The B&N Podcast: Gary Sinise on the Power of Service

Every author has a story beyond the one that they put down on paper. The Barnes & Noble Podcast goes between the lines with today’s most interesting writers, exploring what inspires them, what confounds them, and what they were thinking when they wrote the books we’re talking about.

In September 1993, actor Gary Sinise, fresh off of the triumph of directing his film adaptation of the John Steinbeck classic Of Mice and Men, was shooting scenes as the disabled veteran Lt. Dan Taylor in the movie Forrest Gump. The film’s runaway success both at the box office and the academy awards of course brought Sinise acclaim as a performer, but he found that when he visited veteran’s groups they naturally identified him with the inspiring figure of the wounded Marine Officer. Less than ten years later, in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, Sinise cast around for a way to connect to and contribute to the sacrifices of US fighters on the front lines — and the journey into a thoroughgoing commitment to the work of supporting veterans and active duty service people is the through line of Sinise’s brand new memoir Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service. He sat down with us on the eve of publication to talk about the path from founding Chicago’s Legendary Steppenwolf Theater Company to his career in film and television — and his current work helming the many projects of the Gary Sinise Foundation.

As a kid in suburban Chicago, Gary Sinise was more interested in sports and rock ‘n’ roll than reading or schoolwork. But when he impulsively auditioned for a school production of West Side Story, he found his purpose–or so it seemed.

Within a few years Gary and a handful of friends created what became one of the most exciting and important new theater companies in America. From its humble beginnings in a suburban Chicago church basement and eventual move into the city, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company launched a series of groundbreaking productions, igniting Gary’s career along with those of John Malkovich, Joan Allen, Gary Cole, Laurie Metcalf, Jeff Perry, John Mahoney, and others. Television and film came calling soon after, and Gary starred in Of Mice and Men (which he also directed) and The Stand before taking the role that would change his life in unforeseeable ways: Lieutenant Dan in the Academy Award–winning Forrest Gump.

The military community’s embrace of the character of the disabled veteran was matched only by the depth of Gary’s realization that America’s defenders had not received all the honor, respect, and gratitude their sacrifices deserve. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, this became Gary’s mission. While starring in hits like Apollo 13, Ransom, Truman, George Wallace, CSI:NY, and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, Gary has worked tirelessly on behalf of those who serve this country, entertaining more than a half million troops around the world playing bass guitar with his Lt. Dan Band, raising funds on behalf of veterans, and eventually founding the Gary Sinise Foundation with a mission to serve and honor America’s defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need.

Grateful American is the moving, entertaining, profoundly gripping story of how one man found his calling: to see that those who defend this country and its freedoms are never forgotten.

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