Getting To Know The Cast Of Criminal Minds

As Criminal Minds begins its 15th and final season, the beloved cast gathers to discuss serial killers (what else?), special guest stars, and their millions of phenomenal fans in this exclusive interview.
Posted on Aug 20, 2019 | 10:45am
By David Hochman

The scene is quintessential Hollywood: a train station at dusk. Steam billowing up from the tracks. Loved ones bracing for their emotional farewells. What could be more fitting for the cast of Criminal Minds?

Chugging into its 15th and final season after more than 300 episodes, the police procedural is among the 10 longest-running dramas of all time, and in the top 20 for longest-running scripted television shows. "This is Gunsmoke and Guinness Book territory," says Matthew Gray Gubler, who has played quirky FBI brainiac Dr. Spencer Reid since episode 1.

STREAM: Full Episodes Of Criminal Minds On CBS All Access

To honor the landmark occasion, all eight series regulars are gathered at a railway museum in L.A.'s Griffith Park for photos, poignant reflections, and a few behind-the-scenes confessions (mostly involving a tradition called "hot tub wine machine"—stay tuned).

On TV, the tenacious profilers of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit—or simply "BAU" to fans—are a hard-bitten bunch, tracking down serial killers and other vicious "unsubs." But in person, clearly good friends across the board and decked out today in their spiffiest finery, the cast can scarcely hold back tears as they get candid about their extended journey together and what it means to come to the end--sniff, sniff--of Criminal Minds.

On Rodriguez: Suit, shirt, and tie by Zara. On Vangsness: Dress, Vangsness’ own. On Gubler: Suit, shirt, and tie by Prada. On Henney: Trench coat, shirt, tie, and pants by Dior Homme. Watch by Hamilton Watch Company. On Tyler: Dress by Dolce & Gabbana. Shoes by Alexander McQueen. Earrings and necklace, Tyler’s own. On Mantegna: Suit, shirt, tie, and pocket square by Calvin Klein. Socks by Happy Socks. Shoes by Magnanni. Tie bar by The Tie Bar. Watch, Mantegna’s own. On Cook: Vintage trench coat by Versace. Shoes by Fendi. Earrings by Jagger and Co. On Brewster: Dress by Simone Rocha. Shoes by Stuart Weitzman. Ring from The Ruby Fashion Library.

WATCH: Behind The Scenes With The Killer Cast Of Criminal Minds

Judging from the misty eyes and group hugs, it looks like the series wrap-up is generating "all the feels," as they say. Are you able to get through scenes this season without a tissue break?

Joe Mantegna (Senior Supervisory Special Agent David Rossi, Seasons 3-present): This is my 50th year in show business, and next to voicing on The Simpsons, Rossi is my longest-running role. I came in with dark hair and now it's gray. I arrived without much of a game plan, and the show and character are now a deep part of who I am. This cast is a true family for me. So every episode this year has an added bittersweet layer. When the director announces, "This is the last profile scene" or "This is our last scene on the jet," you look around with a real sense of passing. It's monumental.

Kirsten Vangsness (BAU Technical Analyst and Media Liaison Penelope Garcia, Seasons 1-present): The term that keeps coming up is "ambiguous loss"—that feeling of losing something you love, and that everything's about to change. In this case it's not a person, thank goodness. But still, in the middle of a scene, it hits you. But you can't cry; you have all this makeup on. Plus, what are you crying for? It's been such an incredible experience. I will have done every single episode except episode 5, every episode of the first spinoff, and two episodes of the second spinoff. I love these people. No, sir. I'm not crying. You're crying. [Editor's note: She's crying.]

Paget Brewster (Supervisory Special Agent and BAU Unit Chief Emily Prentiss, Seasons 2-7, 9, 11-present): Um, I'm in complete denial, so I'll break down into tears the week after we end, but not before. I'm pretending this show's never, ever going to end.

On Cook: Dress by Victoria Beckham. Vintage purse by Moschino. Shoes by YSL. Earrings by Jagger and Co. On Gubler: Sweater, shirt, and pants by Prada. Shoes by Alden Shoes.

Without spoiling anything, what can you say about Season 15?

A.J. Cook (Supervisory Special Agent Jennifer "JJ" Jareau, Seasons 1-present): Well, I can tell you that we will find out what happens now that JJ has expressed her true feelings for Dr. Reid.

Matthew Gray Gubler (Supervisory Special Agent Dr. Spencer Reid, Seasons 1-present): Don't you mean "Jeid?" That's what the internet is calling us. Hey, I'm not spoiling anything. I mean, don't rule out, uh, "Jemily" or "Jarcia" this season, either!

Adam Rodriguez (Supervisory Special Agent Luke Alvez, Seasons 12-present): And we do have guest stars. We love guest stars! [Editor's note: Among others, watch for Jane Lynch to return as Reid's schizophrenic mother, and for Rachael Leigh Cook as a potential new love interest for Reid.]

Daniel Henney (Supervisory Special Agent Matt Simmons, Seasons 10, 12-present): Overall, I'd say 15 has more of an arc through the episodes than previous seasons. Our unsub, Chameleon, is played by Michael Mosley, and he's definitely into some gruesome, creepy stuff.

Brewster: Like, we have a scene where a bunch of body parts are hanging from a tree. Our prop guy, who's a professional fisherman in real life, was on top of a 15-foot ladder with a foot and an ear hanging off his fishing pole.

Aisha Tyler (Special Agent Dr. Tara Lewis and forensic psychologist, Seasons 11-present): And people wonder why my house in L.A. is like a fortress and I'm armed! I'd say it's a direct result of Criminal Minds. This show is definitely dark. I'm not going around profiling sociopaths and serial killers, but, yeah, being on Criminal Minds, you become more perceptive about people's bad behavior.

Trench coat by Zara. Turtleneck by Barneys New York. Pants by Zara. Socks by Happy Socks. Shoes by Magnanni.

Anybody else find it hard letting go in real life after chasing serial killers at work all day?

Cook: I'm blessed with a good shut-off switch. Once the day's done, I can block everything out. But as soon as I became a mom, something shifted where the naive girl from Canada got the boot and mama bear arrived. We saw that happen with JJ on the show, too. When she became a mom, it was suddenly like, "Whoa, watch out for that guy in the park!"

Henney: I'll tell you a story. About two months ago, I'm at home sleeping and a burglar alarm goes off, and I literally switched into Simmons mode. All the training I'd done with the FBI guys and our tech advisers instantly came into play. I threw on black sweatpants. I was creeping around the perimeter of my house, FBI-style. I clocked all my points of ingress and egress. When you do so many episodes, basic instincts kick in.

Did you identify the unsub?

Henney: Nobody was there! It was a stupid, faulty window sensor.

Brewster: The show definitely sharpens your reactions to your surroundings. When you start the show, you have access to the FBI training manual, which, frankly, no civilian should ever see because the photographs are so grisly. You end up going through a period of hypervigilance where you can't go into a sandwich shop or airport without thinking, Uh-oh! I think that couple's going to end up in a domestic dispute tonight.

Shirt, tie, and pants by Prada. Shoes by Tom Ford. Watch by Hamilton Watch Company.

Group question: What's your standout memory from these many seasons?

Rodriguez: I jumped onto this flying carpet 12 seasons in, and my first scene was out in the middle of the desert, and we shot all night long. There was an old car that was supposed to be in the scene, but it broke down and they ended up rolling it into the shot, which was funny. But more than that, I remember how welcoming people were. I was the new guy, but I felt immediately at home.

Brewster: We watched your family grow, too, Adam. You had a kid. A.J. had two kids. I met my husband on set. We've been lucky enough to live our lives and develop together as people.

Cook: For me, having both my boys appear in the show was an absolute treasure. Mekhai, who's 10, has been doing it way longer than Phoenix, who's 4, and he loves it, though I can't tell if it's the acting or that everybody's giving him cookies and ice cream all the time.

Henney: I was really proud to play Simmons because, as an Asian American actor, you don't often get the chance to play the quintessential American guy's guy. He's married to a Caucasian woman and has mixed-race children—which is true with me, too [Henney is also of mixed descent]—and I loved representing that on television. To have a kissing scene with Kelly, my wife on the show—you weren't seeing that 10 years ago.

Tyler: Directing a couple episodes was an incredible opportunity. But for me, just the experience of seeing this through to the end is so rewarding. I was only supposed to do six episodes. Everything's been gravy since then.

Mantegna: Hands down, my highlight was being able to work in my passion for law enforcement and the military by making my FBI character a former Marine. That allowed me to bring in Meshach Taylor, one of my dearest, oldest friends, as my commanding officer in Vietnam, and directing two of the three episodes that involved him as a character.

That included the episode where his character died, because Meshach had died. To actually bury him on camera as my dear friend--I'm the godfather of his kids, and he's the godfather of mine—it was everything. If I do nothing else on television, doing that for Meshach to me means the top of the ladder.

Trench coat by 3.1 Phillip Lim. Briefcase by Art Dept. Clothing. Earrings and necklace, Tyler's own.

TV shows come and go. How do you explain the enduring success of Criminal Minds?

Tyler: Well, I'd say it's not about prurient interest in the macabre. I think the reason people like the show is because we want to know that there's a smart, dedicated team of professionals out there working very hard to make sure that the rest of us stay safe. Even if we don't know who they are and we can't see them, it's comforting that people are sacrificing their personal lives and their relationships so that they can put evil people away.

Rodriguez: I meet young people all the time, teenagers, who love the show and say they love the game of it all—figuring out how these processes work and the skills that go into solving crimes. I think we've probably inspired a generation of people to go into this important work—on the good-guy side, not on the bad.

Cook: So many people have struggled in their lives, and they can relate to what they see on the show. Hardworking moms, people that have been abused, people who've experienced loss.

Vangsness: I think it comes down to a show with some of the greatest characters on television. Garcia is just a bundle of positive energy, and that resonated. Her desk is a living piece of art to how she's connected with the audience. I've got a papier-mâché heart pen a fan from France gave me. There's a little rabbit from a fan in Japan. A German woman knitted a Penelope doll that's sitting there. Oh, and Richard Simmons gave me a necklace one time because he loved the show!

On Brewster: Trench dress by Khaite. On Rodriguez: Suit, shirt, and tie by Calvin Klein. Watch by Bulgari. Cuff links by The Tie Bar. Ring, Rodriguez's own.

Criminal Minds fans are a devoted bunch.

Henney: I once checked into a ski lodge in Switzerland and my television wasn't working, so I went to the front desk. The two desk guys started staring at me like zombies and pointed to their TV, where Criminal Minds was on, with me on the screen.

Brewster: It takes you by surprise in the weirdest places. You'll be in a bathroom at a movie theater and girls are outside whispering, That's Emily Prentiss, and they wait for you to finish so you can wash your hands and hug them.

What are you going to miss most about the show?

Cook: Um, everything. The scenes in the jet are my favorites because it's such a tight space that we forget we're on a TV show and just enjoy hanging out together. This show, for me, was a coming of age. You can look online and find me in the beginning of season 1 wearing this ridiculous pink pinstriped blazer that will haunt me forever. I look like I'm 12. But I've grown up along with JJ. [Tearing up.] I'll miss it all so much.

Gubler: Likewise, I really look up to Spencer Reid, and I feel so honored to have played him for so long. I will miss his long, you know, three-page monologues of technical jargon about protons or whatever. I'll miss the way he holds his hands like an ostrich foot when he's solving a problem. He's definitely way smarter than I'll ever be, but I like to think that some Dr. Reid qualities have imbued themselves into my own personality a little bit. If nothing else, I've adopted his ever-changing hairstyles.

Tyler: I'll miss being an FBI badass. I'd love to take the FBI jacket, but it's absolutely illegal to walk around wearing it.

Vangsness: I can tell you what I won't miss. Garcia's glasses—because I have them all already. I've bought every pair she's ever worn, so I have a collection of around 65 at home. They remind me to be confident like her, to see life through her eyes. Garcia is my Sasha Fierce.

Brewster: I will miss the hot tub wine machine.

Trench coat by Victoria Beckham. Dress by Elie Tahari. Shoes by Prada.

Hot tub wine machine?

Vangsness: You heard that right, mister. It's an epic hot tub party at my house that the women on the show have turned into a standing gig—or more like a floating gig.

Brewster: It's basically a therapy and gossip and splashing-around session fueled by chardonnay and rosé.

Tyler: And it's ladies only because it gets kinda frisky.

Rodriguez: This is a sore subject for me even as a very securely and happily married man.

Mantegna: They do send us pictures on group text, which is thoughtful of them.

Vangsness: I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to tell you that this fine tradition makes it into our last episode. I co-wrote the finale, and we tried to cram in as many little Easter eggs and satisfying plot tie-ups as we could, both for fans and for each other. So within the episode, you'll see the BAU version of hot tub time machine. We worked really hard solving these super-intense crimes over what will be 325 episodes. After all these years, don't you think we deserve a little spa time?

SEE MORE: Exclusive Photos: Criminal Minds Cast Glams Up For Their Final Season

Originally published in Watch! Magazine, July-August 2019.

Photography by Robert Trachtenberg. Styled by Annie Jagger & Michael Nash.

Stream full episodes of Criminal Minds on CBS All Access.