Kirsten Vangsness Thrives on “Criminal Minds”

Kirsten Vangsness definitely stands out in a crowd, and not just because of
her vivid outfits, a staple both of her personal style and of Penelope Garcia,
the quirky but ever-efficient computer expert she plays on the hit CBS crime
drama Criminal Minds.

Not that Vangsness’s typical attire doesn’t attract attention: at a recent
CBS party, for example, she wore an ensemble consisting of a poofy purple
dress, green bolero jacket and yellow-green earrings in the shape of handcuffs.
But the clothes weren’t the reason the 35-year-old actress was more than
holding her own in a nightclub filled with A-listers such as Julia
Louis-Dreyfus and David Duchovny.

At nearly every moment of the festivities, the effervescent Vangsness and
her bright-eyed girlfriend, film editor Melanie Goldstein, were schmoozing with
someone or another.

It was a microcosm of her popularity with the fans of Minds, who have
adopted Vangsness’ Garcia as one of their own, a welcome flash of light in a
series known for its dark tone and bleak moments.

The importance of Vangsness’ Minds character was confirmed in a two-part
episode last season when the trusting Garcia was shot and critically wounded by
a blind date who happened to be a bit of a psychotic.

The first part ended in true cliffhanger fashion, with Garcia left for dead
in the courtyard of her apartment building, and it didn’t take long after the
closing credits for the blogosphere to explode in furious reaction, with more
than a few fans flatly stating that if Garcia succumbed to her wounds, they
were done with the show.

Vangsness herself didn’t have to go online to get a sense of that passion.

“My
sister and a few other people were calling me, crying,” she told
AfterEllen.com.

“They
were saying ‘What’s going on?’ and ‘Oh my God.’ And it was a little weird to
see myself in all of those precarious positions, but not as hard as it was, I
think, for my extended family. And people do have a reaction. People were,
like, ‘I’m so glad they didn’t (kill you).’ It’s such a gift.”

The
gift, like so many things in Hollywood, was a happy accident.

When
Minds debuted in 2005, Vangsness was seen just briefly in the pilot. Her character,
Garcia, was there only to impart a few lines of information to the team of FBI
agents, led by Mandy Patinkin and Thomas Gibson, who were attempting to profile
a murder suspect.

Things
changed when she was called back for the second episode and attended a
read-through with the cast, including soap-opera veteran Shemar Moore, who
plays hunky Agent Morgan.

“Shemar, whom I’d never met, came in and sat next to me,” she explained. “And we had a
sexual harassment meeting we had to go to after we got done reading, and we sat
next to each other and sexually harassed each other the whole time through this
meeting. And the writers saw us, and then all of a sudden the part that was
tiny got bigger and bigger.”

By midseason, Vangsness was featured in every episode of Minds; by the following
year, she was an official cast member.

Vangsness with Minds castmate Shemar Moore

Along
the way, the playful flirting between Garcia and Morgan became a staple of the
series, and Vangsness made Garcia her own, integrating her quirky personality
and style of dress into the character. (But not her tech skills; Vangsness
readily admits that Goldstein is the computer genius in this relationship.)

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