Criminal Minds Interview: Matthew Gray Gubler on Directing, Improv, Reid's Girlfriend and More!

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To many, Matthew Grab Gubler has changed the face of fictional nerds, thanks to his portrayal of the brilliant and fascinating Dr. Spencer Reid on Criminal Minds.

With the actor on board to direct tonight's episode, "The Lesson," TV Fanatic chatted with him about the psychology of the series, his unauthorized documentary and much more...


Is it difficult to switch back and forth between acting and directing? It is sort of difficult. And this one in particular involves a large story line. It's tough in the sense that, when I'm directing I'm working from 100% of my brain, but when I'm acting I'm working from my heart.

What was your favorite part of directing the "The Lesson?" Every moment of it is a highlight, but there's something in the episode that's sort of a surprise.  We'll call it a dance number. It's a dance unlike anything you've ever seen and I'm beyond proud of it. A lullaby dance.

Matthew Gray Gubler for Criminal Minds

I know Brad Dourif is appearing. Is it fair to say he's playing the UnSub? That's a fair statement to say. I've met him years ago and you know, whenever I meet an actor I greatly respect, I make a note in my head to work with them someday as a director. So I was very lucky to get him to be in this. He's exceptional.

Do you have any other directing gigs on the horizon? I do. I'm directing episode 20 of this year, which is in March. And I'm always doing a lot of weird stuff.  I do a lot of music videos too.

What attracted you to the role of Dr. Reid?  Do you have a lot of input into that character? The hope of creating a character that hadn't really been seen before. I never liked the way nerds had been portrayed [previously]. I thought there was room to paint a new type of smart person that wasn't a stereotypical pocket protector-wearing fact guy. The idea of making him sort of an Atticus Finch is sort of what inspired me on the road I've tried to travel.

Do you get involved or intensely interested in the psychological side of the series? Are you a people watcher? I am absolutely. I definitely share that sensibility with Reid and I'm always interested in the strange and bizarre of everything in life and so "synesthesia" [a condition that was discussed in the episode "Magnificent Light"] and all of these unique diseases greatly interest me.

What was the turning point in your life, when you decided to take the plunge and go into acting full time? I've always loved acting. I love entertaining.  I grew up in Las Vegas and wanted to be a magician as a child, and then a film maker. I always did love acting, I just never wanted to pursue it, because it seemed like it's not a proactive occupation. You have to wait to be picked. So I chose instead to focus on film making, where you kind of make the decisions yourself.  By some miracle I was very fortunate to do exactly what I love to do, which is act and direct.

Have you ever done improv? I have. I kind of feel like my strength is improvisation. I'm weird. With any kind of art form I feel like, rather than taking lessons, the best lesson you can have is to be genuine. And improv forced you to be genuine, because you're really listening. You can't just rely on knowing the lines or knowing when to speak. You have to be there and be completely present. I feel like improvisation is the only acting lesson I've ever had.  And that's what I try to infuse into Reid.

It's such a treat just getting up there [in improv scenes] and flying by the seat of your pants isn't it? It's the best. It's real - it becomes real then. It's not about waiting to speak or waiting to say your line the way you've practiced at home. It becomes a real thing. It's more sincere. My favorite style of everything is improvisation.

As you can imagine, Reid's love interest for this season has created a lot of buzz from various fans. In "The God Complex" we learned a number of things about her: that Reid talks to her every Sunday, etc. Without spoiling anything, is there anything else you can tell us about her? Yes, I can tell you that she's a brilliant geneticist who is being pursued by a very dangerous stalker, and so she's gone into hiding. Reid and her bonded over a paper that he wrote in a research journal, and they sort of bonded over their shared love of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. They're madly in love with each others' minds.

I understand you've done something called "Matthew Gray Gubler: the Unauthorized Documentary." What's that about? [Laughs] Our show was so very dark that I was looking for any way to lighten the mood on set.  So it started as sort of a hidden camera documentary where I was surprising crew members by being a jerk and capturing their reactions. And then it evolved into loosely scripted improvised scenes. I'm very proud of those. I'm glad you know about them.

I've been to your website. There's so much there to see and play with. I've been so busy with acting and directing that I haven't had time to really work on the website but I plan on expanding it. Making some new levels to it.

Douglas Wolfe was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. He retired in 2016. Follow him on Twitter


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Criminal Minds Quotes

Hotch: A sniper can wait up to 72 hours without sleeping.
Mays: Seriously?
Rossi: That's part of their training. They can stay awake for 72 hours and remain completely focused on their target.
Mays: How?
Hotch: By using a mental exercise called "fantasy integration". A sniper creates a scenarios involving a target that keeps that person at the forefront of their mind.
Morgan: Often they'll imagine a place where they're with the target, doing something together that takes time. For example, building a car.
JJ: For some, the fantasy begins the minute they're assigned a target. Then nothing will distract them.

They mess you up, your mom and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had, and add some extra, just for you - Philip Larkin.