For Joe Mantegna, Memorial Day weekend means a bit of work. The actor -- best known for roles in "Godfather III," "Searching for Bobby Fischer," "Joan of Arcadia" and as the voice of mobster Fat Tony on "The Simpsons" -- is in town this weekend to co-host Sunday's National Memorial Day Concert for the sixth time. This year, Mantegna and Gary Sinise will preside over a line-up that includes Natalie Cole, Jimmy Smits, Bonnie Hunt, Josh Turner, Charles Durning and Colin Powell.
I talked to Mantegna yesterday afternoon about the concert, politics, his musical chops and, of course, "The Simpsons."
A longtime advocate of Veterans Administration volunteer opportunities and troop support, Mantegna says he'd rather keep his personal beliefs about the war to himself.
"I never get political. I wouldn't be involved in this concert if it was a political statement. I'm 100 percent behind those who go out there and make sacrifices. We have the ability to voice our opinions and vote accordingly, but at the end of the day poll numbers don't change the fact that someone may be dying or catastrophically wounded in Iraq. Whole families' lives are altered because of what is going on. I vote how I want to vote and that's my business. That's not what this concert or Memorial Day is about."
When asked if he thought Hollywood's outspoken war critics have a detrimental effect on the troops and soldier morale, Mantegna said he hopes people are smart enough to realize that stars' opinions aren't more valuable than their own.
Mantegna's longest running role has been a recurring cameo as Springfield's resident mobster Fat Tony on "The Simpsons." Though Mantegna said he did record parts for the upcoming Simpsons movie (in theaters July 27), he's not sure if his bits will make it to the final product.
"They [producers] were so secretive about it," said Mantegna, "All we got were the little bits we were supposed to do and we weren't allowed to bring anybody to recording. I don't even know myself what I did."
If all else fails, Mantegna can always return to his roots as a bass player. His '60s-era band, The Apocryphals, toured with the pre-Chicago Missing Links and he still numbers the original members of Chicago among his longtime friends.
This year's Memorial Day concert will focus on soldiers involved in the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Says Mantegna, "Take 90 minutes to watch a show like this. It will help you understand why we have this day and why it's important. In the midst of all our barbecues, it's about something very important to our history and to these people who make sacrifices for this country."
The National Memorial Day Concert airs live on PBS Sunday evening at 8 p.m. ET (check local listings). If you're planning on heading down to the mall to watch the concert up close, organizers ask that folks hold off on arriving until after 5 p.m.