Gary Sinise. Actor, philanthropist, detective (ok, so technically that was also acting, but he was REALLY good). Most of us know Sinise from Forrest Gump, where he played a colorful Vietnam veteran, or from his role as Detective Mac Taylor on CSI: NY. Even if you’ve seen him in dozens of movies and TV shows, there’s a lot you probably don’t know about this Hollywood humanitarian. To fill in the gaps, we’ve done a crazy facts deep dive into the incredible life of Gary Sinise.
He didn’t always love acting
In high school, Sinise focused more on music and sports than on school itself. The Highland Park High School drama teacher suggested that the unenthusiastic student audition for a part in his school’s West Side Story production, though Sinise had never acted before. He wasn’t all that interested, but Sinise figured that he had nothing to lose. He auditioned and landed a role in his very first show.
“I fell in love with theater at that moment,” Sinise told The Patch. “Once I did that, all I wanted to do was plays.”
Gary Sinise co-founded the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago
Now one of Chicago’s most famous theaters, Sinise founded the Steppenwolf Theatre Company a few years after he graduated from high school. Sinise and his former classmate Jeff Perry first started the company in a suburban church basement before moving to the city of Chicago in 1980.
The Steppenwolf Theatre Company remains one of Chicago’s most beloved theaters today, and it even helped launch the careers of John Malkovich, Gary Cole, Laurie Metcalf, and many others.
He co-created the Lt. Dan Band in 2003
Before he loved acting, Gary Sinise loved music. After his immensely successful role as Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump, Sinise co-created a band and named it after his iconic character with musician Kimo Williams to entertain troops and perform at USO shows. The band has played hundreds of shows over the years, visiting military bases all over the world to raise the spirits of those serving our country.
Sinise explained on The band’s website, “We will continue to support organizations that are working hard for our veterans, our wounded service members, and their families,” he explained. “The band will be playing concerts to raise spirits, funds, and awareness for our nation’s severely wounded warriors, their families and all who serve.”
He played the role of CAPCOM on Epcot’s Mission: SPACE
If you visited Walt Disney World’s Epcot theme park between the years of 2003 and 2017, chances you ran into Gary Sinise on your way out of Earth’s atmosphere. For 14 years, Gary Sinise played the part of CAPCOM, explaining your mission and helping you prepare for a mission to Mars.
Though actress Gina Torres replaced Sinise as CAPCOM in 2017, you can still get the full Sinise experience with an older video of Epcot’s Mission: SPACE. The Apollo 13 star explains your mission, your role, and the importance of working as a team. Pay close attention and do your best – few things are more crushing than disappointing Gary Sinise.
Sinise put on a spacesuit and flew in a U2 spy plane at 70,000 feet
In 2011, Sinise visited the Beale Air Force Base in California and completed a demanding day-long training to fly in a U-2 “Dragon Lady” spy plane. He became one of fewer than 1,000 people in the last 50 years to take the extremely taxing flight, which earned him a spot in what air force members call the “high flyer club.”
Sinise documented his training as well as the expedition itself in his documentary “High Flight,” which also discussed the ins and outs of the air force base and flight program.
The rosary dog tags worn by Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump were real
Sinise’s brother in law, Jack Treese, was a combat medic in Vietnam. He figured that any help he could get would be beneficial, so even though he wasn’t Catholic, he made his own rosary beads to hold his dog tag.
While on the set of Forrest Gump, Sinise was given a fake set of dog tags by the film’s costume designer. Rather than use the imitation dog tags, Sinise figured it’d be more meaningful to use the real ones – so he swapped them out.
Veteran Dale Dye put the Forrest Gump cast through real-life military training
Dale Dye is a marine veteran turned actor, and outside of acting, he offers his expertise and serves as an advisor on movies that involve the military. One such movie was Forrest Gump – prior to filming, Dye put several actors including Gary Sinise through one hell of an orientation to military life.
During the last day of training, Dye made sure the actors would hit a host of roadblocks, leaving them lost in the swamps of South Carolina before being attacked by Dye and his crew. Sinise took the training extremely seriously, which often led Dye to push him harder than the other actors. To this day, Gary Sinise and Dale Dye remain friends.
Sinise has won multiple awards for his efforts to support veterans
Sinise created the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011 to support veterans and their families. The actor is extremely active in the world of military and veteran charities and gives his time and money generously to support our nation’s heroes. In response to his efforts, he has been recognized by multiple organizations and honored accordingly.
Some of his honors include the USO Patriot Award in 2011, the Spirit of Hope Award in 2012, The Noble Award in 2015, The Congressional Medal of Honor Society Patriot Award in 2020, and dozens more. So unbelievably well-deserved.
Gary Sinise chose his role in Apollo 13
After securing Tom Hanks to play the role of Jim Lovell, director Ron Howard invited Gary Sinise to choose his role. Sinise chose to play Ken Mattingly, an astronaut taken off of the Apollo 13 mission just days before launch due to exposure to the measles.
The actor explained how he chose his role in the most Sinise way possible. According to IMDB, Sinise explained, “When I looked at it, I said, ‘I want to play that guy.’ Without him, they won’t get back.”
On-screen and off, Gary Sinise is the perpetual helper. Mr. Rogers would have been so proud.
An offhand joke made by Lt. Dan came to fruition
In a scene in Forrest Gump, Lt. Dan jokingly (sort of) states that if Forrest ever became a shrimp boat captain, he would become an astronaut. Well, Forrest got his Shrimp boat, “Jenny.” A year later, Sinise went on to star in Apollo 13 as astronaut Ken Mattingly (with whom he shares a birthday).
It’s good to know that even in character, Gary Sinise is honest and true to his word. It’s extremely fortunate that Lieutenant Dan said “astronaut,” and not “clown with a thirst for blood” or “retired.”
These men are astronaut Ken Mattingly & actor Gary Sinise. Ken was the member of the Apollo 13 crew who was dropped from the mission 2 days before launch. Gary played the role of Mattingly in the Tom Hanks film. By coincidence, they share a birthday today, 83 & 64 respectively. pic.twitter.com/i785rbY0N2
— LMFM RADIO (@LMFMRADIO) March 17, 2019
These crazy facts are a part of our dad trivia series, where we drop some pop-culture science you can impress your dad pals with at the next BBQ.
Check out our previous edition where we featured crazy Facts You Don’t Know About Star Wars.