A veteran theatre actress, California native Kirsten Vangsness got her first big television break in 2005 with Criminal Minds, the FBI procedural on which she plays eccentric — and eccentrically dressed — technical analyst Penelope Garcia.
She spoke with Metro about wardrobe choices, watching herself onscreen and picking up guest stars at the gym.
Where did your character’s eccentric wardrobe come from?
I dress a little odd, and I think they saw that like, ‘Oh, you can kind of pull that off.’ If you look at the first couple of episodes of the show, it was pretty calm, and then it gets crazier because she can kind of pull it off and we have good fun. Definitely, it’s the costume designer. I can pull it off because in real life, I am perfectly comfortable wearing stuff like this.
You’ve had some great guest-stars playing psychopaths on the show, like Tim Curry.
Speaking of Tim Curry, he was at my gym and I was working out one day — this is really how this happened — I’m working out, doing something horrible, I don’t know, involving my abdominal muscles, and I hear, ‘I worship at your throne.’ (laughs) And I’m like, ‘I know that voice,” and I look up and it’s Tim Curry.
He’s like, ‘I’m Tim. I want to be on that show,’ and I was like, ‘OK...’ And I go to work and I’m like, ‘Tim Curry wants to be on our show.’ And they’re all, ‘What? Oh, my God!’ I see him at the gym now all the time. He calls me his agent. And it is the weirdest thing. There’s Tim Curry, doing his bicep curls or something.
Do the scripts leave much room for improvisation?
I know how she talks, so I’ll go to them and be like, ‘I want to do this instead of this,’ but now they’re really used to it. So we do a nice little exchange of stuff. I get to do a lot more because I’m in that room by myself, so no one is relying on me. I think collectively when we work on a scene, like a group scene, these are the lines on the page, and then as you’re going along, you sort of get massaged into this thing. ‘You take this line, I’m going to take this line’ and ‘This makes more sense.’ There’s not a lot of ego.
The show’s been going for six years now. How long do you ideally see it going?
As long as it feels fun and as long as these people are here with me to do it. That’s my answer.