“It’s the most important thing I do every year,” divulges Joe Mantegna as we chat via webcam (watch above) about his duties as host and producer on The National Memorial Day Concert. The Tony Award-winner (Featured Actor in a Play for “Glengarry Glen Ross,” 1984) has held these duties since 2002, revealing that the first time he participated, “it was almost like a real wakeup call to understanding why I have the ability to do the things I do.” The show, which he’s co-hosted with Gary Sinise for 11 of those 14 years, is a celebration of America’s veterans, featuring musical guests and dramatic monologues recounting the experiences of those who risk their lives to keep our country safe.
Mantegna’s first year was only a few months after 9/11, and as he recalls, “I realized that what I’ve been asked to do is read the words of four New York firemen who had lost their sons in the 9/11 tragedy, who were also obviously firemen.” Sitting in front of him, in the very first row, were those same four men. “That was the moment that was like a lightening bolt going through my body, because I realized this is not Joe Mantegna the actor,” but rather, “this is a true story. I’m recounting the real words, and I’m looking at their faces.”
He was joined in the interview by fellow producers Sean Fogel, a recent Golden Globe nominee for “Mozart in the Jungle,” and Michael Colbert, who began mounting these specials with his father, Jerry Colbert, 27 years ago. “We’re blessed to be able to come to the United States capital,” exclaims Colbert, “to honor and remember all of those who are serving,” and “who have served, for their sacrifice.”
Fogel concurs, calling the production, “a very special show.” He adds, “we take a lot of time and a lot of care in crafting what stories we’re going to share on the show,” and, “do a lot of research on the right actor and actresses to portray these roles, and a tremendous amount of research in the musical acts.” The show is eligible for a nomination in the variety category at the upcoming Producers Guild of America Awards.
In addition to his Tony win, Mantegna has received three Emmy nominations for Mini/Movie Supporting Actor in “The Last Don” (1997), “The Rat Pack” (1999), and “The Starter Wife” (2007) plus a Golden Globe nomination for “The Rat Pack.” Check out our full interview above for more about his work on The National Memorial Day Concert.