Kirsten Vangsness Brings a Splash of Color to 'Criminal Minds'

In the dark, frightening and twisted world of “Criminal Minds,” there's one person who brings a ray of light to each suspenseful episode: Kirsten Vangsness. Known as the outrageously dressed FBI computer genius Penelope Garcia, the award-winning actress hopes her character adds humor to the killer series. An edited version of our interview with her follows.

by Ilyssa Panitz • Celebrity Reporter
kirsten vangsness image
Photograph: Courtesy CBS Television

More: Take me behind the scenes of Criminal Minds. Is Thomas Gibson as tight and stiff as his character Aaron Hotchner?
KV: No, he's a goofball. He is ridiculous. He barely ever talks in his real voice. He sings, he makes everyone laugh and he is Twitter crazy.

More: You are on one of the hottest shows on television.
Kirsten Vangsness: It’s crazy, huh? But I have to say, I really like my job.

More: You were originally introduced as a recurring character?
KV: Yeah. I was only supposed to be on the first episode. But then at the next table reading, my co-star Shemar Moore [Agent Derek Morgan] and I started joking around, very much like what you see on TV. The next thing you knew, my role grew from there and I became a series regular. When I come into the picture people say, “Whew, no violence when she's here!”

More: So you and Shemar really flirt and talk sexy to each other offscreen?
KV: We are exactly what you see on the show. In fact, when people see us out together they get so excited. I also do a lot of theater and Shemar is at every performance. He is one of my closest friends.

More: Are you anything like Penelope Garcia?
KV: I am a lot different in some regards, and in other ways we are very similar. Basically we are neighbors.

More: Is your character's fashion sense based on your own personal flair?
KV: I think so. When we did the pilot they told me to bring my own clothes, probably because they didn’t have anything in wardrobe that was a size 12.

More: Define your style.
KV: I am a theater girl. I have theater style. I shop at thrift stores, and have since I was a little girl. I have the ability to pull off clothes with a stranger feel to them. I am all for letting your free flag fly. Sometimes when I shop I say, “Wow, I look like Garcia.”

More: Recently Criminal Minds had some major cast changes that caused an uproar with fans. Gone in one season were two fan favorites, A.J. Cook and Paget Brewster.
KV: That is when your conscience says, “It is just a job.” For me, it was so baffling and it sucked. Then we got Rachel Nicholson, which was great, but then they let her go and brought A.J. and Paget back. The result was, we as a cast became even stronger and I think we put out a much stronger show.

More: When these women were let go did that change the dynamic of the program?
KV: Having them come back allowed for a greater backstory to their characters. On a personal level, they got to work on other projects. It’s like the saying goes, you never know what you’ve got till it’s gone. It’s really nice to have it back where it belongs, and it's truly a beautiful gift.

More: How did it change the mood on set?
KV: I am Italian and I get angry and possessive. Right after it happened I was crying. But it’s a job. You may not have to like it but you do have to roll with it.


Click here to read Kristen Johnston: I MIssed The Marriage Boat.

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First Published January 4, 2012

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