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During Criminal Minds’ fifteen season run, the team battled a lot of unsubs. They all live on via reruns, but most of them, of course, eventually blend into each other in the minds of all but the most obsessive fans. There are a few notable exceptions, of course, one being James Van Der Beek’s three-headed, multiple-personality serial killer Tobias Hankel. The character was featured in a two episode run that began after the Super Bowl and is remembered not only for the extra eyeballs it got but also for Van Der Beek’s memorable performance, which was not easy to pull off.
If there was any evidence needed for how memorable the turn was, look no further than the fact that the actor is still being asked about it more than ten years later. The most recent chat occurred during a discussion with TV Insider, and during it, James Van Der Beek talked about the hardest part of pulling off the role…
Any time your different characters are coming out and they're all arguing with each other and they're all coming through your voice is always one you look at and you say, 'alright, buckle up, you better dial this one in.'
You just never quite know how it’s all going to come out until you see how your performance actually looks through the camera. I would imagine it’s a moment of nerves for even seasoned actors with a lot of success like Van Der Beek. He confirmed as much in the same chat when he talked about the excitement you feel when you try something and the immediate on-set feedback you get is that it’s working. Here the actor talks about his nerves and the positive feelings when he got a response from those around him in the moment…
I remember at the end of that first episode where I find [Dr. Spencer Reid] in the cornfield and I have the gun and you for the first time as an audience see the different characters coming through the same person, I remember being excited and a little bit nervous for that, wondering, "is this going to work?" because I was working in a little bit different way. It was less calculated. It was a little more free-wheeling. And [I was] thinking, "alright, there are people now behind the monitor. This is the first time they're going to watch me transition between these two people. A lot's riding on this. I really hope it works." The response I got back from behind the monitor really let me know it did work. That was exciting.
It might seem relatively easy to make a detective style procedural, but an overwhelming majority never find the right chemistry between their characters or the right small wrinkle to set themselves apart. Even those that do, however, often fail in the later seasons as they struggle to evolve while trying to hold onto what made it all work in the first place. Criminal Minds saw an unusual amount of cast turnover during its run. Some of that was due to life circumstances. Some of that was due to bad creative decisions and some of that was due to unfortunate incidents. Of course all of this affected the quality some. There were certainly individual seasons that were better than others, but on the whole, you can watch a Criminal Minds episode in Season 2 or one in Season 13 and still see the same spark.
That success is due to the writers, the cast and all of the wonderful guest actors like James Van Der Beek who really bought into their characters, no matter how ridiculous they may have been, and just went for it. The extra effort was worth it, and it’s very appreciated by fans, even more than a decade later.