Zach Gilford: 'Criminal Minds' makes viewers think anyone could be a serial killer

Zach Gilford can be seen in "Criminal Minds: Evolution." Photo courtesy of Paramount+
1 of 5 | Zach Gilford can be seen in "Criminal Minds: Evolution." Photo courtesy of Paramount+

NEW YORK, Dec. 1 (UPI) -- Zach Gilford says one of the reasons the serial killer he plays on Criminal Minds: Evolution is so terrifying is because he looks perfectly normal.

"He's not creepy," Gilford told UPI in a recent phone interview.


"This is such a cool concept. This is the first time we've gone home with an UnSub," the actor added.

"We'll be able to manipulate the audience a little bit at certain times to see this monster as a human and kind of feel for him in moments, but then be like: 'Wait! No! I can't feel bad this guy. He's terrible!'"

The original Criminal Minds followed an FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit team of profilers as members hunted down unknown perpetrators of crimes dubbed "UnSubs." It ran from 2005 to 2020 on CBS.

Original show stars Joe Mantegna, A.J. Cook, Kirsten Vangsness, Aisha Tyler, Adam Rodriguez and Paget Brewster returned for the sequel series, Evolution.


Season 1 sees their characters trying to catch Gilford's Elias Voit and the network of killers over which he presides in a season-long story arc.

New episodes premiere on Paramount+ on Thursdays.

Gilford, who is known for his roles in Friday Night Lights, Midnight Mass and The Midnight Club, called the decision to join the Criminal Minds franchise a "no brainer."

"It's an amazing show. I think the fans of it know what it is," he said. "Anyone who doesn't watch it thinks: 'Oh, Criminal Minds is probably like Law & Order, CSI, blah blah blah.' But this is much more elevated than those in my opinion -- not that there is anything wrong with those."

The actor recalled feeling intrigued when he met with producers, who explained how they were reformatting the show and what kind of villain would be at the center of it.

"It's the same group of characters. It's the same concept," he said.

"But now [the show] is on Paramount+, and instead of an UnSub every episode, they want to span it out over the arc of the season for 10 episodes, which is the sweet spot for a show.

"You can really tell a good story, flesh it out, but there are no episodes where you are like, 'Well, that was just useless. They were just filling space.'"


The series will look at Voit's origins, as well as how he maintains the façade of an ordinary family man while remotely training others to be murderers during the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns -- and then activating them when the government restrictions are lifted.

"We wanted to show to the audience the double life that this guy has to live," Gilford said.

"These monsters have to participate in the world. I mean, maybe, there are some that just hide in the woods and kill people and never do anything real. But most of them have to have a job. They have to go to the grocery store," he said.

"The audience is going to think, 'Oh, my God! My next-door neighbor, this person at the grocery store, anyone around could be a serial killer.'"

The actor said he loved the pandemic angle, recalling how showrunner Erica Messer told him in an early Zoom meeting that when COVID-19 broke out in 2020, sending people to shelter in place at home, she immediately wondered what will the serial killers get up to?

"I was like, 'Where am I going to get toilet paper?' And she's thinking what are serial killers doing?" he said jokingly.

As the show delves into Voit's personal life, viewers will see how effective he is at finding potential killers online and creating his nefarious network.

"Everyone's locked in their houses, so he doesn't have the ability or freedom to do the things he used to do because he has to be home," Gilford said.

"He couldn't just be out in the world, but he's also this super-manipulator and profiler, so online he can manipulate other serial killers," he added. "He's the greatest foe the BAU has ever had."

Gilford said he had no problem as the new guy joining the long-established and tight-knit cast.

"Erica Messer said, 'Our house is a really fun house to play at. Come play at our house,'" the actor recalled.

"She was absolutely right. Everybody was so nice. They went out of their way to introduce themselves to me. I thought I was going to keep my head down and do the criminal mind thing.

"But they were like, 'No. We want you to bring your energy, your experience, your technique to this show and let it evolve.'


"The word's so perfect in the title," Gilford said with a laugh. "But it's true."

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