Hands down, Criminal Minds has one of the best ensembles on TV. To attest to this, just look at the outpouring of fan support and demand after series stars A.J. Cook and Paget Brewster were let go a few seasons back. Realizing the show had made a major mistake, both actresses and their characters were written back into the series. Brewster, however, decided it was time for her to move on from the show just one season later which left a vacancy in the cast and on the BAU team for this upcoming eighth season – enter Jeanne Tripplehorn and her character Alex Blake.
Many know, love and admire Emmy Award-nominated Tripplehorn from works throughout her career, but it is her role of Barb Henrickson on the critically acclaimed series Big Love that set her on this current path. When I had the chance to catch up with the ever courteous Tripplehorn in anticipation of this week’s Criminal Minds season premiere, she even explained how Barb had a hand in her joining this show.
“Coming out of Big Love and playing this beautiful, earth mother, warm saint of Barb, I knew what I wanted next which was either to go completely in the opposite direction of comedy, something very light in that respect, or just to be a bada$$,” Tripplehorn laughed. “And I’m speaking in very general terms, but I needed a 180 from Barb and Alex Blake and [Criminal Minds] is a complete 180.”
But perhaps you’ll be as surprised as I was to hear that while she was looking for a 180, she wasn’t exactly looking for this role in particular, “I had never heard of [the show]. I am not of the crime-minded variety,” she admitted. “These types of shows, there’s so many of them out there and there are huge, huge fans out there of this type of genre… I am not one of them.”
It must be difficult, then, to not only come into an established show now in its eighth season, but to one that has such a daunting subject matter – especially for someone who doesn’t typically watch shows of the genre.
“The crimes that you see, I mean, I sat down with the writers after I had taken the role and I sat down in the writers’ room and they had these former FBI and actually current FBI members come in. [They] will tell them real stories, sort of a PowerPoint presentation, that is very powerful about modern day and past serial criminals and I was lightheaded probably the first 30 minutes,” Tripplehorn revealed. “The subject matter was really, really intense and then I sort of became hardened to it. I think it’s a real challenge to be in that mindset of someone in the Behavioral Analysis Unit.”
But we’ll see just how hardened Tripplehorn has to be on the series right from the premiere where we are introduced to Alex Blake, the newest member of the team and a linguistics expert, when the BAU are called to Texas to search for an escaped prisoner and killer known as “The Silencer” who leaves his victims with a unique trademark: their mouths sewn shut.
As a linguistics expert and a character with the ability to use sign language, we’ll see that she is “highly qualified” for the gig. Still, that doesn’t mean everyone will take to her quite as readily as her abilities might suggest she should be.
“We start the episode, which I thought was a really, really interesting way to introduce Alex, it was really interesting on our writers’ part, I’ve already been away. We’ve already been working on a crime when we walk back in the office, so I’m with, I think, 4 of them,” Tripplehorn sets up the season premiere for us. “We walk in and we’ve already been in the Seattle area together. But, right out of the starting gate, there are a couple of people you can see that – Garcia is probably the last to come to the table of Alex, but I think that’s to be expected. It wouldn’t be realistic to just throw this character into the mix and have her get along so well with everybody.”
It’s very true! If her character is going to stay around and be beloved by the devoted fanbase, she’s going to have to win us all over a little bit. She’s not alone, though, and certainly stands a good chance of being welcomed by viewers, seeing as she has some supporters we’re all pretty fond of.
“Matthew Gray Gubler’s character, Reid, [and Alex], they’re very close. They go way back. They come from a world of academia and they have a really great friendship and mutual respect for each other,” she explains before moving onto some of our other adored team members. “She’s career FBI so she knew Hotch, Thomas Gibson; she knew him and Morgan, Shemar Moore’s character, just from being around the FBI and from being in the building for years and years and years.”
But don’t expect to know everything there is to know about Alex Blake right away. As Tripplehorn explained, there is plenty of time to get to know her even better.
“I came from an 11 episode season on Big Love, so this being 24 episodes, we’re only on the seventh right now and they have a lot of time to introduce everything,” she laughed. “You’re introduced to Alex at the very beginning and then it has just been one crazy serial killer after another, so they’re just now bringing a couple of story points back and character points. They are just now bringing that into episode 7. It’s been pretty straight up until now,” she explained. “And I don’t really know a lot of what they’re doing; it helps make my job more interesting to not know what’s happening.”
She does know one thing about Alex Blake though. If she could tell her anything, it’d be “lighten up!”
It sounds like she and her brilliant cast mates are doing a good job of lightening things up on set though as she recollected their first work day together. “I showed up at the table read and, you know, I have a really good sense of people [but] I was very nervous, it was the very first day of school and they were, all of them, so incredibly warm, welcoming. We never missed a beat.”
“Three days later, four days later we’re on a train together; we all went on the train together to Comic Con and spent 48 hours wining, dining, laughing and by the trip back – we all took the train back the next day – I felt like I had known everybody for a very long time, which says a lot in season 8 of a show. It has just been a, it’s a great job.”
“And right now, being in Los Angeles with my family, I have a 10-year-old son, being able to work in my town, where I sleep and where my family is, this whole job has been heaven sent,” she concluded. “I mean, really. Between Big Love and then this job, the fact that I am working, living in Los Angeles and actually working in Los Angeles, it’s pretty amazing.”
After a lovely chat with Tripplehorn, we have total faith that she will bring a real sense of heart and soul to Alex Blake and be another shining member of the incredible ensemble. Yes, there have been some characters who tried to find a home on the show but couldn’t, but there have been others – the great Emily Prentiss herself (Paget Brewster) – who have found a way into the deepest crevices of our heart even without being an original cast member. So far, it looks like Tripplehorn and Alex Blake are following in the right footsteps.
We do know one thing for sure, though: you won’t want to miss this season premiere. Between meeting the newest member of the team and reuniting with our all-time favorites, it’s going to be an excellent way to kick off another unforgettable season.
Season Premiere of Criminal Minds airs Wednesday, September 26 at 9/8c on CBS.