Saturday, January 20, 2007
CRIMINAL MINDS: KIRSTEN VANGSNESS ARTICLE
THE COPYING OF PICTURES FROM THIS BLOG IS EXPRESSLY FORBIDDEN.
Remembering her roots
By Aaron Burgin, The Porterville Recorder
Kirsten Vangsness said she always remembers where she came from.
For Vangsness, a star on the hit CBS drama “Criminal Minds,” those memories take her back to the streets of Porterville - even though Porterville is noticeably omitted from her agency-prepared biography.
“When people ask me where I'm from, I always say Porterville,” said Vangsness, who plays “tech kitten” analyst Penelope Garcia on the FBI drama. “When they ask me, ‘Where is that?' I say, ‘It's in the Central Valley, near Bakersfield, not too far from Terra Bella.' ”
“Then they say, ‘Terra who-a?' ” Vangsness said with a laugh. “But, seriously, I need them to change [the biography], because everyone will tell you that I always talk about my days growing up in Porterville.”
Vangsness tells her Los Angeles friends - many who couldn't point out Porterville on a map of the greater Porterville area - that “it's the place with the Jackass Mail Run, that is known for its state hospital.”
But to Vangsness, Porterville is the place she found her muse.
“I think I knew I was going to be an actress when my fifth-grade teacher chose me to play the lead in our play ‘Santa Claus goes Mod,' ” Vangsness said. “But, a lot of people thought they were actresses, so I was pretty convinced I was gonna live on cat food for the rest of my life.”
The 30-year-old nostalgically talked about seventh-grade drama teacher Shirley Hughes, Veterans Day parades on Main Street and extra roles in plays at the Barn Theater.
Vangsness said she lived “literally behind the Main Street on-ramp of Highway 190, next to Anderson Fence Company, a stone's throw from Porterville College.”
A self-proclaimed “weird kid,” Vangsness said she was that kid that didn't fit in any of the campus cliques.
“I was the kid that got trash-canned,” Vangsness said, laughing.
She's not getting trash-canned anymore - she plays the off-beat, eccentrically quirky FBI analyst in television's ninth-highest-rated prime-time television program, a role that closely mirrors her own personality.
And she gets to playfully flirt with arguably one of Hollywood's heartthrobs, Shemar Moore.
“And believe me, he is cuter in person,” Vangsness said.
But success was not promised for Vangsness. After leaving Porterville before her eighth-grade year, her family moved to Cerritos, where she attended high school and junior college. She graduated from California State University, Fullerton.
By March 2005, though her biography paints the picture of a highly successful and critically acclaimed stage actress, Vangsness herself said she was “living the life of a starving artist.”
She had three jobs - a substitute teacher, personal assistant and actress.
“Work wasn't regular, and I wasn't getting paid regularly,” Vangsness said. “I was doing a couple of commercials, but so was everyone else in Los Angeles.”
She quit her personal assistant job to pursue an audition for a pilot, which she didn't get - they said they wanted an Alfre-Woodard type, Vangsness said.
It was then she got a call from a friend who told her about a role for a scene in another pilot, Vangsness said.
“She pretty much told me I wasn't going to get the part, but I said, ‘Sure,' ” Vangsness said.
One week later, she got a call from her friend.
“And she's like, you got the job,” Vangsness said.
She filmed the one scene in Canada, by herself. The scene - talking to a mystery voice on the other end of a phone line.
The next thing she knew, the show - “Criminal Minds” - gets picked up by the network, and she is asked to come back for another episode, and another episode, and - you get the picture, Vangsness said.
Her recurring role caught on with viewers, and when word got out that Vangsness was going to another audition, the producers offered her a permanent role on the show, Vangsness said.
The success is a refreshing change from days when jobs came few and far between, said the bleached-blonde actress.
“I have to say, it is the strangest thing to sit down, and say, ‘Wow, look that's me on the box,' ” Vangsness said. “But in a way it seems completely normal, because I have worked so hard to get to this point.
“I am crazy grateful, but it hasn't changed me. I still shop at the same places, I'm the same person,” Vangsness said. “Except that when I slide my credit card, I don't have to worry about it bouncing.”
But in the end, everything goes back to Porterville, the place and the upbringing that keeps her from going totally Hollywood, and staying the “same ol' Kirsten.”
“I understand every different type of struggle, and I know that my upbringing has absolutely colored the way I view things in life,” Vangsness said. “I need to come back and visit. Do they still have the Jackass Mail Run?”
They still do.