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The Transformation Of Thomas Gibson From Childhood To 'Criminal Minds'

Anyone who pays attention to crime shows is probably familiar with "Criminal Minds," which followed the members of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit as they endeavor to capture serial killers week after week. "Criminal Minds" has had its share of questionable moments, but the show remained strong enough to keep fans entertained for 15 seasons.

The show wouldn't have been the same without Thomas Gibson playing the BAU's chief, Special Agent Hotchner. Gibson joined the show in its first season, and his character helmed the BAU for most of the show's run before suddenly leaving for reasons most fans found confusing. Agent Hotchner is arguably Gibson's best known role, but the actor had a long history in the business before "Criminal Minds" came around. Before the "Criminal Minds" revival arrives, likely without Agent Hotchner, check out Thomas Gibson's stunning transformation from child actor to television star.

A family of lawyers

Thomas Gibson's most popular roles have seen him getting involved in one side of law enforcement or another. In his late '90s sitcom "Dharma & Greg," Gibson played a rigidly professional lawyer, and of course Gibson's character on "Criminal Minds" was more involved in catching criminals than litigating their trials, but Agent Hotchner was a lawyer long before he headed the BAU. In an odd way, Gibson might have been emulating some of his family members with his acting choices.

Gibson is the youngest of four children; his mother Beth was a social worker, while his father Charles worked as a lawyer and lawmaker. In an interview with In Style, Gibson explained that one of his uncles and his cousin were also lawyers, and that clearly had an effect on Thomas and his siblings. One of his brothers later became a lawyer, and for his part in the family business, Gibson quipped, "Me, I'm in TV law." As the only actor in the family, Gibson might be an outlier, but maybe his career path will start a new family tradition moving forward.

Getting an early start

Thomas Gibson has pursued acting with a passion for the majority of his life — he was just ten years old when he started developing his craft through the theater. Gibson's parents enrolled him in the Little Theater School, and he had the opportunity to try his hand at acting with the support of professional teachers. While studying with the acting company Footlight Players, Gibson had the chance to star in a production at the Dock Street Theater when he was only 11.

Gibson's commitment to acting didn't fade as he got older. Though he started branching out to other interests, his primary focus didn't sway through high school. "I had a reputation for being the actor boy," Gibson explained in an interview, adding that it "didn't make you the most popular guy in the world." Luckily he didn't let the lack of popularity dissuade him and instead carried his early passion into the rest of his life.

Professional training

After graduating from high school, Thomas Gibson wasted no time pursuing his career goals. He started his undergraduate studies at College of Charleston, and from there he made his first professional connection by interning at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. He didn't end up finishing his studies in Charleston, however — he was offered a scholarship to Juilliard, where he enrolled in the Drama Division and ended up finishing his undergraduate degree in 1985.

Gibson may have taken the art school route and gone straight into his acting career, but that's not exactly what he recommends to anyone interested in getting into the industry. When asked to give some advice to aspiring actors, Gibson's response was simple: "Get an education." Stressing that this is really the most important thing to focus on, he added, "If you still have to work out the acting bug, then work out the acting bug."

From the stage to the screen

Thomas Gibson's love of acting began on the stage, and his career started in a similar place. He landed his first stage role the same year that he graduated from Juilliard, in a production of David Hare's play "A Map of the World." It didn't take long for him to start getting small television roles, with an early major breakthrough coming via the long-running daytime drama "As the World Turns." Gibson had the opportunity to play the character Derek Mason through a 16-episode arc in 1989.

After some early television roles, there was a moment when Gibson nearly became a film star: His breakout role came in the 1992 film "Far and Away," which had him working alongside Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman for the first time. (They'd meet again on the set of Stanley Kubrick's last film, "Eyes Wide Shut.") "Far and Away" was filmed in Ireland, and as Gibson told Conan O'Brien, taking the role gave him the chance to bring his mother on a trip to the country to meet some of their Irish family members. Gibson's career had started picking up heat by the early '90s, but his biggest professional breakthroughs were yet to come.

More than one passion

Everyone has their hobbies. Thomas Gibson turned his love of acting into a career, but just like anyone else, he needed another outlet for his energy in his free time — and one major source of enjoyment during his downtime has been golf. According to Gibson, golf and acting are similar because they're both about staying in the moment and being able to adapt to unexpected changes. In a way, his love of golf feeds his love of acting and vice versa; it's also an outlet for Gibson when the job gets to be a little too stressful. "If I [get mad]," he told In Style, "I'll go and hit three buckets of golf balls to work out the tension. I think it's better to channel that energy in a constructive way."

Gibson has also been able to combine his hobby with his career from time to time. In 2011, he hosted a golf tournament for the SAG Foundation with his "Criminal Minds" costar Joe Mantegna, and in the '90s, Gibson told Conan O'Brien that he took Tom Cruise out to the golf course while filming "Far and Away." Gibson hoped to one-up Cruise after losing a go-kart race to him, but it turned out that Cruise has a pretty good golf form as well.

Way back in '93

Between starring in "Far and Away" and landing his first lead role on a successful sitcom, Thomas Gibson had one particularly notable year in 1993, which was a busy time for his professional and personal lives. He starred in two films that were released in '93: "Love & Human Remains" and "The Age of Innocence." He also starred in all six episodes of the Emmy-nominated miniseries "Tales of the City," which helped to set him up for his future television roles.

Gibson's career was a whirlwind of success at the time, but he was having a great time off-camera as well — he married his wife Christine. Sometimes opposites attract, but for Gibson and his wife, it was similarity that brought them together. "We're both Cancers, left-handed, Catholic, the youngest sibling, and we both like to stay home," he explained in an interview. The two of them went on to have three children, and remained married for over two decades before they quietly divorced in 2018, trying their best to keep the situation out of the spotlight for the sake of their children (via People).

Dharma & Greg

The early '90s were a mixed bag for Thomas Gibson's career. Despite landing some significant film roles and making plenty of television appearances, he didn't find a project that granted him lasting success. That all changed in 1997 with the sitcom "Dharma & Greg," in which he starred alongside Jenna Elfman as the titular couple. In the show, Dharma is a down to Earth yoga instructor, and Greg is a high-strung attorney; the two of them fell in love and got married on their very first date, and they've been negotiating their differences ever since. 

"Dharma & Greg" proved definitively that Gibson was capable of taking on a leading role for multiple years, while also giving his career and financial situation some stability. (Talking about how the show changed his life, Gibson said that he "knew I had arrived" when he started sending his shirts out to be ironed.) Among the show's many award nominations were two Golden Globe nods for Gibson and three different Emmy nominations for Elfman. "Dharma & Greg" was eventually canceled, but the show's success left Gibson in the perfect position to take on "Criminal Minds" just a few years later. 

Becoming a father

In the midst of Thomas Gibson's "Dharma & Greg" success, he and his wife decided to start having children. Their first son, James Parker Gibson, was born in 1999. It's impossible to truly prepare for becoming a parent, but Gibson and his wife took a unique approach. "My wife and I raised a couple of dogs," Gibson said while speaking with Conan O'Brien, "and we practiced our parenting skills on our dogs." Reflecting on how that worked out, he joked that based on how those dogs turned out, "we should probably be prohibited from raising children."

In spit of Gibson's self-deprecating humor, parenting human children seemed to agree with the couple: Three years later they had their second son, Travis Carter Gibson, and in 2004, just one year before Thomas became known as Special Agent Aaron Hotchner, they had their daughter Agatha Marie Gibson. As a father, Gibson found something that he enjoys even more than acting. "Being a dad is the greatest experience of my life," he told People in 2018.

He was in a kung fu movie

Before landing on "Criminal Minds," Thomas Gibson had a chance to explore a variety of different roles. Though he had his fair share of stage and film projects, most of his time was spent acting for the small screen. He got to play doctors and detectives, average Joes and tortured artists. One of Gibson's strangest roles, however, came courtesy of a made-for-TV kung fu movie.

"The Monkey King" was a two-part television special that first aired on NBC in 2001. Gibson starred as Nicholas Orton, a businessman who's also a fan of classic Chinese literature and finds himself transported into the fantasy world of "Journey to the West," where he discovers that the fate of the world might rest in his hands. He has to work with the Monkey King (played by Russell Wong) in order to defeat demons, rescue the original manuscript of "Journey to the West," and stop humanity from slipping backwards in time. "The Monkey King" wasn't exactly well-reviewed — Variety called it "a tedious affair" — but it stands out as one of Gibson's most unique roles to date. The movie may be a mess, but Gibson has untapped potential as an action star.