What's one way to cope with directing withdrawal? Chop off your hair.
That's what Matthew Gray Gubler did.
"When it ended, I was so distraught, like, 'Oh no! What do I do?' ... I was so bored. I just flipped out and cut my damn hair! I did it with, like, a hunting knife. It was bad," the Criminal Minds star tells TVGuide.com. "I looked like a Super Mario Bros. Goomba. It's arguably the ugliest haircut on the planet."
Unfortunately, no one will get to see the result of his raw barber skills as his 'do was "shaped up" at work. But fans will get to see Gubler's other skills — and the realization of his lifelong dream — Wednesday: his directorial debut on the hit series (9/8c, CBS). "I hate to take credit, but it turned out to be something I'm very proud of," he says. "If there's one thing I'm good at, I would hope to God it's directing because I know that I've spent pretty much the last 28 years of my life preparing for that!"
Though he's best known for playing Dr. Spencer Reid on the crime serial, Gubler, who turns 30 on March 9, aspired to be a filmmaker and boasts a degree in film directing from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Following graduation, he "accidentally got sideswiped" into acting after a role in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou by Wes Anderson, for whom he was interning at the time. Then came Minds in 2005, followed by "tons of flak" from friends for having chosen acting over filmmaking.
"I feel like I finally got my last laugh. Those five years have trained me so well — being able to communicate with and understand actors, which I really didn't learn in school. I wasn't nervous directing [my co-stars] since we're like family now," Gubler says. "I've always really felt bizarrely — not out of place — but confused that I'm on a hit show, getting a lot of work as an actor and having a great time, but it never made sense to me because I've always felt like my true calling was being a filmmaker. I've realized now that it was all just leading up to this moment."
A former child magician and a sketch artist, Gubler — who has directed music videos and makes a series of online satirical videos about his life — says he has always loved entertaining. His creative pursuits have been on the show before — he's done magic in episodes, and his own sketch of Nathan Harris (Anton Yelchin) was used in Season 2's "Sex, Birth and Death" (after, on Mandy Patinkin's suggestion, he ripped up the prop department's "horribly accurate, perfect tracing of Anton's face," he laughs). He made his directing ambitions known, but it wasn't until the end of Season 4 that Gubler approached executive producer/showrunner Ed Bernero about finally stepping behind the camera. "Ed goes, 'You're ready. All you had to do was ask,'" Gubler says. "He's been very encouraging of my art and all the things I've made."
Titled "Mosley Lane," Gubler's episode finds the BAU team trailing a child abductor — "a modern-day Hansel and Gretel dark fairy tale," he calls it. A fan of the German expressionist film movement, during which films featured moody perspectives from the victims, Gubler employed the same tactic, using a young girl to give viewers a childlike look into "this eerily magical environment." He took a more straightforward approach, however, when showcasing the unsubs, whom he classifies as "entirely non-sympathetic."
"What appealed to me as a director is that these people are bad. When we look at them, we know immediately," he says. "Bad guys being bad and good guys being good is what drama at its core is. It lets the creepiness be creepy. There's not a drop of blood [in the episode] but it will creep you out. Some of it is in a crematorium. I found a three-story Victorian mansion that looks like it's straight out of a Charles Addams cartoon. ... I was amazed at the amount of creative freedom TV directors get if they want it — stuff that I didn't know you get to do, but you can if you want to, and I wanted to. The most fun was picking out the details, picking out the syringe, the purse the woman has."
Gubler was equally hands-on in securing the guest stars — Brooke Smith, Bud Cort, Beth Grant, Ann Cusack, Toby Huss and a group of what he calls "the most talented kid actors today."
There's an entirely new group of faces on the set lately. The series is currently shooting the backdoor pilot for a spin-off to be headlined by Forest Whitaker, which has "an amazing element of dark grunge," Gubler says. "It's like 'Criminal Minds: Lower East Village.'"
As for the mothership, Gubler, whose screen time has been limited this season after he destroyed his knee dancing last spring (he can't do anything but walk until October), senses another season-finale cliffhanger and maybe — hopefully — another stint in the director's chair.
"It's a scheduling thing ... but I would love that. It was the greatest," he says. "If given the choice, I would direct every episode of the show for free."