Criminal Minds' Matthew Gray Gubler on His Extra-Spooky Directing Style (ProTip! Only Tease a Killer's Talons)

Criminal Minds Preview Gubler

For this Wednesday’s Criminal Minds (CBS, 9/8c), cast member Matthew Gray Gubler again stepped behind the camera, directing a script by three-time collaborator Breen Frazier, which means viewers can count on an especially “out there” installment.

Having directed the crime drama on seven previous occasions — including Season 8’s infamous “human marionettes” case — Gubler this time brought to life the mystery of several people with no apparent connection who are haunted by the titular “Mr. Scratch,” a talon-wielding “shadow monster.” Here, the actor/director previews his latest twisted effort and reveals what gives himself the heebie jeebies.

TVLINE | Was it just the luck of the draw that you worked with Breen Frazier again, on “Mr. Scratch”?
No, at this point… This is our third one together [including Season 6’s “Lauren” and Season 9’s “Blood Relations”], and he and I have such a shorthand when it comes to storytelling that we’re sort of paired on purpose. He’s always been the closest thing to “the real-life Spencer Reid” that I know, so of course we get along tremendously. I love his writing, he loves my directing.… We couldn’t be a better team.

TVLINE | I once asked [showrunner] Erica Messer what is it that you bring to these episodes that they’re typically especially creepy, and she suggested the writers put their “extra-twisted hat” on for you.
[Laughs] I think that’s pretty accurate!

TVLINE | Why do you think the episodes you direct tend to be particularly unsettling?
You know, I try to approach directing from the most classic standpoint imaginable. A lot of my influences are from the old German expressionist films, and early film noir. I think it’s a slower-paced, more subjective, less gory style of directing, and that services our episodes really well. People will always be the most scared of what they can’t see, so doing that will always make these episodes extra creepy. CriminalMInds_Talons Showing a bit of restraint is, I think, integral to good, spooky filmmaking.

TVLINE | Like, only show us the tips of the monster’s talons. Keep people guessing what the hell could possibly be around the corner.

TVLINE | This episode touches upon SRA, the Satanic Ritual Abuse movement from the 1980s. Did you make a point to do any research on that, for background?
I’m of course very familiar with it, having been on Criminal Minds for a decade, where it has come up a few times. [Laughs] But it’s an interesting thing, and Breen sort of grew up in that era, so it also has a relevance to him.

TVLINE | Being a comic book fan, but did you, as I did, get any kind of a Scarecrow vibe from this mind-controlling UnSub?
Oh, thank you! It’s interesting, I never thought of that, with the gassing [and preying on fears]…. I’m sure that on a subconscious level I did. I’m a big fan of every version of Batman, and especially the Batman villains, but that just occurred to me. I was more influenced, truthfully, by Nosferatu, by F.W. Murnau…. All the shadow work in that.

TVLINE | Yes, I picked up on that in scenes where you kept the UnSub in partial shadow or just out of focus, so we can’t quite get a grasp on what he looks like.
It’s funny, I do what is normally not done on TV, which is trying to show less. I want the audience to lean forward, I want to have him softly whispering so the audience has to be on the edge of their seat to hear what he is saying, and thus be hypnotized themselves. It’s a tactic I’ve always tried to employ with directing anything – and it’s especially effective in this episode.

Watch a sneak peek from “Mr. Scratch”:

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TVLINE | What was your most interesting nut to crack this time as director?
That would be the whole [character name redacted] angle of it all, and making the ending work properly. It ends in a very subtle and quiet manner, which is very contradictory to the first 41 minutes of the episode, which is sort of an unrelenting freight train of craziness. That was the biggest challenge, making sure that the last scene works, that it makes you think, and that it, hopefully, leaves you with a lot of questions in your mind, which leaves the episode fresh in your brain with weeks to go.

TVLINE | Right, because I certainly don’t consider this story to be over.
Neither do I.

TVLINE | So what are your fears? What is Matthew Gray Gubler afraid of?
This sounds totally crazy, but I’m terrified of buffaloes, and of the Abominable Snowman. I’m very scared of large beasts. [Laughs] There’s something sort of prehistorically disturbing and haunting about buffaloes. So, both of those — along with about 1,000 other neuroses!

Want more scoop on Criminal Minds, or for any other show? Email and your question may be answered via Matt’s Inside Line.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Kim R says:

    I’m still creeped out by the “human marionettes” episode. :D I will commence preparations for more creepiness.

    • Angela says:

      That episode was WEEEEEEEEEEIRD. Good, but very, very surreal.
      I actually have to remind myself he’s directed “Lauren” because it’s rather different to most of the episodes he’s directed-“Lauren” plays a lot more like an action film in a lot of ways. I like that one, too, though.
      Love Gubler’s extensive knowledge of horror films and the history of film. It’s clear he’s studied that stuff extensively, and I admire that. Plus, it’s just fun to see him so enthused about a subject he’s clearly passionate about :). I can easily see him settling into a nice, full-time career as a director whenever this show wraps up.
      I can totally see the Nosferatu influence with that photo of the talons :p. This episode looks like typical Gubler creepiness, and the promo with something happening to Hotch has me SO curious, so yeah, you’d better believe I’m gonna be watching tomorrow night. Can’t wait to see what goes down!
      Thanks for the fun interview. Gubler always seems like such a fascinating, cool person to talk to.

  2. Joblo says:

    The woman in the background of the picture looks like she’s got a bucket on her head

  3. Kae says:

    Finally a good episode this season. For me the eps this season have been really lack luster.

    • Angela says:

      I think there’s been some good episodes this season, personally. But even so, yeah, hopefully tomorrow night’s will be enjoyable for you :).

  4. racbec says:

    I can’t wait! MGG is the best!

  5. Jean Greene says:

    I love horror stories and cannot wait for this one. I also love Criminal Minds and Matthew so get the popcorn ready and jammies on and scare me Matthew if you can.

  6. kirads09 says:

    The ones MGG directs are always must see – but don’t watch in the dark alone! I just wish this series would give more screen time to Reid in general overall. Although great when he is behind the camera. I even have a cross over idea. Spencer Reid meets Sheldon Cooper (wouldn’t that be something?). He guest stars on TBBT as Reid. Sheldon has something stolen that is vitally important. Lack of physical evidence. He hires Reid to profile the gang to see who is most likely the thief. Of course Sheldon gets profiled as well in the process. It must happen.

  7. I do adore MGG, but he scares the bejesus out of me.

  8. I still say it’s reminding me of or giving me that freddy kruegerish type kind of feel lol,don’t know why but that is the vibe i am getting from this lol

    • Angela says:

      I can definitely see that, yeah :D. Freddy had those long fingers, too, if I recall rightly, so I can see where you’d find that comparison. Considering he likes to be inspired by real life horror movie villains, it wouldn’t surprise me if he did incorporate a little Freddy into that :).

  9. I did not like this episode at all. Also, I do not like the dark cast to the show—I like to see what is going on. Please do not change from what you were doing.

    • Angela says:

      Aw, I loved this episode, personally-it freaked me the ever-loving hell out, but I loved it-but to each their own.
      That was seriously one of the weirdest, creepiest episodes the show’s ever done. That final ten minute sequence was flat out NUTS. And the moment at the very end. Yeow.

  10. Michelle says:

    You are so amazing! Your thoughts are so creative. You are awesome at what you do, acting and directing. I am not an English major and my actual English sucks. The way your mind works is the most flattering to me. If only I could express in words what it would be to meet you I would defiantly try. I wish I could talk to you just to get into your mind for a moment and analyze what you are thinking. Again I don’t know how to write it, but I wish I had the to show you. Anyhow, God bless you in all that you do.

  11. Kathy says:

    Did not realize Mr. Gubler had is criminal the stirring pot for last nights episode….You scared the begeezes out of me! Im still getting goosebumps. You and the writer are incredible together. I cant wait to see more of whats going to happen with Hotch. I want to see more of an evil side to him, the laugh from him will go down in history..kinda like Dr. Giggles! INCREDIBLE WORK GENTLEMEN!!!!

  12. Renee Royal says:

    mr. Scratch was creeeeeepy good!!!! Bravo Matthew Gray Gubler!!!!!!!!!

  13. Patricia Chant says:

    There were so many questions not answered at the end of this episode. I’m happy to hear that it is not over yet. I think I need to watch it again. The first time I could not hear it because the sound was too low.The next two times I only had the sound for half of the show no picture. I think I need to revisit it. I’m

  14. Patricia Chant says:

    The episode was skillfully done. The cinematography, music, and tempo were spot on. The acting was excellent, particularly Hotch. The storyline was intriguing. The only problem I have with the episode is that it was not frightening to me. Maybe I’m a little jaded by living in the psychotic world. I think I’ll watch it again.