The fans of CBS’ ‘Criminal Minds’ (Wednesdays at 9/8c) were dealt a non-grisly surprise over the summer when word got out that longtime cast member A.J. Cook would be written out early this season. Though her alter ego JJ’s exit is still fresh in viewers’ minds, Thomas Gibson promises that a plan is in place to properly honor the honorably departed.
Gibson discusses his commitment to that goal in this Fancast Q&A, as well as previews Hotch’s own journey and reveals one of his favorite on-screen relationships.
How was it filming these first episodes following A.J. Cook’s departure? A bit melancholy?
Yeah, absolutely. Because she’s a great person – and this was written into the episode as well – she looked at it like, “Sometimes life throws you a curveball and you need to look at it as an opportunity.” [The decision to write out JJ] is something I guess we’ll never quite understand fully, but she has moved onward and upward – and I guess we need to as well.
In fact, in this week’s episode Hotch decides it’s time to think about filling JJ’s role on the team.
Exactly. But Hotch said to her he wasn’t go to replace her because the shoes are too big. So in order to keep our family together, we want to try to redistribute her responsibilities and manage it somehow. This week there’s some interesting exploration of exactly how we do that. It takes a really good turn, I think.
From where you sit, why does ‘Criminal Minds’ consistently dominate Wednesday nights? Why are people tuning in week after week, despite its sometimes-grisly nature?
The idea that [showrunner] Ed [Bernero] always goes back to is that it’s a thriller that has the parameters of a crime investigation. People find this material – and I now I do – fascinating. What makes people tick? What does the dark side look like? It can get a little grisly at times; people will stop me and say, “Hey, enough with the blood!” I think there’s less blood than people think there is, but there are horrific things that we do see. I think that people are fascinated with the stories, with human nature and the dark turns it can take. One of us [on the cast] tweeted a couple weeks ago, “Give me 42 minutes and I’ll give you your unsub.” People like to see the world turned right, to see the bad guy caught – and we don’t miss too many times.
How are you describing Hotch’s journey this season?
The big theme that Ed has talked about is “secrets,” that things we don’t yet know about these characters will get revealed. In hindsight you go, “Yeah, that makes sense to me,” but they’re things you won’t necessarily have seen coming. For my character, given what he went through last year – losing his wife, becoming a single dad – it’s about adjustments. There are going to be things that he didn’t see coming. Trying to keep the ball in the air between his personal life and his professional life is going to be a challenge.
What’s your favorite relationship to play on the show?
I do love the whole concept of [the BAU as] a family, and the times that the characters can connect with each other apart from work are the moments that are greatest to play. And also I love doing the stuff with Cade [Owens], my little boy on the show, who started with us when he was maybe 2-1/2. I’ve seen him grow up and we have a really nice TV father-son relationship.
Is there any one episode from past five-plus seasons that you regard as ‘Criminal Minds’ high-water mark?
Our 100th episode is one that comes to mind for my character, because so much happened to him. But there tend to be a few from each season that each of us on the cast feels fondly about.
Are there any cool guest stars coming up? The show has had such fun with the disparate likes of Frankie Muniz, Tim Curry, Jason Alexander….
We’ve got a couple of amazing ones. Sally Kirkland (‘Valley Of The Dolls’) is doing the show this week, Robert Knepper (‘Prison Break’) is doing the show, we’ve got a fantastic episode coming up that Mare Winningham (‘St. Elmo’s Fire’) is in, and she is just unbelievable. We will continue to get a caliber of actors like that.