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What the cast of Criminal Minds looked like before all the fame

Criminal Minds is one of the most popular procedural crime shows on TV. With the show winding down after an incredible 15-season run, it's impossible to deny its enduring success. The series, a police investigative drama, focuses on a group of behavioral profilers who work for the FBI. Their department, known as the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), profiles criminals and studies victimology in order to solve some of the genre's most baffling cases.

Naturally, the premise of the show is both engaging and addicting to watch. Much like Law & Order, it's fun to watch some beloved characters catch the bad guys while also dealing with their personal lives, all while diving into the can't-look-away aspect of heinous crimes. Criminal Minds eventually became so popular that it spawned two spinoffs: Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, though neither reached the success of their sire series.

But what keeps audiences coming back for more has a lot to do with the cast, and although Criminal Minds has seen some famous faces come and go over the years, some actors made their big break on the show and have stuck with it ever since. Here's what the cast of Criminal Minds looked like before all of the fame.

Matthew Gray Gubler

Matthew Gray Gubler, who plays Dr. Spencer Reid on the series, has spent practically his entire career on Criminal Minds. Throughout the many years he's played Dr. Reid, Gubler has had a variety of other acting credits, some of which are pretty wacky. There's the voice of Simon in multiple Alvin and the Chipmunks movies, plus a small part in (500) Days of Summer.

But before Gubler became a famous face on Criminal Minds, he played an intern in Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The story of his role in the film is rather unusual, as well. After graduating college and while modeling in New York, Gubler got a job as an intern for director Wes Anderson. Apparently, he did a pretty bad job. But Anderson took pity on him and gave him a chance to play an intern in Life Aquatic. Gubler appears alongside stars Bill Murray and Willem Dafoe with an incredibly ridiculous perm.

Kirsten Vangsness

As geeky brainiac Penelope Garcia, Kirsten Vangsness is one of the long-standing Criminal Minds actors who also appeared on Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior. Her character joined the BAU team after illegally accessing their database, but instead of sending her to jail, the team offered her a job. It's turned out to be a more dangerous career than she initially suspected — she's been kidnapped twice and shot once. Still, Penelope survives and thrives as the team's resident hacker.

Thankfully, Vangsness has had less of a smoother time off-screen than her character has had with the BAU. Her credits since the series began include other TV series like Agent Carter and Shelf Life. But before Criminal Minds made her famous, Vangsness, like Gruber, had only a few credits. One of these was the Disney Channel sci-fi series Phil of the Future, an oddball show about a family from 200 years in the future, in which Vangsness played a character named Veronica.

A.J. Cook

A.J. Cook has had one of the more interesting runs on Criminal Minds. Having been with the show from the start as BAU communications expert Jennifer "JJ" Jareau, Cook's season 4 pregnancy was written into the show. Prior to the start of season 6, however, Cook was released from her contract. Fan backlash and an online petition resulted in the network changing their minds and welcoming Cook back for season 7.

Prior to joining the Criminal Minds team, Cook also appeared on the series Tru Calling, where she acted for one season, and in a lead role on the Canadian high school drama Higher Ground. But before her big break, she acted alongside another famous face: Kirsten Dunst. Cook played Lisbon sister Mary in Oscar winner Sofia Coppola's directorial debut The Virgin Suicides. Based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides tells the tragic tale of five sisters with a suicide pact.

Joe Mantegna

It's hard to choose just one Joe Mantegna role from his career before Criminal Minds that you would recognize, because there are just so many. But on the beloved procedural, Mantegna plays David Rossi, a best-selling author who comes out of retirement to join the BAU team. Rossi's expertise in the field of criminal profiling provided a huge source for his crime novel writing, and made him a millionaire, but his interest in the field lures him back to the job.

Mantegna's career reaches all the way back to 1976, and he's appeared in movies like Xanadu, Three Amigos!, and Bugsy. Mantegna also voices mob boss Fat Tony on The Simpsons. But his most famous role might be for playing Joey Zasa in The Godfather Part III. No spoilers here, but if you haven't seen the Godfather movies, let's just say Joey Zasa gets on the wrong side of the family.

Thomas Gibson

Thomas Gibson is one of the more famous faces on Criminal Minds. As former BAU unit chief and senior supervisory special agent Aaron Hotchner, Gibson led the team for the first 12 seasons. Hotchner, like practically every other Criminal Minds character, goes through some pretty traumatic experiences while on the team. His wife is murdered and their son kidnapped, among other gruesome incidents. Hotchner eventually left the BAU to raise his son, but in reality, Gibson was fired from the series after an on-set altercation with a producer.

Before joining up with the Criminal Minds team, you'll probably remember Gibson the most from his time on the 1997-2002 sitcom Dharma and Greg, where he played Greg, the clean-cut lawyer husband of kooky new-ager Dharma, played by Jenna Elfman. But before that, Gibson had a recurring role on the hospital drama Chicago Hope, where he played Dr. Daniel Nyland.

Shemar Moore

While the other characters on Criminal Minds might be tech geniuses, brainiacs, linguists, psychoanalysts, or expert problem solvers, Shemar Moore's Derek Morgan is the athlete of the bunch. He's often tasked with chasing and taking down criminals or doing more of the physically demanding work of the BAU team.

Moore has a big connection to the comics world, having done a ton of voice over work for animated films and series. He voices Victor Stone/Cyborg in the animated Justice League films, and played Jesse Reese in the early aughts WB version of Birds of Prey. But Criminal Minds isn't even Moore's most famous role. He started out in 1994 on the soap opera The Young and the Restless, for which he's won multiple Image Awards and a Daytime Emmy for playing Malcom Winters. Moore left the role in 2002, but returned in 2004, 2014, and again in 2019.

Paget Brewster

Paget Brewster is yet another Criminal Minds cast member with a somewhat up and down trajectory. Brewster has played Emily Prentiss on the series since season 2. Her character was introduced as a sort of spy on the BAU team, but her loyalties quickly became evident as she became more entrenched in their close dynamic. She was "killed" in season 6, but returned mysteriously in season 7, then left the series again, only to return in for guest appearances in seasons 9 and 11. Finally, she was made the boss after Gibson's departure in season 12.

Brewster has had a long and extensive career in Hollywood, with strong ties to the comics world and a ton of voice over work. She voices Della Duck in the new Duck Tales animated series, and has done multiple voices for American Dad!, The Venture Bros., Adventure Time, and multiple DC Comics animated movies in the Batman and Justice League series. But you may recognize Brewster the most if you're one of those people who rewatches Friends reruns over and over again. There, she played Kathy, a love interest for both Joey and Chandler. 

Aisha Tyler

Aisha Tyler joined the Criminal Minds cast in season 11 as Tara Lewis, a forensic psychologist whose job is to study psychopaths and determine whether or not they are fit to take the stand. Tara has to really get inside the minds of these serial killers, which naturally can become super difficult despite her bright and upbeat demeanor. It's also revealed in one episode that Tara was present during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, offering counseling to the parents. Yeah, this show is dark.

On the total opposite side of the spectrum, however, Tyler is a comedy legend. She's had an extensive career doing stand-up comedy and has appeared on a number of sitcoms, including Friends, Modern Family, and Two and a Half Men. She's also had a steady gig on the animated comedy Archer. She balances out all of that funny with some dramas, including 24, Ghost Whisperer, and CSI. But before all of that, Tyler played Mother Nature in Disney's The Santa Clause 2. 

Adam Rodriguez

Adam Rodriguez is another later addition to the Criminal Minds cast, joining the series in season 12. He plays Luke Alvez, a member of the FBI's fugitive task force who partners with the BAU to catch serial killers. Luke works so well with the team that he eventually decides to permanently join them. His character is defined by his Bronx upbringing and military service, though he does have a soft spot for his small dog, Roxy. 

Adam Rodriguez is a television veteran himself, having acted since the late '90s in a number of comedy and drama series, as well as in film. He plays one of the strippers in the Magic Mike movies, and his most recent TV credits outside of Criminal Minds include roles on Jane the Virgin, Empire, CSI: Miami, and Ugly Betty. But before those shows hit the airwaves, Rodriguez was a part of the teen sci-fi drama Roswell, where he played Jesse Ramirez, a boy who falls in love with an alien. 

Daniel Henney

Daniel Henney plays Mat Simmons, a member of the International Response Team. Simmons, like Henney, is Korean-American, and Simmons' expertise in international customs and his knowledge of multiple languages come in handy on international cases. Because of this, Henney's character also dips into the world of Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.

Elsewhere in the entertainment world, Henney voiced Tadashi in Disney's Big Hero 6 and the animated series based on the film. Henney also had roles on the series Three Rivers, Hawaii Five-0, and NCIS: Los Angeles. His biggest claim to fame before Criminal Minds, however, was unfortunately the role of Agent Zero in one of Marvel's worst comic book movie adaptations, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But Henney isn't embarrassed by the appearance — his only regret is that he didn't get to show off more of the skills he acquired training for the movie. He told Rama's Screen, "I wish I could've had more in the film, but I was happy with what it was and it opened up a lot of doors for me, so I was lucky."

​Jeanne Tripplehorn

Jeanne Tripplehorn is another veteran actor whose career spans much farther back than her Criminal Minds years. She joined the procedural in season 8 as linguistic expert Alex Blake. Tripplehorn's tenure on the series only lasted through season 9, when her character left due to being reminded too often of her dead son.

Tripplehorn's cinematic career is filled with eclectic roles and interesting movies. She's starred in Waterworld, The Firm, and the HBO series Big Love. Her breakout role came in 1992, when she played Dr. Beth Garner in Basic Instinct. Her character has a romantic history with both Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone's characters, and some still argue that it was actually her character who was the killer in the film, rather than Stone's. 

Mandy Patinkin

Mandy Patinkin's is probably the most famous face on Criminal Minds, though he only appeared in the first three seasons. Patinkin played Jason Gideon, the BAU's best profiler. Apparently, Patinkin became so emotionally disturbed by the content of the show that he simply stopped showing up. He was written out of the series, and his character was eventually killed off-screen in the tenth season by a suspect from one of his earliest cases.

In addition to an extensive theater career, Patinkin had a long and successful run in film and television before the popularity of Criminal Minds hit. Like Thomas Gibson, Patinkin also had a run on Chicago Hope, and he has since gone on to star in the critically acclaimed and award-winning Showtime series Homeland. But Patinkin's most well-known role ever has got to be the one where he says, "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."