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The best roles are sometimes the ones actors unwittingly fall into. And that couldn’t ring more true for Matthew Gray Gubler, a former leading model and passionate film-maker, who bagged the now infamous ‘nerd’ role of Dr Spencer Reid in Criminal Minds after being encouraged to try his hand at acting by director Wes Anderson. Debashine Thangevelo, won over by |his charismatic |and unassuming nature, enjoyed a |delightful tête-à-tête with the actor-cum-director…
I recently put the phone down after waiting for more than half an hour to chat to reality TV star Kim Kardashian. I figured that I could just find out all I wanted from the overabundance of information on the web, splashed on tabloid pages or on social network sites Twitter and Facebook.
But an opportunity to interview Matthew Gray Gubler, one of the leads in the hit TV series Criminal Minds, wasn’t something I was about to give up on as easily. Aside from him being über-brilliant in his role as FBI special agent Dr Spencer Reid, it is one of the best TV series.
With him based in Los Angeles and me in SA, we spent some time playing musical chairs with our diaries before finally settling on a date and time that worked.
A shameless workaholic, Gubler laughed: “I’m finally sleeping in three months.”
As someone who majored in acting at the Las Vegas Academy of International Studies as well as in film directing at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts – not forgetting his modelling work for influential brands like Burberry and Marc Jacobs or his mockumentaries and music video for The Killers – I asked him if he just wanted to do it all.
“I’ve never considered any industry. I always tried to be proficient in everything I have done. Just want to stay busy,” he explained.
On bagging a key role in Criminal Minds, Gubler explained: “That’s sort of an interesting story. I had gone to university in America to study directing. And I worked for Wes Anderson, who asked me to audition for a character in one of his movies. Then I went to LA to pursue directing but my agent suggested I do a TV show.
“I went for a second or third audition and it happened. For whatever reason, I think they (the makers) envisioned Dr Reid as a completely different character. They wanted no emotion – for him to be almost robotic. I get the feeling that it was a leap of faith for them. They kept saying, ‘don’t be too friendly’.”
“I got lucky – they took a chance on me,” he said.
However, it wasn’t a completely effortless task to slip into the genius mind of Dr Reid.
“There are a lot of challenges,” he agreed. “First of all, he is a genius. I’m nothing like that in real life. I always wanted him to be socially not quite with it. He is very naïve and he doesn’t understand jokes. On the plus side, it has led to an embracement of skinny nerds like me.”
Of the behavioural analysis group – each bringing a special skill and insight to the investigative table – Dr Reid’s forte is geographic profiling.
Having been with the show since its debut, Gubler has also grown exponentially over the various seasons. And in a few episodes, he had the opportunity to sit behind the camera and direct.
“It has been really fun,” he said. “I love entertaining in any capacity. Directing the show has been heavenly. I try to pride myself on hopefully doing things in my episodes that we don’t do. And the cast and crew couldn’t be more welcoming, friendly and inspirational. Because I have been here since the very beginning, I know absolutely everyone, how to speak to them and how to get them excited.”
As for Dr Reid’s transformation over the seasons, Gubler reckoned: “The one thing that used to annoy me is when a character never changes. Like Bill Cosby is always the same. I went to the writers and said that I wanted my character to have a beginning, middle and an end.
“And some of the changes are most evident in his ridiculous hairstyles. In the first season, he was sheltered and quiet. He changed after he was kidnapped, addicted to drugs and saw his friends leave and die. I would say he has become a bit more socially acceptable.”
And getting to work with Shemar Moore, Thomas Gibson, Joe Mantegna and AJ Cook has made it an even more pleasurable experience – more so with the show renewed for an eight season.
“The key to any top show being successful goes back to whether the cast get along. Every day, we fall in love with each other. Everyone is so different. In the parking lot, you couldn’t find seven more opposite vehicles,” he laughed.
What I perhaps admire most in Gubler is his conviction. He isn’t in any popularity race in Hollywood.
“I would be happy just entertaining one person, even it if meant performing on the sidewalk in Wisconsin. I have never been interested in the industry or its acceptance of me. Making someone smile is more important to me,” he said.
A true artist – what’s not to love?
• The seventh season of Criminal Minds is on M-Net Series (DStv Channel 110) on Mondays at 9.30pm. The sixth season starts on FOX Entertainment (TopTV Channel 180) from July 3 at 8.15pm.