Let Freedom Ring: Gary Sinise Has Achieved Stardom, Success and Sigificance-All on His Own Terms
Vinnedge, Mary, Success
Gary Sinise went from being; depressed about not getting work to being in two of the hottest shows of the year. He was an overnight sensation--if you can say that about an actor who had invested two decades working in theater, TV and film. Finally, it seemed he had made it. But that's not the way Sinise saw it. Although the world look notice in 1994 of his back-to-back performances in the blockbuster miniseries The Stand and the box-office smash Forrest Gump, Sinise wasn't betting his future on his newly minted star power. "I don't know many people who go through one ascendancy the whole time. [Careers are] really made up of ups and downs," he tells SUCCESS. Sinise already had worked extensively on stage and screen, earning a Tony nomination for acting and another for directing, and he had combined those talents in the critically acclaimed 1992 film Of Mice and Men. He was philosophical: "Careers, like rockets, don't always take off on time. The trick is to always keep the engine running." So, even after his Oscar-nominated performance in Forrest Gump, Sinise kept honing his craft and kept his priorities straight. He did not fall into that Hollywood trap that ensnares so many rising stars; he did not start believing his own press, and he did not take any of it for granted. Instead, he banked his earnings when he was working so he wouldn't feel the desperation that drives an actor to take a role just to pay the bills. "I've never had to compromise myself for a job, ever," he says. And he didn't have trouble getting work either. In 1995 came the box-office hit Apollo 13 and the HBO film Truman, which garnered Sinise Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards and an Emmy nomination. In 1998, he won an Emmy for his performance in the title role in George Wallace. Keeping a level head about his work and success gave Sinise the freedom to devote time to other priorities. "When I think of work, it's mostly about having control over your destiny as opposed to being at the mercy of what's out there." Now 56, he has settled into the starring role of crime scene investigator Mac Taylor on CSI: New York. Taking that role in 2004 provided an opportunity for more time with wife Moira Harris and their three kids. When the weekly TV drama isn't in production, he works on feature films and other projects. He also focuses on helping veterans, active-duty service members and children in nations where they serve. And in 2008, Sinise earned the Presidential Citizen's Medal, the second highest honor given to civilians, for humanitarian service helping Iraqi schoolchildren and his support for U.S. military veterans.
A Regular Guy
The patriotic, hard-working family man who is Gary Sinise today is a different person than the teen who attended a Vietnam War protest just to get out of class. Back then, Sinise was aimless. "I was raising hell, and my mom was trying to keep me controlled and focused; my dad [a film editor] was away a lot for work," he says.
When he was a fourth-grader, Simse's parents bought him a guitar and shirt suitable for membership in the Beach Boys. "I wanted to be a Beach Boy and lip-synched their songs," he says.
But when he discovered theater "sort of by accident" as a high school student in Highland Park, Ill., everything changed. "The wonderful drama teacher at my high school, Barbara Patterson, saw me standing in the hall and told me I should audition for West Side Story. I guess she thought I looked like a gang member," says Sinise, chuckling during an interview with SUCCESS.
"Before discovering theater, I was sloughing off and didn't have any passion for school. Then I couldn't get enough. All of a sudden I was getting good parts in all of these plays. I just loved it. I started getting A's in acting, directing and technical theater. I found something that clicked."
Sinise's parents happily cheered their son on and attended his plays. "My parents let us have cast parties at our house. …