Joe Mantegna of 'Cars 2' Is Driven to Be Money-Smart

Joe Mantegna
Joe Mantegna

Actor Joe Mantegna has made a living at make-believe for more than 40 years. But he swears by a get-real financial credo. "Always live within your means," said Mantegna, the voice of Grem the mobster in Cars 2, which opens Friday.

Mantegna, 63, could probably afford to splurge. He plays a big-shot FBI profiler on the CBS show Criminal Minds, and has forged a second career in voice work. Mantegna began reading books on tape in 1984 and has put the words in Fat Tony's mafioso mouth onThe Simpsons since 1991. In Disney/Pixar's Cars 2, he said, he has reached the top of the animated film ladder -- as a bitter Gremlin who's trying to off the hero, Lightning McQueen.

The actor is presumably set. Yet he is set in his cautious ways.

"I come from a background where my father never had a checkbook or a credit card," he told The Price of Fame. "If he didn't have cash, we didn't get it. So I kind of live my life that way. That might be a little extreme but at least if you're someone in that part of the ballpark, you're not going to be taken by surprise in the worst scenario."

Reminded that he has had a series-TV paycheck since 2007, he replied, "Adjust accordingly. When it's manna from heaven, you eat a little better than when it's a famine."

Splurging Rarely, and Focusing on What He Does Best

Getting cast in Cars 2 was a happy accident for Mantegna, an auto buff with vintage tastes. Back in leaner times -- that would be Chicago in 1967 -- he bought a 1947 Buick for $225. For five years, he used it to drive around his rock band, the Apocryphals. Then, in 1972 he stored it in a friend's Indiana barn and forgot about it. Thirty years later, the friend called to say he was moving, and told Mantegna he had to fetch his old rust bucket.

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Realizing he had the means "to bring it back to life," he put the car on a flatbed truck and sent it to his home in California to be restored. Mantegna has won a couple of third places with the Buick in car collector shows -- at a far greater price than what he originally paid for it. "I probably spend more than that on one of the floor mats now," he said.

It's an apparent rare splurge for Mantegna, who has appeared in more than 80 films and 15 TV series. "I would have friends who would get a TV pilot and would spend the money as if the series had been on for five years," he explained.

Many of us could take a cue from his Hollywood story. Mantegna has made a significant chunk of his income by being typecast as a gangster, including Joey Zasa in The Godfather: Part III. "People will always pigeonhole people according to their strength," he said. "It's really fine. I've never been first on the list to play Swedish sea captains and rightly so."

He has, however, played Dean Martin (The Rat Pack), a womanizing dentist (Compromising Positions) and a slew of parts for playwright, screenwriter and director David Mamet. Mantegna branched out as a writer, producer and director, too. It all adds up to a living. Why toss it away by living too large? He's got enough drama onscreen.

"I still try to be conservative about it all," he said.