works tirelessly for Veterans Affairs and for active duty military as well. A lot of people have different passions about different things. I mean, I have a daughter with autism so I'm sensitive to things in that arena as well as other things. The military is something I feel strongly about and I'm glad I'm able to support it in the way that I do.
Douglas Wolfe was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. He retired in 2016. Follow him on Twitter.