'Criminal Minds' actress Kirsten Vangsness: 'Duran Duran saved my life'

Kirsten Vangsness, who starred in and co-wrote the series finale of Criminal Minds that just aired this week, tells Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume that she understandably feels “very bittersweet” about the show coming to an end after 14 seasons. But since her character, Penelope Garcia, was originally only supposed to have two lines on one episode — but ended up being in all but one of the series’ total 324 episodes — she can’t really complain. And she is already looking ahead to her next project. It’s an autobiographical musical called Making It Up, about her teenhood in the suburban Northern California town of Porterville and largely inspired by her favorite band, Duran Duran.

Vangsness considers herself Duran Duran’s “No. 1 fan.” Her workout inspo is the giant poster of her favorite member, Simon Le Bon, tacked up next to her treadmill, and she also still has the (framed) Duran Duran poster that she won at the Porterville County Fair as a girl. But she loved Duran Duran even before she knew what they looked like, when a French exchange student staying at the Vangsness family home (“Lorette was beautiful and oh, I just loved her — you know, hormones”) tipped her off when she was in the 5th grade. “This was my cognitive dissonance… it was very confusing because I'm bisexual, so that's just my cocktail of like, ‘Wait, what is going on?’” Vangsness chuckles.

A key scene of Making It Up will be inspired by a talent show that budding “theater girl” Vangsness put on at school — a moment set her on her path and surely made her the coolest kid on campus, even if the popular mean girls didn’t realize it at the time.

“I had a group of girls that none of us were friends, but we just didn't have any other place to be, and we all had to lip-synch a song for the PTA meeting,” Vangsness recalls. “And I said, ‘We're doing Duran Duran.’ And the popular kids were like, ‘What? They can't! We want to!’ But I was only one that said it, so… Anyway, I remember, we did ‘The Reflex.’ I wanted to do ‘A View to a Kill,’ but everyone thought that was too ballsy. And I remember my friends were like, ‘We can't, we can't, we'll be destroyed. We will be destroyed!’ But we ended up doing it. I remember my sister, who’s three and a half years older than me, came home from school and was like, ‘Someone at school said there's a group lip-synching a Duran Duran song at the PTA. Is that you?’ And she was horrified, because her boyfriend wanted to come watch.”

But the show went on. “I was renting a VCR, because we didn't have a VCR — renting one from the library, so I could memorize the dance moves. And we built cardboard instruments. And then I insisted I had to be Simon, because I was the only one who knew the lyrics. But then this girl Missy was like, ‘No, Simon is the more popular one. I need to be him!”

Vangsness eventually convinced that bassist John Taylor was actually the most popular Duran heartthrob. “She got to be John Taylor, but she didn't want to do the move where Simon's laying on the floor and then John walks over like they do in the video, because she said that looked too ‘lesbo.’ And I was like, ‘It doesn't matter! It's authentic to the video!’ It worked out.”

Sadly, no VHS camcorder video exists of the PTA performance, but the wacky scene will be lovingly recreating in Making It Up, which will feature original, Duran Duran-inspired music with an as-of-now secret collaborator. It’s a full-circle project for Vangsness, who actually used to walk around her campus in her homemade and thrift-store clothes, carrying a binder of her Duran Duran clippings and notes (“all of my special things that I needed to carry with me in case someone were to ask me about them, much like I think Jehovah's Witnesses do with pamphlets”) and was regularly “trash-canned” by bullies.

“This is when people put you in a trash can. That’s where few people pick you up and put you in a trash can,” says Vangsness. “There's a percentage of kids in school that this happens to. And I feel like when you've decided to make your own clothes, which is what I would do that often and write weird things on them… not that I was asking for it, but in some way I was mildly participating in it, because I've always been a fringy kind of person. They put me in the trash can and then they dumped the binder on top of it. I got as much as I could out before the teacher was like, ‘You have to get out of the trash can.’ I still have pages with goo on it.”

But now Vangsness is having the last laugh. She has a successful career (her latest non-Criminal Minds project is her animated short film, Curtains); she’s met Duran Duran through her musician friend, Mindi Abair (“I walked in that room and I felt like I was holding hands with the kid version of me. … Mindi's like, ‘Kirsten's an actor, Kirsten's on a TV show,’ like she's trying to let them know I’m not some crazy lady she got from the street”); and she is currently writing Making It Up. And she says she owes a great creative debut to her childhood pop idols.

“I feel like [Duran Duran] saved my life,” Vangsness muses. “They gave me this idea that you could create this sort of internal hologram inside yourself that was much prettier and cooler than what your actual life looked like. … I mean, I wrote Simon Le Bon a poem called ‘The Precipice’ and I chucked it on the stage when I saw them [in concert] the first time! …What's so wonderful about loving a band is it activates your imagination.”

The above interview is taken from Kirsten Vangsness’s appearance on the SiriusXM show “Volume West.” Audio of this conversation is available on demand via the SiriusXM app.

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