CRIMINAL MINDS: Robert Knepper on His 'Sick, Twisted, Demented' Character - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

CRIMINAL MINDS: Robert Knepper on His ‘Sick, Twisted, Demented’ Character

November 10, 2010 by  

CRIMINAL MINDS fans, Wednesday’s episode is shaping up to be intense.

I talked with guest star Robert Knepper (Rhett), who told me his role is even more twisted than PRISON BREAK’s T-Bag.

Yowza, right?!

Read on for Knepper’s take on playing twisted characters, why this role hit home for him and much more…

I’m really excited about your episode of CRIMINAL MINDS. What can you share about your character?
Robert Knepper:
When I finished it, I called my agents up and said, “Guys, I love playing great parts.” [Acting teacher] Bill Esper taught me years ago, if you’re going to play a part, play a great part. [This CRIMINAL MINDS character is] the most sick — even more sick and twisted than T-Bag. He’s probably the most demented character I’ve ever played. [Laughs] And I just said to them, “Guys, you’ve got to find me a comedy. I’ve got to go do something that is the total opposite of this.” Somebody was listening, because now I’m working on John Wells’ new [Showtime] show, SHAMELESS. So it’s great.

I got offered this [CRIMINAL MINDS] part and honestly, the initial reason I wanted to do it was because I’ve never worked with Joe Mantegna (Rossi) before. It was kind of an homage to Chicago theater, because that’s where I started and he was a big Chicago actor. And it’s funny, because now I’m working with Bill Macy on SHAMELESS, so it’s all about Chicago this fall. So then they offered [the CRIMINAL MINDS role] to me and I read the script and I say, okay, it’s like Tony Perkins as Norman Bates [in PSYCHO]. And the challenge for me if I want to do this is how do I make it different? How do I pay respect to what he did in making this iconic character and also take it a step forward? Anna Foerster, who was the director, was great. We collaborated on the whole thing. It was like, how do you make this guy who loves his mother so much, would do anything for her, not be like a total dweeb? How can we make him really strong, how can we make him stand up for himself? And I think we did. But still, a sick, twisted, demented character, however you want to frame it. He’s the kind of character that makes you want to go home and take a shower.

I don’t know what it is about acting. There’s usually generally two kinds of parts: you’re either going to go home — and I did one this summer, I played the hero in a sci-fi movie called EARTH’S FINAL HOURS and you go home at night and you’re like, “I feel good! I feel great! I’m going to dream about really positive things.” Or you play this kind of part and you go home at night and you go, “Ugh, boy, I’m really pulling down in the cellar for this one.”

I will say, CRIMINAL MINDS has done a great job of getting guest actors to delve into their dark sides, but for you to say this is the darkest role you’ve played when you’ve done some pretty hardcore stuff in the past…
I think this takes the cake. This was also a very emotional rollercoaster ride for me, because I didn’t really think about it when I said yes to it. Have you seen the episode yet?

No, I have to wait until it airs. But I have heard your character dresses up women in 50s-style clothing because his mother was a famous actress in the 50s.
Oh, he goes one step further: he cuts their lips off.

Oh, that’s just lovely.
The demented part isn’t dressing [the women] up. That’s the easy part! [Laughs] But what I didn’t realize when I said yes was what effect it was going to have on me. I lost my mother — she never even got to see my child, my boy who is 8 years old — I lost her about 8 years ago to a massive heart attack.

I’m so sorry to hear that.
Thank you. So the whole thing with this relationship on the show with Sally Kirkland who plays my mother, it was so cathartic to have her as my mother and to have this kind of story. It really — for the first time in a long time — have you lost a parent yet?

The thing is, when you lose somebody, you can’t believe they’re dead. And you think about them all the time. And then what happens is you start to not think about them as time goes on — you’ve got other things in your life, believe it or not, it’s hard to believe, but you don’t think about them every day. And I hadn’t thought about my mother in quite a while and this show brought it all back to me. So you’ll see in the climax of the piece, there’s a huge tribute to [his] mother and it’s just so, oh my God, agonizing. It’s just sick what we do for a living, [but] at the same time, cathartic. What other profession would you be allowed to work out so much shit from your life?

It probably saves you a ton of money on therapy.
Save oodles and oodles on it. It’s weird. I remember, Esper, years ago in New York used to say, “Why are you afraid? What are you afraid to feel? You’re not going to die from cancer, you just need to feel something.” And that’s just what we need to do. Deep.

Yeah, I’m already emotionally trying to prepare myself for this episode because it feels like it’s going to be one of the hours that stands out in fans’ minds at the end of the season.
I hope you feel that way. I know I felt that way shooting it. It was very profound to shoot it.

Did you think about how the part might impact you when you signed on?
It’s funny, you know, when you read a script, you’re taking one hugely important part of the story: the words, in this case, [a script by] Simon Mirren.  [He’s] Helen Mirren’s nephew, by the way. He’s got some good blood in him, good talent there. Whenever I read a script, I can so visualize it, I’m imagining it. And you get to the place where you’re shooting and you try on the clothes. And then you go, ooh, I like this, the character is formulating this way. And then you get to the set. On PRISON BREAK, T-Bag became alive as soon as I walked into that real prison in Joliet, Illinois. I didn’t have to do anything, it was there. In this case, the amazing set these people designed [for CRIMINAL MINDS], that did all the work for me, and it so much helped the character and the whole storytelling. It was gorgeous. It was this beautiful, old Georgetown brownstone building that mother and son have lived in for years. I hope [the episode] stands out for you as well as other people because, for me, literally at the end of it, I knew I had been through the war on this one. It put me through the wringer.

Make sure to check back with Give Me My Remote next week for more from Knepper, including his thoughts on reprising his PRISON BREAK character, T-Bag.

And to tune into his episode of CRIMINAL MINDS, Wednesday, November 10 at 9 PM on CBS.

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3 Responses to “CRIMINAL MINDS: Robert Knepper on His ‘Sick, Twisted, Demented’ Character”

  1. tw111 on November 11th, 2010 11:31 pm

    Let me just disabuse Knepper of the notion that he’ll ever be able to pull off a character who’s not ‘ sick and twisted’….and if this one’s more heinous than Tbag, ( heh… who knew? ) I don’t even want to go there.
    Heroes was more than enough to convince me he’ll always be an on-screen sicko.

  2. murph101 on February 13th, 2011 1:24 pm

    Well I´ll be looking for this episode – it´s really fun to follow up on the roles of knepper, outstanding and entertaining acting.

    I hope he gets a lot more different roles if he likes so – though i must admit he plays the dark ones absolutely great. Snarl + intelligence…

    And for the record: Samuel Sullivan on Heroes was no sicko! Mostly good intentions, though extremly manipulative and a little “off” about the “matter over means” kind of thing, incredibly charismatic and actually being able to be downright sweet. That acting right before he gets rejected and everything goes wrong for the character was incredible! I friggin loved every minute Samuel / Knepper was on screen – he really was one of the main reasons to watch heroes after the chaos of season 2 & 3.

  3. Kc on September 7th, 2011 10:25 am

    Love Knepper since Orison Break. Some of my favorite celebrities who are ao good-looking are brad Pitt and Tom cruise and yet much as I love them, the roles Knepper does will never be played as well by these 2 actors. These 2 fave ones just are very commercially promoted and are goodlooking (although I find Robert Knepper very attractive too, quite sexy in a smart cool kind of way which I never thought I would but there’s something about him that’s so attractive). Just like singers Britney Spears- their heavily marketed but does not mean their great singers. I am sure he can pull off roles where he is a good guy… He is a great actor, and I am sure he can pull that off as he is a nice smart human being in real life and quite low profile, but seem a very indepth kind of guy. When he is given a chance that suits him best for a good role -he will be great I am sure. From; Fan from as far as the Philippines just because of his acting in Prison Break. Totally amazed.