Actress Kirsten Vangsness currently portrays Penelope Garcia in the CBS series Criminal Minds. She has also play the role in Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.
The California native is appearing in new movies like Kill Me, Deadly and Axis, along with heading to Chicago for a live podcast reading.
Windy City Times: So you began your career in theater?
Kirsten Vangsness: Yes; that was all I did forever. I haven't done a play this year but I usually average about one or two a year since I was 10 years old.
WCT: Are you from California?
KV: I was born in Pasadena. I was raised in the Central Valley of California. It is basically the red state of California. I moved back to LA after that.
WCT: Did you always want to be an actress?
KV: I always wanted to play pretend for a living. I took to acting because I was debilitatingly shy. My mother made me take an acting class. I had been in plays when my dad was cast in community college plays. I was cast as Old Lady in the Back and I loved it. It didn't require talking. I enjoyed observing.
When my mom made me take the class I got an A so I kept doing it.
WCT: How were you cast on Criminal Minds in the first place?
KV: I had a friend in theater. She was casting for Criminal Minds and they had a little two line part. They just needed a woman because the script was too guy heavy. She said I would never get the part. I said, "Let me try because nothing spells freedom like being told I won't get the part!"
I got like six calls on my phone, and they were not credit-card companies for a change. I got the part and shot it. I was terrified. The show got picked up and they wrote a little bit of me in the second episode, the third episode. I slowly started leaving things on the set so if they fired me I would have to come get my shit!
I wasn't in the fifth episode but at least I could tell my family I was on television. They were using some of my clothes since I was not a regular on the show. When I went to take my skirt back the producers heard I had an audition and offered me a series regular contract.
The point is it was a small part but you can turn around 12 seasons later and still have a job!
WCT: How do you feel Penelope has evolved over the seasons?
KV: I love it because I get to learn about her as the writers write it. I am always surprised by the things they add. She can never be toughened up or jaded.
This season I went into it thinking she would be sad with no Derek Morgan. Now Luke Alvez has shown up. I love Adam Rodriguez. I am constantly surprised how much she hates him. I will have to text him after we go home to check I was not a jerk to him. I think Penelope does not like change so she has been grumpy.
WCT: When did you become involved in this podcast event?
KV: I love Selected Shorts. I been working with them for eight years. Pretty much when they ask me I go. I have never been to Chicago so how could I say no?
I love reading things aloud and I get to be in great company.
WCT: You were in a movie called The Chicago 8 but it wasn't filmed in Chicago!
KV: Isn't that so dumb?
WCT: The theme of the podcast is Too Hot For Radio, so it sounds scandalous.
KV: It is. They sent me my story. It is hilarious but dirty. I suggest only adults come to this show.
WCT: Explain your background in the LGBT community.
KV: I came out as a lesbian a while ago. My family thought that all made sense. A few years ago, I broke up with a woman I had been together with for quite some time. We broke up over normal reasonsnot because I thought I was no longer gay.
I defined myself as queer because I never understood myself personally inside my own body my sexuality.
I met a guy that I fell for. I like the word "queer" because it doesn't fit into a box. I am in a fluid place. I know I am not straight. There has never been a question of that.
I'm not bisexual. I'm just not.
I try to be at peace with how non-straight forward my answers can be about this, but I am trying to be honest. I think a lot of people are like this. I feel like I just gave the answer that every kid at GLSEN says!
WCT: What are you working on outside of Criminal Minds?
KV: My friend Aisha Tyler made a movie called Axis. It has one actor but with other people only being heard.
I have another film called Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse. It is strange and funny. It is making the festival circuit right now.
There is one you can find on iTunes called Kill Me, Deadly. It is like The Maltese Falcon meets Airplane. I funded the entire movie myself. It is set in the '40s and it was shot in LA. It is beautiful and weird.
I am writing an upcoming episode of Criminal Minds. I am also doing a one woman show called Mess that I have done before but will be going to San Francisco to perform it.
I am the co-owner of the first craft distillery in all of Orange County. It is me and two of my friends that I have known since I was a starving artist. It is called Blinking Owl Distillery. We are trying to help the Earth and at the same time make booze!
WCT: What kind of liquor is it?
KV: We just bottled our first bourbon so it will be ready in two years. We also make vodka, orange vodka, aquavit, gin and whiskey.
WCT: I have to try some of it.
KV: I hope I can pack it for my checked luggage and I will bring you some.
WCT: I will bring a flask to the podcast show.
KV: Everyone should and I will just start pouring it!
Selected Shorts: Too Hot For Radio appears at the Chicago Podcast Festival at Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble St. on Saturday, Nov. 19, at 7 p.m. Visit chicagopodcastfestival.org/project/selected-shorts-too-hot-for-radio/ for tickets and more information .