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Zach Gilford Breaks Down His 'Twisted' 'Criminal Minds: Evolution' Character and Playing a Serial Killer Opposite His Real-Life Wife

'It's going to really affect the audience,' the actor says. 'Oh, my God, anyone around me could be a killer.'

Amber Dowling
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Zach Gilford in 'Criminal Minds: Evolution'

Paramount+

Warning: This story contains spoilers for the first and second episodes of Criminal Minds: Evolution, titled "Just Getting Started" and "Sicarius," . Read at your own risk!


Criminal Minds: Evolution is all about evolved characters. That doesn't just mean the returning members of the BAU have evolved; it also means the serial killers they're dealing with are more complex than ever. Enter Elias Voit (Zach Gilford), the new, season-long unsub who spent the entire pandemic collecting and honing a network of serial killers. 

In the two-episode premiere, viewers saw Voit in a variety of roles. He was the killer, the hunter, the mentor and, in a surprising twist, the patriarch of a picture-perfect family. It's a lot to digest in just two episodes, but Gilford promises it's just the start of viewers' relationship with the dark and complex character. 

"Voit's story just gets more and more and more twisted," the actor tells Metacritic. "I think everyone's excited and pumped, not only that it's back, but that there's a new format. To see the BAU have to really work and track a guy and solve the case was really puzzling, for lack of a better word.

"But that allows the writers to do something they've never done and go home with the uncertainty. You know who he is in the world. It wasn't just like a guy hiding in the basement killing people. He has to function in the world. He goes to the grocery store, he has a job. It's going to really affect the audience. Like, 'Oh, my God, anyone around me could be a killer,'" he continues.

Here, Gilford talks to Metacritic about Voit's introduction, how being a father affected him on set, and what it was really like playing a serial killer when his real-life wife, Kiele Sanchez, was opposite him as his fictional wife. 

Are you a true crime person?

Aren't we all? I love watching true crime documentaries, and all the podcasts and stuff. So yes, I guess I would say I'm a true crime fan. I'm not like the diehard Criminal Minds fans that I know this fanbase is made up of, but every time I've seen the show, I think it's a step above. It gets lumped in with a lot of those cop procedurals and it's not that at all. And I think that's why the fanbase is strong. Once you discover it, you're like, "Oh this is good."

Why do you think there's an appetite for these kinds of serialized serial killer stories right now?

It's always been a thing, but we've also gotten into streaming now and people like getting into serialized stories. You get invested in characters and you want to see them develop. I mean, I love miniseries because they're kind of these perfect-sized installments. 

There's a Roald Dahl quote at the end of the first episode that Voit says in a voice-over. What was your reaction to the show using this children's author to showcase something so dark?

I thought it was creepy! I have two small kids and we read a lot of Roald Dahl in our house and it just was like, "Oh, right. He's dark. He's got some dark aspects to his stuff." We're breathing into it. This is what we're reading to our children. There's monsters in this world. 

Do you think it applies to Voit as a dual-character though? Because viewers do learn he has kids and a wife and the world is a bit darker than it originally seems. 

One hundred percent. You come to learn that it's on the nose in a good way. Seeing that other side of him, I think that's why it's the perfect quote, I love it. I genuinely never would have thought of doing something like that. That's where the writers, I think, feel some of the constraints have been taken off. To have 65 minutes as opposed to 42, they're able to step away from the machine that was Criminal Minds for 15 years and take these characters they've grown to love in this world and tell a story that's more complex. I think all the fans are going to love it too because it's like an evolved version of the last one.

How do you think viewers are going to respond to Moose the dog and that little twist at the end of Episode 2?  

When I read it, I was like, "No, no." Apparently, there's different rules with animals. You can show people killing people brutally. But you can't show them killing animals. So it's implied. And Moose sticks around for a while, but…

You mentioned being a parent. As a parent, does playing someone like Voit affect you differently now than it might have pre-kids? 

Completely. Anytime I was in a scene with the kids I was dying inside. The only thing I was thinking was, "Voit needs to get away with it and no one can find out." [It] would ruin these two children. Can you imagine if you found out your parent was a serial killer — was literally a monster? Every scene where they're in, I was just terrified. It's really hard to get there. I can't connect to my kids finding out I'm a serial killer because I would never do anything that devastating. But it really breaks my heart and if I weren't a parent, I don't know that I would read into it that much. 

Did having Kiele in the role make it even harder?

There's a lot of things that we do that are harder to get through because you're not just pretending to talk to your wife, you're actually talking to your wife, and so, you get lost in having conversations with your wife even though you're playing make believe.

How did her casting come about?

I was actually on my way to work and as I was kissing my wife goodbye she said, "I just got an offer to play your wife on Criminal Minds." Like, what? That's awesome. And then when I went to work, they explained they didn't want to say anything because they didn't want to make it weird. They felt like, if she was in the role, they could really flesh out the role, because they know who she is and what kind of actor she is. So, that was all them. It's been kind of a weird experience and it's funny too, because the crew slowly is realizing we're actually married. It's like, "Yeah, we don't just kiss each other at work every day on set." So, that's the story of that. 


Criminal Minds: Evolution streams Thursdays

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Get to know Zach Gilford:
Before he was chopping up body parts as a creepy serial killer, Gilford also starred as backup QB Matt Saracen on Friday Night Lights (Metascore: 78). He was in two shows that never quite took off, The Mob Doctor (42) and Off the Map (49), and he also starred as Greg for four seasons in Good Girls (60). Currently, Gilford can also be seen on Netflix's The Midnight Club (64).