Matthew Gray Gubler has directed six episodes of Criminal Minds, but there is still a first time for everything.
"This one is probably the most grounded of any of the ones I've directed," Gubler, who plays Reid, tells TVGuide.com of Wednesday's episode. "It's a little more realistic. I was like, 'Wow, there's nothing insane in this episode!' So I had to bring the insanity a little bit."
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Not that he didn't ask for it. After helming five episodes with weird crimes and unsubs tailored to his signature quirky, offbeat style, Gubler says he was looking to go outside his comfort zone this time around. "I wanted to try something different, so the most different thing for me would be to direct an episode that is a little less from Jupiter," he says. "Most Criminal Minds episodes are on Earth. Mine are usually from Jupiter. This one is from Mars."
Mars — or Boston. On Wednesday's episode (9/8c, CBS), the BAU heads to Beantown to track a voyeuristic unsub (Jack Plotnick) whom Gubler describes as the "Boston creepazoid." His M.O.? Making an album of keepsakes of his victims. "He's a little bit of a crafter. He's got a little hobby and puts his little something special in a photo album to win back a lady," he says. "He's also strangled people, doing some not-so-lovely things. He uses a little bit of blood. Some artists use hair, blood and wires. He's trying to do his own thing."
While some of Gubler's past directorial efforts featured his own creepy, haunting paintings and sketches, he chose to leave a more subtle artistic mark this time when it came to the albums. That decision, of course, is not unrelated to the grounded realism of the episode.
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"I did have some say in how they look and what went in them, but it's a little less in this one," Gubler says. "I didn't want my weirdness to take over the episode. It would've felt a little out of place with the whole tone and feel. That's always something you have to keep in mind [when directing]. ... It's very easy to do your own thing; it's harder to restrain yourself. But I definitely made it weird enough."
Case in point: The music. As with the artistic props, Gubler has always had a key hand in the tunes and scores that go into his episodes, whether it's a Platters song or an eerie lullaby version of The Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" This time, he partially drew inspiration from... himself. Last year, he shared a video of himself dressed as a turtle singing The Little Mermaid's "Part of Your World" in a Japanese karaoke bar, and so the episode includes a "really horrific" rendition of Nat King Cole's "Stardust" by a karaoke singer (Franklin Fung).
"I'm really proud of how it turned out. It's really funny, and it's honestly my favorite musical moments I've ever directed. I think it's a real special moment," Gubler says. "I basically thought, 'What's the weirdest thing that could happen when you're looking at a dead body?' And it occurred to me that a Chinese man butchering 'Stardust' would be great to play over a strangled body, so that's what we did. It was surprisingly easy to cast and he was so good that I put him into a karaoke scene at the end. He's a real scene-stealer.
"The thought occurred to me to put him in a turtle outfit," he quips. "But when we decided to put this one on Mars instead of Jupiter, I went with business suit."
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Don't expect Gubler to stray from his home planet for too long. He will direct another episode later this season that will be classic MGG — and hopefully even more so.
"[Writer] Breen Frazier and I been talking two years about something special. I hope I get to make it. I didn't conceive of [the story], but it's something he and I have both wanted to do for a long time, and it's from Pluto," he says. "He hasn't written it yet, but it will be the weirdest, creepiest freakin' episode of Criminal Minds ever. It's so far out there, it's not even in the solar system!"
Check out an exclusive sneak peek of Gubler's episode below. Criminal Minds airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)
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