A veteran theater 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. And while she’s popping up on the show’s first spin-off, “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior,” Vangsness is still happiest on the show she calls home. She spoke with Metro about wardrobe choices, watching herself onscreen and picking up guest-stars at the gym.
What inspired your character’s eccentric wardrobe?
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 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.
But it’s not necessarily allowed in the real FBI dress code, right?
We’ve made the creative license that she’s so good at her job, she basically came in and said, “Look. You can have me, but I get to wear what I want. These are the rules. You follow the rules, and I’ll stay and I’ll behave.”
You’ve had 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.”
Do the scripts leave much room for improvisation?
I know how she talks, so I’ll go to [the writers] and be like, “I want to do this instead of this.” Now they’re really used to it. I get to do a lot more because I’m in that [lab] 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.