Fall TV Preview: A.J. Cook Answers Burning Questions About Season 9 of ‘Criminal Minds’

A.J. Cook, front center, and Jeanne Tripplehorn of "Criminal Minds" (Photo: CBS)

Despite the emotional toll experienced by the Behavioral Analysis Team last year, it’s business as usual when “Criminal Minds” returns for its ninth season on Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 9/8c on CBS with a two-part episode that takes the team to Arizona to search for an UnSub, who is quickly devolving.

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Camryn Manheim plays the mother of the unsub (Fred Koehler) and she is very protective, like overly watchful of her son, so there’s this whole Mommy Dearest thing going on,” A.J. Cook, who plays Jennifer Jareau, tells xfinityTV in this exclusive interview. “It’s pretty creepy. The unsub is killing women who look like his ex-girlfriend. He obviously has mommy issues/girlfriend issues. There is a lot of action and it is quite the ride. There are some twists and turns with it. I am excited we are going to be out the gate with a lot of energy and action.”

Cook also opens up about new recurring cast member Esai Morales, a new kind of serial killer, what we can expect in the 200th episode, and more. Read on for her answers to burning questions for Season 9 of “Criminal Minds.”

How long since the finale do we pick up? How is the team dealing with the death of Erin Strauss? That was a very personal loss to the team, especially for David Rossi, who was dating her.

Essentially, we pick right back up. When we step into the season premiere, we have Hotch filling in as the Section Chief in the wake of Erin Strauss’ (Jayne Atkinson) death. Rossi (Joe Mantegna) is still dealing with that. We have a lot of people in mourning. Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) is still mourning Maeve’s death (Beth Riesgraf).

We pick right back up and there is the question as to who is going to be the Section Chief. Is that something that Hotch is going to do? We are off fighting the bad guys again and jumping right back in.

Speaking of action, JJ seems to be more active in cases these days. Is that something you asked for, or did the writers make that decision?

I think what happened is they got to know me. I am very active. I love being physical. I love working out. I live at the beach. I am a tomboy. I think the first time they had me do some action stuff, they were like, “Huh! All right, who knew?” I don’t know if it was the roundhouse kick to the head of the unsub, maybe that was it. I love it. I joke that JJ is trying to become Morgan (Shemar Moore). I’m always like, “Do you want me to kick this door down? I got this.” It is this weird competition. He and I seem to be sprinting down a lot of alleys together. I am, “I can keep up with you.” I love being physical and it seemed like the right step.

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The 200th episode is going to be about JJ’s missing year. What will we discover?

Interestingly enough, we are going to learn a lot about JJ and what she was doing during that sixth season, where she went to work for the State Department. Essentially, she left as one character and she came back a little tougher and like she had seen some things.

JJ’s story in that sixth season is going to intersect a lot with all of our main characters. Our writers are incredible. They are writing some amazing stuff. It is going to make perfect sense to people who have watched the whole way through. We are going to recall things that happened back in the day and everyone is going to be, “Oh, my gosh. I remember that. That makes sense now. I get that now.” So, it’s really an exciting time for the writers because they get to pull this big puzzle together. JJ’s absence enables them to write great stories for all of the characters, and makes it possible for them to tie up all those loose ends.

So will we see how other characters evolve, too, not just JJ?

Of course. This whole season is going to be about learning more about all of our characters. I think the reason why JJ has gotten more attention in the media is we don’t know anything about her. All the other characters, we know a little more about them. This year we’re going to dive into that and explain why JJ is the way she is now, what happened to her, and what has formed her to be the person she is.

Executive producer Erica Messer told me that JJ and Esai Morales’ character have a history between them, but that people will misinterpret their initial closeness. When will we learn how they were involved?

Esai comes in as our new section chief and it turns out that JJ and his character Matt have a history. He is going to be introduced in the fourth episode, I believe. We just sort of leave it hanging there. We don’t make an attempt to answer any questions and it’s going to raise a lot of eyebrows. People are going to be confused and question everything they know about JJ, but that is good. We want them to question it, because it is all going to get explained beautifully in the end.

Guest star Camryn Manheim with Thomas Gibson, left, and Joe Mantegna on "Criminal Minds" (Photo: CBS)

You have some great guest stars coming up. Who in addition to Camryn Manheim?

This season has been incredible with the casting. We have Eva La Rue coming in as a detective, which has been a lot of fun. We have been exchanging war stories because she was on “CSI: Miami” for so long. I love grilling anyone for stories, so she has been fun to have on set. David Anders (“Alias”) has been around as well.

Everyone has been so great. We have some great unsubs this year. We’re going to see a lot of familiar faces coming back, as well, so that is going to be great for all of our diehard fans who have been with us from day one.

Can you talk about some of the cases we will see this year?

Something we are doing that we haven’t done yet is David Anders, who is in our fourth or fifth episode, is coming on as a serial killer who lobotomizes his victims. Then, we’ve got this interesting JFK shooting/sniper episode that is really great as well. That is the one that Eva La Rue is doing.

It is interesting, because [you’d think], “Nine seasons, what are we going to do?” But the writers keep coming up with ideas. I guess it is an endless supply, really. All you’ve got to do is turn the news on. It feels very fresh this year, which is an interesting thing to say about a ninth season. We are touching on things we hadn’t touched on and we are diving a lot more into the characters, which is always welcome in my book.

“Criminal Minds” premieres its ninth season on Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 9/8c on CBS.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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