A.J. Cook relishes the power of a gun.
“I remember when I first got to wear a gun, I was just over the moon ’cause that’s all I’ve ever wanted,” she said. “You just feel badass when you have a gun on your hip.”
Cook plays Jennifer ‘J.J.’ Jareau, the press liaison on the CBS drama ‘Criminal Minds’ She sees her character’s use of a deadly weapon as a sign of additional responsibility in the third season of the show. Strapping on a bulletproof vest and storming a house or a building is all part of the fun for Cook, who sees J.J. as a go-between for the team and the public.
“She deals a lot with the victims now, which I really love because I think our show tends to focus a lot on the craziness of these serial killers and how psycho they are, and we tend to forget the victims who have been left behind,” Cook said. “I think J.J. has kind of brought a little light to that so it’s not so much about these crazy people and the blood and the gore. It’s more about these people who have been left behind, which is kind of interesting.”
‘Criminal Minds’ focuses on an elite group of FBI profilers who have the difficult task of analyzing the minds of the world’s most dangerous criminals and figuring them out before they can commit another crime.
The show has evolved over time, most noticeably this season with the introduction of David Rossi, a founding member of the Behavioral Analysis Unit, played by Joe Mantegna. Mantegna replaced Mandy Patinkin, who starred as Jason Gideon and left the show after the second season, reportedly citing “creative differences.”
“It was rough the beginning of the year, just with Mandy’s sudden departure and all of us left standing here going What the hell? What’s going on?’,”Cook said.
“As far as a transition can go, it’s been a really smooth transition. We were really lucky to get Joe Mantegna. He’s just the nicest man you’ll ever meet in your life, and he’s so grounded and just a normal man.”
Cook, who has had the chance to talk to Patinkin and understands his decision, said, “He’s been nothing but wonderful to me, and I hope he’s happy. All we can do is shake it off and move forward. That’s what we’ve done, and it’s gone pretty smoothly.”
J.J., in growing as a character, has been shaped by events in her past.
In the second season, after she and Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) separated on the night of his abduction, she walked into a dark barn and was attacked by ferocious dogs that she shot and killed.
J.J. showed off her marksmanship in a recent episode by firing a shot into the forehead of a rogue cop and defused a standoff inside the BAU.
“She’s evolved so much. She went from being in a couple scenes here and there to being a crucial part of the team, and she’s almost the heart of the team,” Cook said. “She’s not a profiler, so she doesn’t think like them, but she’s around them enough to understand what they’re talking about.”
Cook, 29, a native of Oshawa, Ontario, played Lindsay Walker on Fox’s ‘Tru Calling’ (2003-04) after a career of roles in programs varying from ‘Elvis Meets Nixon’ (1997) to ‘Dead Like Me’ (2003). She has been on ‘Criminal Minds’ since the series began in 2005.
Cook said she has long been interested in the psychology of criminals and has gained experience by sitting down and talking with actual working profilers.
“I’ve always been interested why people are the way they are ; just everyday people ; so to be able to dive into this darker side of it, why these crazy people are crazy, has been really interesting,” she said.
The ongoing writers’ strike has left Cook with free time and the chance to do things her typically busy schedule prevents, including doing research on a script that she’s been wanting to write for a while.
“I’ve been a good little housewife ; decorating the house, put up the tree, did a little Martha Stewart making crafts ; just doing stuff I don’t normally get to do,” Cook said.
“I’ve been doing a lot of reading and writing. It’s funny; you just seem to be busier when you’re not working somehow ; I don’t know how that works.”
Cook, whose creativity extends to dancing, began the physical activity when she was 4 years old and appreciated the attention it received in the Patrick Swayze movie ‘Dirty Dancing.’
But will fans of ‘Criminal Minds’ ever get to see J.J. show off some moves on the dance floor?
“Oh God, I hope not,” she said, laughing. “Oh wow, wouldn’t that be funny. We keep joking that we’ll do Criminal Minds the Musical’ just ’cause everyone is so musically inclined.
“Thomas Gibson and Kirsten Vangsness have wonderful voices,” Cook said. “Paget Brewster has been in a band.
“I highly doubt that will ever happen, but we like to turn it into a musical when the camera’s not rolling,” Cook said.