Gwen McGee gives insight on her role as a medical examiner on Criminal Minds and explains the deep-rooted psychology on why people might like to play deranged characters on television shows like Criminal Minds. McGee also has a recurring role as a judge on Days of Our Lives.
ATM: Was there any other shows before Criminal Minds that centered around the psychology of a criminal?
GM: I watch a variety of shows that deal with criminals. You are interested in psychology as an actor. There is something that happens to them that turns them. This could be the death of a parent as a child or some abuse as a child like a guy who likes to kill women. He probably did not have a good relationship with his mother. Maybe a girlfriend did him wrong, and this twisted him wrong. The root of his thing would be rejection. These are all negative and evil spirits. When you are a criminal, you never think you did anything wrong. You always have a justification. This is why people love to play those characters because they are also juicy and fun. They always have wrapped mentality. Even in the episode I did, the person figures the husband is cheating. Her answer is to kill everybody. “Ok lady.” These are wacky people.
ATM: The psychology behind their crimes that is deep-rooted in them mostly derived from their childhood?
GM: Childhood or adulthood. It could be all the way up from their 20s. They have some trauma that was never resolved.
ATM: This is sad.
GM: It is totally sad. Even people with relationship issues that have been burned by someone. They think “I will never trust like this again.” They messed up all their relationships instead of owning it. “I got burned in a relationship, and now I am going to move on.” This is not how they think logically. They think “This is never going to happen to me again. I am going to get them first.” It is rooted in evil or unresolved emotions. It is always the good thing to forgive and let go. There is no perfect person. You have to forgive, or it just eats you up.
ATM: It interesting when the killer on these shows forget they did the crime. They say “Oh, it was not me. I did not do it.”
GM: Some people have split personalities, and this comes from trauma. So, to survive a trauma, you might go into another character. For them, it is a split personality. “Joe did not do it, but Tommy did.” It is another way of getting into another space going into the dark side to commit something like that. You have to think there are a lot of loose screws with people that do this type of thing. I would think they never got any psychiatric help or basic therapy. They do not know how to do it. Maybe they never got exposed to it or thought it was an option. You have talk or vent it out. You can write a letter to vent and not mail it. I have done this a lot (Laughs). You feel so much better once writing the letter and then you move on. There is a lot of violence in this world.
ATM: How does the style of the director make your role on Days of Our Lives conveyable to the audience or viewers watching? What level of aggression do you take on as a judge on this show? How would you say black women judges or black judges are portrayed on American television?
GM: Soaps’ actors are some of the hardest working actors ever. A script a day. Directors style vary per episode. They all follow format there. Rehearse and shoot. Listen and keep order. I demand professionalism in my court as Rose Duncan and usually get it due to my tactic to take how they act in court into my decision. Reality show judges are different from real judges. It’s up to the individual actor to portray the judge as they see fit with direction from the director or producers. Pray, I get it right. Power can corrupt you know.
ATM: What did you envision your life at 21? What emotions did you possess?
GM: I set out to be a movie star after getting out of drama school. Read books on how to do it. Started in New York and what they taught in school–How to act and what you encounter, — the Business of acting –was two different things. Even thought about teaching the business of acting but maybe they have added those classes by now. Universities do a disservice by not teaching the BUSINESS of acting.
The highlights of living in New York was getting cast in Do the Right Thing by using persistence on Spike Lee and New Jersey Drive directed by Nick Gomez. Getting cast as one of the original members of Breakfast Time with Tom Bergeron and Laurie Hibberd when they launched the FX Network. In Los Angeles, the director who helped me a lot is John Terlesky. He cast me in two lead roles in Malevolent opposite Lou Diamond Philips and my first episode of Criminal Minds. John rocks. Rap started to become hot. Saw LL Cool J in concert. Loved his energy.
Nowadays, it’s good for actors to know basic filmmaking. I took a class in that and loved it.
Helps you express yourself as an artist. I shot a documentary short called SISTER CARE which won Best Documentary in the 2018 168 film festival. I was very happy about that. It’s edgy and basically about the impact of street drugs on the family members that must take care of them after something goes wrong with their body or brain, i.e., MS or Dementia.
Perseverance. Sheer determination. (This will be needed throughout any career) Then my mentor at the time told me God would help me with my career. That was groundbreaking news to me, and I started going to church. There were Broadway people in church and actors and musicians in New York. That helped tremendously in those early years and still does. Actors must get a handle on rejection- it’s part of the business. Church and or bible reading helps.