The West

Solving the unspeakable
Joe Mantegna as David Rossi and Thomas Gibson as Aaron "Hotch" Hotchner. Picture: Supplied by Seven.

For five seasons Thomas Gibson provided viewers with plenty of laughs opposite Jenna Elfman in the sitcom Dharma and Greg.

These days Gibson is more likely to leave viewers on the edge of their seats as Aaron "Hotch" Hotchner, a supervisory special agent with the FBI's Behavioural Analysis Unit in the ensemble drama Criminal Minds.

Originally a theatre actor, Gibson's first film role was opposite Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in Far and Away.

"It was a great experience being in Ireland and getting to work on a big movie like that with people you respect and admire," he reflected during an interview in Los Angeles earlier this year.

"For your first movie it was a big thing."

Gibson is also known for playing Beauchamp Day in the miniseries of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City and Dr Daniel Nyland in Chicago Hope.

For seven seasons Gibson's character, Hotchner, has been chasing serial killers across the US, at great expense to his personal life. Hotchner and his wife, Haley, divorced over the demands of his job in season three, then she was the victim of a serial killer in season five, leaving their son, Jack, motherless.

With the show shifting towards more personal stories for the characters this season, it looks like Hotchner's life might be about to take a happy turn when in tomorrow's episode he meets Beth Clemmons (Bellamy Young), an attractive jogger also training for a triathlon.

"Here is somebody that he meets and it sort of happens completely by chance," he explained. "I think it is not that he has been averse to meeting somebody, he has been too busy being a dad at home and handling all his responsibilities and work.

"Erica (Messer, executive producer) and I had talked about it last year and thought it would be a nice thing to try to see and deal with all the things he would have to realistically deal with to even pursue it.

"All that history comes to bear before you even think about taking that step.

"It is sort of time, given just how hard things have been for him personally, to see a little bit of optimism at the end of the tunnel."

Criminal Minds next month starts its eighth season in the US - we are still seeing season seven in Australia - with no signs of slowing down.

Why does Gibson think audiences have such an appetite for the crime series which delves into the motivations of serial killers, not just the crimes?

"I think there is an appetite for these kinds of stories, obviously and the people who catch them," said Gibson, who flies home to see his family in Texas every weekend.

"I am always fascinated reading about these kinds of things in the paper when they are actually happening and the question I always wonder is, how did this person turn out this way, how did this killer, someone capable of serial crimes, what exactly happened to them?

"I think that is at the root of it; that is why these stories are still interesting or we haven't necessarily had enough of them."

Although a show in which the characters track a new serial killer every week may seem far-fetched, in the two days before our interview there had been a murder in Hollywood, an arsonist on the loose in LA and a hunt for a possible serial killer in Orange County; all of this just in California.

"There was a statistic Matthew's character (Spencer Reid) came up with based on something real, they think that at any given moment there are dozens and dozens (of serial killers) operating in the US alone," said Gibson. "That's seems crazy, doesn't it?"

Part of Criminal Minds' ongoing appeal is the way every character plays a part in solving the crime. Gibson likens it to a puzzle.

"I always thought the show was Sherlock Holmes split into a team and they each have their expertise, and it is finding how all those elements come together to solve these crimes, to see where the teamwork results in pursuing one lead instead of another."

Criminal Minds airs Wednesday at 8.30pm on Seven/GWN7.

The West Australian

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