'Criminal Minds' Star Joe Mantegna's No-B.S. Views on Product Placement

Courtesy of Subject
Joe Mantegna

While some actors downplay what they get for free, Mantegna, a longtime watch lover, cuts to the chase: "It’s a fair exchange of product versus publicity."

When I was in my late teens in Chicago, I was the lead singer of a band called the Apocryphals. I would do the chatter during the sets and I would have to figure out how long the sets were, always relying on a clock in the building. One night I was on a bandstand and this guy came up and said — like in a cartoon — “Wanna buy a watch?” I thought a watch could come in handy. I gave him 10 bucks. It was a Timex or something. From that point on, I was never without a watch. I would always replace it with whatever cheap watch was out there.

I was doing pretty well in the mid-’80s but still wearing these goofy watches. Every one had a battery. A friend of mine ran a product placement company and one of his clients was Maurice Lacroix. The president of Maurice Lacroix at the time came to the set of a movie I was shooting and asked, “What kind of watch do you wear?” I told him and he said, “Oh, you can do better than that.” And he gave me this very nice Maurice Lacroix. It wasn’t one of their top-of-the-line things, but it was head and shoulders above what I had. It was as if I’d been driving a Chevy all my life and somebody handed me a Ferrari.

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That was my first quality watch, and because of that, I developed this relationship with Maurice Lacroix — they gift me watches. I’ve made a connection with two other brands, Fortis and Carl F. Bucherer. I’ve never gotten a dollar.

The personal side of it is important to me. I’m friends with the guys at these companies. I appreciate that they look at me as, “Hey, you represent our brand, and if we give you a watch, you’ll wear it.” I like to do more than “Thanks for the free watch; see you later.” I work all three brands into Criminal Minds and into Gun Stories, which I host on the Outdoor Channel. I tend to use Fortis in action scenes as their style lends itself more to that. On the red carpet, I could pose with my hands in my pocket, but I cross my arms and say this is a Maurice Lacroix or a Carl F. Bucherer. I try and go that extra mile.

I know actors — higher up in the food chain than I am — these guys will just take the watch without blinking and they never give them any play. If you give me a watch, I’m going to wear it. There was an instance where I was going to be on the cover of a magazine and they were going to supply all this stuff for me to wear, including a watch. And they said, “Well, we can’t gift you it, but we could give you a discount.” My attitude was, “Go f— yourself.” They are using me as a billboard. What the f—? I think it’s a fair exchange of product versus publicity.

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When I was on Joan of Arcadia, Leslie Moonves called down to the prop department and asked, “What was the watch Mantegna was wearing in that episode?” It was a Maurice Lacroix. He bought a version of that watch. Maybe 12 million people watch the show, and there’s got to be at least a couple of these watch aficionados out there that look at actors.

I’ve come a long way from a guy on a bandstand needing a watch to tell the time of a set.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's fourth annual Watch Issue.

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