Five questions with Gary Sinise

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Gary Sinise served as honorary starter for the Daytona 500.

Actor Gary Sinise, 58, perhaps is best known for his portrayal of Lt. Dan Taylor in the film Forrest Gump, a role for which he received an Academy Award nomination as best supporting actor. Off-screen, Sinise is dedicated to veterans’ causes through his own Gary Sinise Foundation and his work with such entities as the National Veterans Art Museum and Hope for the Warriors.

Sinise regularly travels to military hotspots on USO tours and in recent years has appeared on those tours with the Lt. Dan Band, for which he plays bass.

Honorary Starter Actor Gary Sinise
Honorary Starter Actor Gary Sinise

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

During a long and varied career, Sinise has played such historical figures as former President Harry S. Truman, astronaut Ken Mattingly and former Alabama Governor George Wallace.

In February 2013, he completed his ninth and final season as Detective. Mac Taylor on the CBS television show CSI: NY.

Sinise served as honorary starter for the Daytona 500, and spoke with the NASCAR Wire Service before the race.

What was your first impression driving through the tunnel into Daytona International Speedway? "Just how gigantic this whole event is. You do get somewhat of a sense, but you can’t really picture it until you get here and see just how much is going on. It’s very impressive. It’s a city, and the fans are so great, and it’s just very exciting to be here."

Did playing the role of Lt. Dan spark your passion for veterans’ causes? "It was certainly one aspect of it, but having veterans in my family, that’s where it all began. And then getting involved in the Chicago area with Vietnam veterans groups, and then playing one, it’s all part of the same thing. And then September 11 and the attack on our country, it just felt, after having been involved with our veterans for so long, there was a way for me to pitch in and help our active-duty folks. I started doing that, and that manifested itself in the creation of my own foundation."

What motivated you to start your own charitable organization three years ago? "I think the fact that I’ve been involved with so many different organizations and trying to support so many different military causes and individuals who are trying to help our veterans and our wounded – all of that set the table for the creation of my own military support organization. All these steps just kind of led to the obvious next phase for me, which was the creation of a military support foundation, so that I could actually take in additional resources, take in funding. People were always asking me, ‘Where should I donate?’ and ‘How should I help?’…The fact that I’ve been involved in so many of these different efforts, creating my own foundation to try to spread our wings and continue to support a lot of different efforts, it was obvious that now I could direct those funds and resources to things I had kind of vetted out and been involved with for a long time."

From an acting standpoint, is preparing for a historical role more difficult than preparing for a fictional role, given that people will always judge how true to life the portrayal is? "Every role is different. Some are easier than others to get a handle on. Some, you have to… you’re creating a believable impression of someone who already existed, a historical figure. People have a relationship to that figure. They’ve seen him on TV, or whatever. So you do have to do your research and try to find the nuances, the personality tics and everything that character might have so you can throw those into creating that believable impression.

That’s a level of research, playing a president or a governor or an astronaut or something like that. You do have to do your work on that. That’s the fun of it, though. You have all that material that you can study and you can look at it and you can pick up different things about people and say, ‘I’m going to focus on that aspect of the character and highlight that.’ I’ve had a lot of experience playing historical figures, and it’s been fun to do."

When you play a character like Mac Taylor for nine years, and you spend so much time in that character, do the lines between character and reality ever start to blur? "Not in the way that you just lose your own self and you’re just playing the character. Over time, you get so used to coming in and turning it on when you need to have it on and turning it off when you need to go home that it becomes routine in that way. But there was one time where I was driving home from the set, and it was night, and it was stop-and-go traffic on the freeway. And then you’re stopping and you’re starting, and you’re stopping. So I pulled to a stop behind a car, and I got hit from behind by somebody. He just slammed into me.

He wasn’t paying attention – stop-and-go traffic. So, of course, I throw my car into park, and now on the freeway, I’ve got to get out and deal with the guy who hit me. I started to get out, and he pulled around the side of me and took off down the freeway. I jumped in my car, and I took off after him, just like Mac Taylor would, and I caught him. I caught this guy, and he was drunk. I called the police, and I held this drunk guy there on the side of the road until the police got there. He hit me, and he tried to run. And all of a sudden, I just jumped into Mac Taylor mode and jumped in and took off after the guy, just like Mac would. So maybe things crossed into reality there."

Reid Spencer - NASCAR Wire Service

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Article type Interview
Tags dayona 500, gary sinise, nascar-cup