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An Actor's Mind

Joe Mantegna is at the top of his game and aims to keep playing Hollywood's Major Leagues
Marshall Fine
From the Print Edition:
Joe Mantegna, July/August 2011

(continued from page 5)

Mantegna’s spare time is devoted to what he refers to as “shooting sports”: “I shoot skeet. It’s my only hobby beside being a bad golfer,” he says. “Look, I’m not a political person. I’ve been an independent my whole life. My fondness for shooting sports is the same as my fondness for cigars. My motto is: Everything in moderation, including moderation. I’m not a hunter—I just like to shoot clay pigeons. And I’m a moderate cigar smoker. I don’t constantly have one going because I don’t need to. And these days, it’s difficult to find a place to smoke. You’ve got to be selective about where you do it and who you do it with.”

Mantegna started smoking cigars in high school: “We weren’t the hard guys, the jocks or the greasers. My friends would just get together to play cards and smoke cigars. We’d smoke Swisher Sweets, Muriel Coronellas—the stuff you could buy in the grocery store.”

Gradually his tastes evolved but Mantegna always assumed he was part of a small group of people who appreciated finer tobacco: “I had started dabbling, smoking on the golf course or a movie set. Then I read that they were coming out with a magazine—Cigar Aficionado!—and I thought, wow, that’s bold. Up to that time, guys who smoked cigars were guys like my Uncle Danny, who smoked five White Owls a day. Now it was hip to smoke cigars. I bought the first issue—and every issue since—and it opened me up to a whole community of people who felt like I did.”

Mantegna has, over the years, tried all kinds of cigars. But he earned the eternal gratitude of a certain Dominican cigar-making family when he was asked what his favorite brand was, for a small Cigar Aficionado feature around the time of the release of his 1994 film, Baby’s Day Out.

“Back then, people couldn’t wait to tell you how much they liked black-market, illicit, Cuban cigars,” Mantegna says. “There was this pride, like, ‘Look what I can get.’ But when they asked me, I thought, well, I’m not going to bullshit them. So I told the truth—that I liked Hemingway Classics from Fuente. A few months later, I was at a cigar event and Carlito Fuente came up to me. I had no idea who he was, but he was beside himself: ‘You had the balls to say how much you liked our cigar.’ It was like I was his long-lost son.”

“The best thing about Joe is that he really is an aficionado—but he’s not a snob,” says actor-comedian Paul Reiser, a pal since the two of them acted in a 1993 film, Family Prayers. “He knows the good stuff but he’s not a slave to it. When you sit down with Joe, it’s not about the cigar, it’s about sharing the experience. Joe is my go-to guy for business questions, kid questions—he’s an easy laugh and a really generous person.”

Mantegna owns a variety of humidors because “when people find out you smoke cigars, they say, ‘Please, let me give you a humidor.’ ”

His enjoyment is both psychological and physical: “Maybe part of it is the ritual, but so many senses are affected: the taste, the tactile thing, the chemical components. I can feel every muscle relax; it’s just this feeling of contentment. It’s a primal thing I can’t fully explain, but I know it when I feel it. I can go weeks without a cigar and then there are days when I will smoke three or four.

“I also like the fact that you have to take care of cigars—like wine, which is something that has to be properly cared for. If you take care of cigars, you can keep them for years. I seldom smoke a cigar that has not been in my humidor at least six months.”

In the past few years, two of the Mamet plays Mantegna helped originate—“Glengarry Glen Ross” and “Speed-the-Plow”—returned to Broadway in major revivals. Which inevitably brought comparisons to the original productions from the 1980s, which starred Mantegna.


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