Murder, ground zero
Joe Mantegna

There's no escaping the fact that US drama Criminal Minds delves into some violent and disturbing places as the agents of the FBI's Behavioural Analysis Unit track killers and explore their motivations.

But for viewers who are skittish or complain the show is too scary and violent, Joe Mantegna has a few words of advice: watch something else.

"I think it's important that it is as dark as it is," says Mantegna, who plays Special Agent David Rossi in the series about to start its ninth season on Australian TV.

"Whenever I hear criticism of, or when I hear comments of 'Oh, it's so dark and it's so scary. And I can't stand it' - you know, da, da, da, da. Well, then watch something else.

"For us, to do less than that would be disrespectful to the people who really do that job. When they say 'cut' at the end of a scene, the actor who's sitting there with an axe in his head can take it out and walk over and get a sandwich.

"In reality they can't. But for us to pretend that it doesn't exist or to show it as less horrific than it really is would be an insult.

"I like to think that our audience is intelligent enough to realise this is very disturbing, but so is life and so is what we're portraying. And so we show it as it is. And I think that's important."

Mantegna is also quick to point out how the show differs from other crime and serial-killer dramas such as Dexter and Hannibal.

"I think we are a little different than the average show," he says.

"I don't think you can lump us into, like, a procedural, as they do with some of these other shows because . . . just the nature of the show. It's called Criminal Minds. We deal with psyche.

"I can't believe when people say 'Oh, Dexter started the, you know, serial-killer shows'. Forget it. This show was around before Dexter. You know, this was, I think, ground zero for those kinds of shows.

"So people obviously have found something intriguing about, you know, that whole world, and the psyche of a serial killer for whatever reason."

Mantegna says many of the show's viewers are women and he believes they can learn how to protect themselves by watching.

"A huge part of our audience is women and I think part of it is because they're intelligent enough to know that they could learn something from it," he says.

"I always use this as an example. I think of one episode that within 20 seconds of watching the show you could learn three things that could basically save your life.

"There was an episode that showed a valet parker, he takes these women's cars. What he would do is he would take the remote off their visor, take it home."

In the episode from season five, the serial- killer valet would replicate a woman's garage-door opener code, work out where she lived by hitting the "home" button on her GPS then lie in wait in her house.

"And as people often do, they don't lock the door between the garage and their home, because they know the garage door is closed," says Mantegna.

"But since he's able to now open the garage door, he can come into the house.

"So you watch that episode; within one minute of seeing those three facts you've learnt three things that could perhaps save your life . . . which is a strange thing on a show that's considered to be so dark and gruesome, and this, and that, and the other.

"But yet we often do that. And I think people, even subconsciously, pick up on that. They watch the show partly because they don't want to be that victim.

"And so while they're intrigued by that world, we often put in information, we explain things on the show as to why things happen.

"But you can even learn something from it."

The West Australian

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