Gary Sinise

After rocketing to prominence as the wheelchair-bound Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump, the actor suddenly found himself a leading advocate for wounded vets. Nearly 20 years later, his focus on the cause has only grown stronger.

Gary Sinise

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Monty Brinton/CBS © 2012 CBS; MGM/Photofest
The Uses of Fame: “Being successful in the entertainment business can be a monumental tool or weapon to use in a positive way.”
Photo courtesy Monty Brinton/CBS © 2012 CBS; MGM/Photofest.

Q: Let’s talk about the music. Did you ever expect you’d be stepping on stage as a rock star with your own band?
GS: I never imagined it years ago even though, when I was a kid, I loved playing in bands. Then I got so busy with acting, I didn’t play for a long time. Now, in my 50s, I’m back at it again for really worthwhile causes. I can use the music to do something positive. I don’t make any money, not a dime. I’m just trying to give back to our men and women in uniform who are serving our country.

Q: You really drive crowds wild. Are you surprised at the love you’re getting from audiences?
GS: I don’t think people expect much out of an actor with a band, so when I see all those smiling faces out there, people jumping up and down and going crazy to the music, I know we’re entertaining them. We play nothing but hits. I don’t write music or expect people to sit there and listen to any original songs.

Q: Now, you’re a dad with three children. [Sinise and his wife, actress Moira Harris, have two daughters and a son.] Have you drawn them into the work you’re doing with vets?
GS: I’ve exposed my kids to a lot. I’ve taken them to the hospitals with me. I’ve taken them to the military bases. I’ve taken them to the charity events where they get to see our wounded and think about what their families are going through. And they’ve met the children of our fallen heroes. I happen to support something called Snowball Express where we’ll bring 1,700 kids together who’ve all lost a mom or a dad in a war. They’re all going through difficult times. And my kids have seen that. It makes them think a little bit bigger about things.

Q: Are they following you into show business?
GS: One of my daughters just did a play, The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter, at Steppenwolf with my wife. She was great. My son is a drummer, and he’s played shows with us. He’s also a composer. He’s going to music school and doing real well. So they’re definitely into entertaining. My other daughter is in college studying education.

Q: Do they treat you like a star?
GS: I’m just Dad. That’s it. They’ve rarely watched me on TV. They’re always telling me the actors they love, and I’ll say, “Do you ever watch my show?” They’ll go, “We see you every day, Dad.” They’re pretty grounded kids.

Q: You’ve been married for 32 years. What’s the secret to making it last?
GS: My wife is hilarious. She’s kept me laughing for all those years. What keeps relationships alive and fresh is when you entertain each other.

Q: Even though you’ve admitted you don’t always love being famous, it has really helped you accomplish a lot hasn’t it?
GS: I realized quite a long time ago that the blessing of being a celebrity, being successful in the entertainment business, can be a monumental tool or weapon to use in a positive way. Of course, I had the challenge of adapting to fame in the early days. When I went from obscurity to being recognizable, I was wondering “What’s going on here?” Forrest Gump came out, and all of a sudden I was in a big movie and things were starting to change. My kids were also young, and I was trying to focus on taking care of my kids, and we went through our difficult times.

Q: What’s guiding you now?
GS: I think your actions define who you are. They do speak louder than words. I try to take action and, if I can inspire somebody to do something positive that gives back and encourage others to do the same, then I feel like I’ve done a good job.

Q: Do you ever envision a time when there won’t be any more wounded vets?
GS: It’s a very dangerous world, and we’re going to deploy our men and women again, sometime. Keeping our military strong is very important. We’re in a world where anything can happen at any time. We saw what 19 guys with box cutters could do. So we’re going to continue to have issues with our veterans that need to be faced.

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