*EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW* Paget Brewster on Coming Home, Emily’s Future!
Our Ms. Brewster has the unique status of having come and gone more than any of her compadres within the history of the show. We railed when she was fired, cheered when she was rehired, and booed (but tried to remain supportive) when she left again on her own terms. Now she’s BACK on her own terms, to much fanfare, and Emily Prentiss’s experience in running Interpol for the last 4 years has primed her to now lead the BAU as Unit Chief. Paget graciously gave up part of her weekend to chat with all of us, and I think you’ll all be pleased to read what she had to say!
“You have to fight for what you want!”
TJ: Hello there! Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to talk to us. I’d like to start by asking you how you came to Criminal Minds. What attracted you to the role of Emily Prentiss, and could you share what the audition process was like for you?
PB: No, thank you for taking the time out of your day to talk with me, Tari. I met the original cast of Criminal Minds in Vancouver in 2005 when they were shooting the pilot, then called “Quantico”, and I was shooting a CBS TV movie called Amber Frey: Witness For The Prosecution. A year and a half later, while shooting another TV movie in New Orleans, I called my agents and said I was tired of living in hotels, flying back and forth and never being home. I had shot four movies in a row and I missed being on an actual TV show. I hated that kind of life and begged them to send me out for TV shows only.
Two days later my agent called and asked me if I would meet with the producers of Criminal Minds. I had watched the show since it began airing and had always been one of those people who read everything about serial killers, watched every documentary and true crime show so I was very excited. When I flew home I met with Ed Bernero, Simon Mirren, Chris Mundy and Mark Gordon.
They started telling me about the show and I told them I watched it, they seemed happy and they started talking about the episode they were writing that week. I recognized the story from a Dr. Michael Stone interview I had seen so I said, “Are you basing this on ‘The Toy-Box Killer’?” And they just stared at me for a minute. I think Simon started laughing and Ed said “How do you know about that?” and I said “I’m one of THOSE people… you know what I mean.” I think they said they were THOSE people too, and that I would be auditioning with Thomas Gibson in a few days.
I was offered a series regular role in a pilot for another network the next day so Criminal Minds just up and offered me the part of Emily Prentiss a day later. There was technically no audition process – only a meeting where they discovered I might be just the serial killer studying actress and CM fan they were looking for.
TJ: What were those first days like, in finding your character? Strauss brought Emily in as a spy to eliminate Hotch, but she didn’t play ball. Do you find it ironic that now Prentiss is replacing him?
PB: I don’t see it as ironic because I don’t consider Emily to be replacing Hotch. Nobody can replace Hotch. He suggested she become the Unit Chief and Emily feels immense gratitude toward Hotch for his support and confidence in her. It allows her to return to the BAU family without backtracking in her career, remember she was running Interpol for the last 4 years. I think it sent a great message about female empowerment, respecting our careers as women, as well as the notion of coming home.
TJ: Emily seems fearless, at times. Almost able to switch off certain emotions to get the job done, yet she has never come off as cold or uncaring – quite the opposite. What’s it like to walk that fine line, as an actor?
PB: I am so flattered that you think I’m doing that well! I have always been fascinated by first responders, detectives, police officers, firefighters, EMTs, profilers, our own Criminal Minds FBI consultants… they interact with people on what is usually the worst day of that person’s life, and they have most critical role to play in those hours, days, weeks, sometimes years.
But they themselves are still human beings with wit, compassion, regret and fear. I am endlessly impressed by their ability to dedicate their lives to seeking justice for victims while seeing the worst sides of humanity as well. I can only imagine how difficult that kind of life must be. That is my job – imagining it – and I pray I do my job well enough to truly honor all of our real life heroes.
TJ: Television is quite different now compared to when you first joined the team. What do you think are the benefits vs. the drawbacks of the ‘Golden Age’ that’s occurring right now?
PB: Well the benefits are outstanding writing and thousands of options to choose from. I love watching television. It’s what I do when I get home at the end of the work day, it’s what I do in the morning before I head to work! And I love that most of my friends: actors, crew, writers, directors, are all working now.
The only drawback I can imagine – and this is pretty “Grumpy Old Lady” of me to say – is that we now don’t have the common bond of all watching I Love Lucy or 60 Minutes together as a nation. The amount of choices sends us all off into our own TV orbits and I wonder if sports are the last holdout. I watched the Cubs win the World Series and it felt great! I haven’t watched sports in years so I’m completely guilty of doing the very isolated thing that I regret.
I also have a little bit of a grudge – again, Grumpy Old Lady – against all of the movie stars who looked down on TV actors like myself and my peers for decades and then suddenly realized that TV is great. Now they are taking jobs away from all of the actors who battled it out in this medium when it was mocked. Movie stars take the TV jobs, so TV actors go to animation recording voices that then become movies that hire movie stars. I think this was a bit done by comedian Dana Gould. He gave my first acting job in TV.
TJ: Can you tell us what your favorite role has been, aside from Emily? And why that particular character?
PB: Besides Emily Prentiss, my favorite role is playing Dodo Bellacourt in Comedy Central’s Another Period. Our second season just finished airing and we start shooting the third season this Spring. It’s “The Kardashians” meets Downton Abbey, about an obscenely wealthy (and just plain obscene) family in 1905 Newport, Rhode Island. I play the matriarch of the Bellacourts who has a British/Atlantic mash up accent, a morphine addiction, a cheating husband, a basement full of servants and three remorseless, horrible grown children.
I’ve known most of the cast and the writer/producers Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome for years. There are no dressing rooms, no trailers, no special effects, no stunt people – it is a bare bones comedy troupe putting together the most beautiful looking, and hilariously dirty show ever made. And all out of love for the story and the creators. I’m incredibly proud of it and so thankful that the producers of Criminal Minds and CBS and ABC Studios are allowing me to continue doing Another Period while I’m on Criminal Minds.
TJ: One of my favorite Emily episodes is Demonology. You struck just the right chord of vulnerability, balanced with her innate strength. Her sense of justice was deep and heavy in this episode, as were her younger self’s insecurities, and it was one of the most visually beautiful Prentiss episodes. How were you able to get into her younger self’s mindspace to bring all of that out?
PB: I’m tempted to not answer this question because I feel so bad about what I’m going to say. We shot that episode 7 years ago and I simply don’t remember enough to answer this question. In my defense, it takes about 800 hours of shooting to create each 42 minute show and we shoot ten months straight in a year to make a season. I have to wipe out my memory banks to make room for new stories and lines every week (We do talk about it at work that our fans know WAY more than we do about our own show….).
TJ: A while ago, it was rumored that Emily may have been dating a woman at some point. Now that she’s back for good, and network constraints aside, what would you think about playing her as bisexual or realizing she’s gay?
PB: Prentiss being a lesbian was an idea brought up by Ed Bernero when he ran Criminal Minds years ago and I said yes. I don’t remember why that story idea went away but I embrace everything our writers create. I would be happy to play Emily as bisexual or gay because I trust our team would do it well and honorably.
If Emily were to get a female love interest in the future I hope she’d be played by Gwendoline Christie from Game Of Thrones or Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper. I think those two ladies are exceptionally talented at what they do and very sexy.
TJ: CM is known for hiring and being supportive of women directors, and also having cast members like Joe, Matthew, and Thomas direct. Would you ever want to step behind the cameras and direct an episode?
PB: Ha ha… that old adage, every actor thinks “What I truly want to do is direct”. Nope. Directing looks like being pecked to death by a thousand chickens. Everyone has questions for you all day, every day, you never get the money, permits, cast or time to truly realize your vision so it’s a constant battle of compromises. It’s not for me. I like to do just one thing and scrabble really hard to do it well enough to keep doing it. I’m laser focused on that acting, though!!
TJ: What is your favorite episode of Criminal Minds, and why is it a standout for you?
PB: My favorite episode of Criminal Minds is whatever episode we are currently shooting that I am in. I’m not kidding. I’m so thankful to have this job back again, I love every single day at work. Even in the rain at 5am in the woods an hour and a half away from my home. I love it.
TJ: Your sense of humor is well known and often on display (Another Period, TAH, Friends, Grandfathered, Drunk History, twitter posts, fake ‘feud’ with Krish, etc…), can you tell us if you prefer working in comedy or drama, or do you enjoy both equally? Which is the most difficult?
PB: After being on Criminal Minds (on and off) for the last 11 years I have finally landed in my Dream Scenario. I get to satisfy my drama cravings on Criminal Minds and my comedy cravings with Another Period. I love them both, they are both challenging in their own way and when I’m only doing one, I miss the other. I’m very fortunate but – okay, truth be told – I fought like Hell in the contract negotiation to get them both so, my friends, you have to fight for what you want.
TJ: Who’s your best bud among your co-workers?
PB: Oof. This is too hard of a question… I love them all in different ways for different reasons. I need Joe’s advice. Need it, bug him for it and depend upon it. There is no one like Joe Mantegna. He is wise, funny, loving, thoughtful, gifted, and honest. Joe is the example of humankind in it’s highest form. He has taught me and inspired me more than anyone I’ve ever worked with.
Gubler is my non-biological brother, and a remarkable artist and thinker in everything he does. He’s my husband’s best friend so I saw him all the time when I wasn’t on CM, and I owe him, in perpetuity, for introducing – and marrying me – to Steve. I missed working with Gube and I cherish every moment we get to act together again now that I’m back.
But I always hung out with all of the ladies the most. Brunches, pool hangs and Kirsten’s for cheese plates. I think a big part of that has been finding each other in a business that promotes women competing against each other. All of us, AJ, Kirsten, Aisha and I , are women who strongly support other women. It’s rare and finding each other in what can be – pardon my cussing – a bullshit Hollywood World is miraculous and we treasure it.
At my first table read of the script when I joined Criminal Minds in season 2, episode 9, in 2006, AJ and Kirsten walked up to me afterward and said “Hey, do you want to hang out, we could have brunch…?” I almost started crying because they were so welcoming and supportive. Sadly, actresses are generally so poorly treated by this business that an established cast wouldn’t behave that way with “the new chick”. It was a profound moment for me and we have been very close since that moment. I love those women.
Also, none of these relationships have changed over the years, even when I wasn’t on the show for four years. They are, have been, and will always be the family I choose.
TJ: I love that. What are your hopes for Emily? Where do you want to see her in another 10 years?
PB: Joe and I have joked since 2007 that we’d be on Criminal Minds using walkers with tennis ball feet to chase down the bad guys. We were always only half joking… we all love doing this show and there have been changes, some good, some bad, some necessary. Life has surprises for us all and the measure of our character is how we deal with those changes. We can only do our personal best, day by day, to make this world a better place for all of us.
My hopes for Emily are the same as my hopes for myself: to continue to work hard in this job, to do my very best even when it hurts physically or emotionally, to care for my co-workers and our fans, and enjoy my loved ones no matter what challenges the future holds.
THANK YOU, PAGET!