‘Criminal Minds’ Star Kirsten Vangsness Believes in Letting Her Freak Flag Fly

It gets personal for Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) in the upcoming “Hope” episode of “Criminal Minds” and the tech savvy member of the BAU team  has to emerge from the safety of her computer room, put on a bulletproof vest and enter the dangerous world of her FBI cohorts.

“In this particular episode I don’t think she has a choice,” Vangsness tells XfinityTV.com. “I don’t think she wants to. She just does it. She steels herself as much as Garcia can steel herself. I think that’s a problem because Garcia isn’t built to steel herself, so when that happens there is a lot of unraveling and galvanizing.”

The case begins with the disappearance of a woman (guest star Brigid Brannagh) in Garcia’s survivor’s group on the seventh anniversary of the kidnapping of the woman’s daughter – and Garcia is determined to get her back unscathed.

In a one-on-one interview with XfinityTV.com, Vangsness talks about the “Hope” episode, the happy days on “Criminal Minds” now that the cast is reunited, Garcia’s unique sense of style and how she believes in letting your freak flag fly.

What is it like on the set now that A.J. Cook (JJ Jareau)  and Paget Brewster (Emily Prentiss) are back?
I think what people fantasize it is like is what it is like. We all love each other. I always say this, but I don’t know who chooses to believe me or not: When you shoot something, there are always big breaks. They have to turn the camera around. Unless we are all exhausted, typically when they are doing all that camera stuff, we all just hang out with each other. We genuinely are all friends, so it is nice to see them.

For a year, I would only see them when I would make dinner dates with them. Now, I get to see them at work. It is wonderful. It worked out so well because they have come back with more dimensions. It is definitely lemonade made from lemons.

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Even with the return of JJ, Garcia is still involved in selecting the cases. Why is that since Garcia is so adamant about staying out of the gross stuff?

Practicality-wise, if the writers make it so that Garcia presents the cases it means that Garcia will be in at least one scene with the team. If she isn’t, then a lot of times you just have her in the office, which is perfectly fine. But for me, it is fantastic because I get to be with everybody, which is a lot better because in all the previous seasons, if they are out in the field the only conversations I am having with them is on the phone. It is really fun to actually act with other human beings. I like acting in my little office on the phone, but it is like a one-woman show as opposed to having people there. I love the obstacle of it because Garcia hates the gore and that will continue. But I love that those given circumstances are there. As an actor, it is fun to play with those.

You had the episode where you dated this guy that shot you, so is that why you are in this support group in the “Hope” episode?
In that episode, they talk about the fact that she volunteers at a grief-support counseling thing. They talked about it in season three and now you see it in season seven. You find out why right off the bat. Garcia’s parents died in a car accident, but they died in a car accident while looking for her because she was late for her curfew. She is this little rebel, but she also feels really guilty, I think, about being this little rebel. You learn about that.

Also in this episode, you learn about Garcia in extraordinary circumstances. More than what you learn in terms of what is in the script, you watch her behavior. I am a little unsure. I know there is a lot of Garcia in it. She is very unsunny in all of this because she has a lot of stuff going on. You get to see her being supported by Morgan (Shemar Moore) and he is really there for her a lot. There is a lot of stuff with Brigid Brannah and Jack Coleman [who plays a man in the support group], our two guest stars, that are really great in this.

We haven’t seen your boyfriend Kevin this season. Is he gone?  I don’t remember a breakup.
No, we haven’t broken up. I heard a rumor that he is in the next episode. We are just shooting our 150th one right now and they are writing the next one. I don’t want to speak out of school but my understanding is he is in the next episode. But she is a busy girl so you don’t get to see a lot of what she is doing when she is not at work because she is always at work.

Since you are out, do you ever wish they had made Garcia a lesbian?
No. I think she is exactly how she is. There are all different kinds of parts and people. I don’t think it would be any fun to play me. I am totally fine with that. To me, it is, “Oh, that person is straight or gay or asexual or part of that particular thing that informs that particular character. A Kinsey scale is so fluid and determines whatever that particular character needs. It doesn’t matter to me. I like her exactly how she sings.

Is your character’s unique style based on your personal style? Is she wilder than you, or you than her?
I don’t know. I might be wilder than her. My skirts are shorter. We are different. I dress a little strange. I dress a little theatrically. It is just how it shows up, but we both have our different brand of strange. There is a little hair of a crossover, but not a lot. I only know that because of what Hollywood and interviews and stuff like that have told me: I am a theater girl and a lot of theater girls dress however pleases them. I wear whatever looks good on me. I wear what I wear because I have been shopping at thrift stores since I was five.

Also, I am a big believer in letting your own personal freak flag fly. Garcia is much more put together than I am, but we definitely are neighbors. Every once in a while I will walk out the door and say, “Oh, wait. I look like Garcia today.” I know the difference but when people see me out in the world, they are, “You look just like her.” I will be, “Do I?” I don’t think I do but I think sometimes people maybe do.

Has any of the tech stuff rubbed off on you?
I do Tweet [@vangsness] because I think it is super fun for the fans. I am more technical than a lot of people, so I guess it has rubbed off on me that way, but not as much at all as Garcia. My fiancée, she is in the middle of writing an app right now. She knows Linux; she knows all that stuff. If I really have a question, I ask her, but I promptly forget right after she tells me. My brain is not acclimated to that kind of intelligence.

“Criminal Minds” airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m./8 p.m. Central on CBS.

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