Matthew Gray Gubler on Working With Your Heroes

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Matthew Gray Gubler
Matthew Gray Gubler

Heroes can take many forms. Some conquer; some create. Some simply carry themselves a certain inimitable way. For actor, director and artist Matthew Gray Gubler, heroes are those whose personalities pervade every project...

“I don’t like to go ‘medium’ on anything. When I had to get an internship to graduate from film school, there was an easy way to do it, but I thought: ‘Fuck it! Wes Anderson’s in New York and he’s my favourite film maker!’ For me, in life, it’s always seemed that the quickest point between two things is a direct path, so why not go straight into working for and learning from the best? Actually, I was the worst intern ever! Like, he would send me on shopping runs and I wouldn’t know what couscous was, and… I don’t know. He to me is one of the greatest living directors, so I’m still very nervous when I speak to him. I’m like, [raises his voice an octave] 'Hey Wes! Yeah, yeah, sure Wes!’ I’m still amazed that I was in a Wes Anderson movie with such incredible actors. I actually really like actors who can’t help being themselves no matter what film they’re in. Like, I love Jeff Goldblum, because he’s always just being Jeff Goldblum, but who the fuck’s Jeff Goldblum?! No one’s like Jeff Goldblum.

I kind of pride myself on my casting choices with everything I direct. There’s a tendency in TV in general — not on our show — to go the safe route with casting. You know, the beautiful blonde is the victim, and… I like people that have a natural character. You know, I like John Waters’ casting essentially. I can’t describe how it felt to play him in his stand-up tour. Meeting your heroes is… Well, John Waters didn’t disappoint.

So, for the episode, I hired Robert Englund, who’s famous for playing Freddy Krueger, to play the good guy, the cop. I try to make my episodes a little bit special, and I don’t know if it’s me being daring or foolish. I also cast Kyle Gallner, who I’ve known for a little while because we worked on a movie together. He’s so beautifully off-kilter. There’s no one like him! He’s my favourite actor under thirty. Madeleine Martin plays the sister... She has the most unique, enchanting voice I’ve ever heard. The mother’s actually played by Juliet Landau, who’s the daughter of Martin Landau, but she again has this very ethereal… You know, I don’t respond well to actors who look modern. I like actors who have a timeless quality. You could put Kyle or Juliet or Madeline in a film set in the 1700s and they’d look perfect. Like Anjelica Huston and Jeff Goldblum embody that. I mean, you can’t take Zac Efron and put him in a movie about the 1700s and make it believable. I like working with people who look and act like they’re from renaissance paintings.”

Heroes can take many forms. Some conquer; some create. Some simply carry themselves a certain inimitable way. For actor, director and artist Matthew Gray Gubler, heroes are those whose personalities pervade every project they work on. Take for example Wes Anderson, whom Gubler interned for during the filming of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. You can recognize an Anderson film instantly (before it even starts actually, thanks to the font used in each film’s opening credits). Model-cum-actress Anjelica Huston is another of Gubler’s heroes; he worked with her on the same film. Huston oozes elegance in roles as diverse as aloof corpse-bride Morticia Adamms and tenacious musical producer Eileen Rand in Smash. She’s as mesmerizingly sexy asking Jack Nicholson “You wanna do it, Charlie?” in Prizzi’s Honor as she is wielding a plastic rifle for a round of the arcade game Buck Hunter in Smash.

For his legions of young fans out there, Matthew Gray Gubler is somewhat of a hero too. A self-described “nerd” in school, he’s had a career that probably makes his old schoolyard bullies green with envy. Most known for playing the intellectually brilliant Dr Spencer Reid on Criminal Minds, Gubler’s also appeared in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, 500 Days of Summer, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and the recent Sundance hit, Excision. Not to mention playing a young John Waters in the enfant terrible’s stand-up tour. A former top 50 model and a regular on Terry Richardson’s blog, the multitalented Gubler has also directed video clips for musical acts including The Killers and Soko as well as episodes of Criminal Minds. Despite his success, he hasn’t compromised the endearing "geekiness" we imagine he’s always possessed. AnOther caught up with Gubler a few days before the third episode of Criminal Minds created under his direction aired, for which he had cast a group of eccentric misfits (much like himself). They notably included the original Freddy Krueger, Robert Englund, and Californication’s Madeleine Martin.

Text by Zac Bayly

Zac Bayly is a freelance writer who has contributed to titles including,, Dazed & Confused, Dansk, Oyster and Luis Venegas’ Candy.