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Kirsten Vangsness on Being Bullied, Writing for “Criminal Minds,” and Growing Up a Shy Girl


Kirsten Vangsness on Being Bullied, Writing for “Criminal Minds,” and Growing Up a Shy Girl

The creative force behind one of TV’s beloved techy nerd chicks, Penelope Garcia, is the outspoken Kirsten Vangsness. Through 12 seasons, the ‘Criminal Minds’ sweetheart has acted and even co-written two of the hardest hitting episodes of the series.

Vangsness was a shy girl growing up who, like many, got bullied through her childhood years. The actress/writer took those experience and channeled them into following her dream of acting. Starting out in theater, Vangsness moved to commercials before finally landing her spot on ‘Criminal Minds’-A character who was written into the show after her one episode shot.

Being a big supporter of LGBT charities and help groups, Vangsness speaks out on bullying and the resources that are out there to help. She sat down with us for a very animated interview on bullying, her connection to her ‘Criminal Minds’ character, and writing for the show.

Was acting always something you knew you wanted to do?

I came into it by accident. My dad did a lot of performing in community shows, and my sister and I would play background character. However, my sister would play the “teenager” where I would be the “70-year-old woman.” Mostly, because I was odd and really shy. I got bullied a lot and I basically stopped talking in the eighth grade, so my parents made me take acting classes. I was really scared but the first few assignments were just sort of pantomiming. So I didn’t have to talk. At the time I hadn’t gotten an A in anything, but I kept getting A’s in this class. It became something I knew I wanted to do but I couldn’t do it for a living. I didn’t give myself permission to do it for a very long time.

Then you finally took the plunge.

I just knew when I started in plays that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. But I guess it would be ‘Criminal Minds.’That’s when I was like “Oh wow! They pay me to do this!” I mean, I had other gigs but this is the show where it really hit me. I had already been acting and going to auditions for, probably, 13 years.

How did you go from being one of the lead characters of Criminal Minds to co-writing episodes?

I write a lot of plays and I love expressing what I’m thinking in that way. It was just a natural progression for them to say “Oh well, Kirsten writes, let’s give it a go.” I really liked doing it and it’s very satisfying. The ones I’ve written are completely co-written with Erica Messer. So I write half and she writes half. We are really great friends, so a lot of our writing sessions turned into braiding each other’s hair and talking about stuff that had nothing to do with what we were writing. It’s interesting to do because it’s subject matter I wouldn’t usually write about. I’m really proud of both episodes we’ve done. I’ll be doing another episode this year. I wrote the one where Gideon dies and the one where Morgan leaves, so I’m hoping to write more game changer episodes. But I don’t know yet.

How was Penelope Garcia created?

I was only supposed to be on the show for a couple lines and when they wrote me into another episode, I had to develop her character more. She’s a product of my imagination, so in my imagination, I want to be that. I don’t think I’d want to be that sweet though. She’s very sweet.She likes things that really aren’t my jam. I love that she loves machines and connects to that world, I just don’t connect that way. I’m much more of a hands-on type of person, where she isn’t. When you get to play a character for 12 seasons, you start to share traits. I’m giving her more of me and I take more from her. But it’s fun that she’s different than me. I think she’s great, I really look up to her.

You speak a lot about bullying and being bullied yourself, is there something you think can be done as a whole?

I don’t think it’s something you can avoid happening. Meaning, you have to go through it. And in many ways, I bullied myself and let other people define me. But when you’re different, you can’t stop them from pointing it out. You have to be ok with who you are and be a friend to yourself. There are great resources out there that we can look to that will provide tangible help. The Trevor Project and GLSEN are two of my favorites. Both are LGBT groups, but I think the information and advice they give can work across the board. Bullying is a problem that I’m not sure how to solve.



Ashley is a social media community manager and artist, living in Los Angeles, CA. With a degree in Mass Media Communications, Ashley likes to use videos, photos, and essays to connect people with what’s happening in the world.

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