The Poor Guy...’
Thomas Gibson canít be pigeonholded - going from fluffy sitcom Dharma & Greg into gritty FBI series Criminal Minds. He talks about playing the dark and wounded Aaron Hotchner, and his work commute from Texas to California
SOME ACTORS, ESPECIALLY those particularly associated with one role, squeeze in as many side projects as possible, playing roles as varied as they can. Thomas Gibson would seem like a prime candidate to employ such a strategy, but he doesn’t, even though he has starred as the super-serious FBI profiler Aaron Hotchner for seven seasons on the hit CBS series Criminal Minds.
“There are other things I want to do,” Gibson says. “I love working. I actually miss the theatre a great deal, and would like to do more. There’s a little short film I want to direct, and I actually want to pursue my directing career, but I work in Los Angeles and live in Texas, and my wife and I have got a 12-year-old, a nine-year-old and a seven-year-old.
“I commute back and forth between California and Texas pretty much on a weekly basis, and have done so the entire run of Criminal Minds,” he continues. “That schedule is regular enough, at least for an actor, to have a reasonably normal life, rather than the incredible unpredictability of features and of theatre too. My family is my priority.
“If there was a project that was three weeks in Austin, right up the road, during my hiatus, that would be something else,” Gibson admits. “There have been a few things that almost happened, that I came close to doing, but mostly it’s been my choice to say, ‘I really want to spend my time off being off.’
“Our hiatus is so short,” he adds. “It’s just two months on a single-camera show, and really only about half of it is when my kids are out of school. So it’s been important for me to be home. I try to look at my career as a very long journey, and hiatus projects, at this point in my life, are not absolutely vital. I think making sure that I spend the time that I need to with my kids is vital.
“Plus Lear will always be there at the end of the tunnel.”
When Criminal Minds launched in 2005, its star was Mandy Patinkin, who headed an ensemble cast that included Gibson, then best known for his long stint on the sitcom Dharma & Greg (1997-2002). Patinkin departed a few episodes into Season 3, however, and Gibson’s ‘Hotch’ emerged as the show’s heart and soul, albeit a dark heart and a wounded soul. Hotchner rarely smiles. His passion for his work cost him his marriage and, later, a serial killer murdered his ex-wife, leaving him a single dad to their young son, Jack (Cade Owens).
Yet there’s no questioning Hotchner’s love for Jack or his affection for and loyalty to his team at the Behavioral Analysis Unit. That team includes Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore), Jennifer Jareau (A.J. Cook), David Rossi (Joe Mantegna), Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster), Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Penelope Garcia (Kristen Vangsness).
“Hotch has evolved,” Gibson says. “When you do a pilot, the characters aren’t completely blank slates, but they’re rough sketches of who they might be. Jeff Davis, who wrote the pilot, and Richard Shepard, who directed it, kept saying, ‘He’s the family man.’ I said, ‘Well, OK, that’s a good start,’ but a functional family in the FBI is a rare quantity. The job tends to be very consuming, and that was the first thing I latched onto, which was, ‘How do you balance these two things?’ That was a point of departure for us, for the writers and for me, as far as playing the character went.
“He’s certainly taken a very interesting journey,” the actor says. “One of the things I was told early on, I think by one of the producers, was, ‘Hey, we’re really not interested in the character being as dark as this, as dark as you’re trying to make him.’ This was actually during the pilot.
“I said, ‘Well, I’m not really trying to make him dark. I’m trying to make him real to me. These are very dark stories and dark cases, and I really don’t think some of it doesn’t rub off and some of it doesn’t take its toll.’
“They said, ‘Well, we’ve got our dark character,’” Gibson continues. “They meant Mandy’s character by that. I think, if you actually look at who these people are, in any kind of reality, I’m sure they all have their moments of lightness and darkness, and I’ve wanted to explore that rather than just making them uni-dimensional.”
Right now Criminal Minds is in the middle of its seventh season. Longtime fans have noticed that this season, more so than in any before it, the writers are delving into the characters’ personal interactions with each other and following their lives apart from the team dynamic. Hotchner, for example, has begun dating again, an arc that will continue to play out in coming weeks.
“I like that,” Gibson says. “Hotch feels that, because of his responsibility to the job, to run this team as efficiently as possible, to save lives, that the clock is always ticking. For a while, the only person with whom he could let down his guard or his professional facade was Rossi, Joe’s character. Those are the times when you’ve seen him the most relaxed.
“The poor guy...I think the character needed, and maybe the actor needed, another part of the palette to work on this season,” he continues. “I’m looking forward to finding some of the, not necessarily lighter, but at least not-quite-so-dark hues.
“So we’re exploring a little bit more of the characters’ personal lives,” Gibson says, “and I think we’ll see more colours. There’s a great arc coming up for Derek, for Shemar’s character, and that’ll be done over a few episodes. Last year the theme of the show was secrets, and part of this year has been about the consequences of those secrets from last year.”
And what’s happening with Beth (Bellamy Young), the new lady in Hotchner’s life?
“I think she’s sticking around awhile,” Gibson says. “I hope she is. Bellamy is absolutely fantastic. We’ve got some very nice scenes coming up. She’s meeting his son, which is a big deal, and you see the two of them try to handle that as responsibly as they can. It’s a nice arc for the three characters.”