He did triple duty while making Of Mice and Men — as actor, director, and producer — but Gary Sinise had only one major challenge. ”I had to take an American classic and forget it was a classic,” he says. ”It’s a simple story about two human beings trying to get along in life. Everybody can relate to that.”
Sinise first related to John Steinbeck’s story of Depression-era laborers in 1980, when he and John Malkovich costarred in Mice at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, the company Sinise founded in 1974. But Sinise didn’t start working on the film until 1990, when he asked the author’s widow, Elaine Steinbeck, for the rights to Mice while he was starring on Broadway in Steppenwolf’s staging of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
Mice gave Sinise another chance to work with his on-and off-screen friend Malkovich, who joined Steppenwolf in 1976 and appeared in Sinise’s 1988 film, Miles From Home. ”Our relationship was a real asset,” says Sinise. ”You really feel that history on screen.” But Mice provided Sinise with his first opportunity to employ an even older friend — his father, Robert L. Sinise, 60, a film editor (MGM: When the Lion Roars). ”I remember all those years of ‘Cut the grass, rake the leaves, shovel the snow.”’ Sinise says, laughing. ”Now I’m sitting in the director’s chair.”