Wednesday night’s Criminal Minds episode is going to bring us another intense case geared around an UnSub, but it will also be showcasing something totally different — a personal storyline for Matt Simmons. After his son David finds himself suspended from school, he and his wife Kristy (Kelly Frye) have to try and understand what’s happening with him. This is a story about making a connection, and also potentially addressing both the rigors of Simmons’ job and also the aftermath of what happened with Kristy last season.
Leading up to this episode, CarterMatt spoke to the man behind the role of Matt Simmons in actor Daniel Henney about taking on one of the most emotional storylines he’s done since coming over from Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders. Meanwhile, he also discusses the future of the series and some of what he’d like to do if there is a chance for another major Simmons story later this season.
CarterMatt – Going into the start of a season, does showrunner Erica [Messer] or one of the other producers give you a sense that there’s a big story coming up? How do you get prepared?
Daniel Henney – At this point what’s really nice about our show is that because we have such a strong cast, we can devote an episode to a single character usually twice a year.
Back when I was doing Beyond Borders, they would often come to me early and say ‘what do you think about this?’ — there was a couple of episodes for Simmons in there, like when he went to Korea and tracked down his grandmother. I think once they saw the response and that I was able to hold down the episode, they trust you after that and keep writing stories for you.
Christopher Barbour, who wrote [Wednesday’s] ‘Rule 34,’ is a good friend of mine and we get along really well. He’s always trying to think outside of the box for what we can do with the Simmons family. It was really great for Kelly [Frye] and really great for the family. He talks to me a little bit about what I’m comfortable with action-wise and any ideas I might have, but I always tell them that anything involving the family is great fuel. Even last season with “Ex Parte” — having Kristy being taken hostage was a fantastic storyline.
With this episode, it involves my son David and he gets into a little bit of trouble with some bullying. It’s topical and timely, and it’s important to speak to those things.
You bring up the story about your grandmother, and that episode was one of my favorites from Beyond Borders. Even though we don’t see all that much of that discussed explicitly on Criminal Minds, is that still something that informs your character and you keep it in mind?
As an actor I do — it really helps. All actors try to create backstories for their character to try to give them an anchor emotionally. Having been through that and having a couple of episodes on Borders to play with it really helped. I think it really helped Kelly and I connect with what we went through last season.
It’s always in my head. I think it would be hard, if I didn’t have these sort of family experiences, to create those emotional connections. The mothership has been really great after I came in last season. They trusted me right away, which was really fantastic and it helps to know that you’ve got that family behind you.
Has the vibe for season 14 been any different so far? I know that they’ve really stressed family and individual storylines for many of the characters, and there are a lot of actors directing various episodes.
For me, it’s felt pretty much the same. We get along so well as a cast, and the same goes for the producers and Erica. It’s a really fun place to go to work. Of course, we’re always trying to figure out what’s going to happen at the end of the season, but we have no real control over that. We know about as much as you guys do.
We just go on about our business and yeah, there are a lot of actors directing this season. Aisha is directing this episode right now, and I know that AJ [Cook] is jumping on one and I think Joe Mantegna is going to do another one. Adam [Rodriguez] directed one and Matthew [Gray Gubler] directed one. I’ve always said I would like to do one, so hopefully next season I’ll get a chance to.
That’s the perfect lead-in to what I was going to ask! Are you starting to sort of plan that out?
It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I started my career in South Korea and I directed music videos and TV commercials, but nothing scripted. Of course, I’d have to go through the [proper unions] and get myself certified, but I’d love to take on the challenge. To have a family like we do, it’s so comfortable with the creative space that we have. You can learn and make mistakes and nobody’s going to judge you. If you do make a mistake, someone is going to be there to help you out. It’s a fantastic place to get your first shot.
You mentioned the episode “Ex Parte” from earlier this season where Kristy was in danger. How much carryover is there of that moving into Wednesday night? Is it still on Matt or Kristy’s mind?
Absolutely. I don’t want to give too much away, but it is referenced in the form of her ability to navigate life after going through a situation like that. For anyone who goes through a traumatic experience, you carry that and deal with that.
Even shooting that episode [last season], it was really intense for Kelly. It impacts our whole family — it’s a trickle-down effect. There are parts of the episode coming up where she is feeling guilty, almost like she is checked out. She’s blaming herself. That’s something that is all in her own head and it’s not true, but Simmons has to be there to tell her that. Anyone who goes through something like that is going to have scar tissue, and that’s something we get into in this episode.
We’ve seen you play Simmons as a BAU agent and we’ve seen you play him as a husband, but this is going to be an even bigger chance to see you play him as a father, at least on the main show. What do you like about exploring that?
Declan Whaley (who plays David) is a fantastic actor. I have no kids in my own life — hopefully I will someday. He makes me want to have children in real life (laughs). We’ll play football in the yard between takes and he’s hugging my leg at lunch. He’s like a second son and that makes it really easy. Like I said, I don’t have kids — I have my golden retriever, who is far from a human child (laughs). He’s a child in his own right.
It’s really does feel nice to be able to go into the family dynamic and step away from the heavy stuff that we have to do all the time — the technical breakdown of the crime itself or the high stakes we’re dealing with. It’s nice to sit on the couch with a child and just read them a story. It’s nice to be human and explore that world too.
As we dive into that world of heavy stuff and UnSubs, I know that there is an episode coming up around Halloween that Matthew directed [in ‘The Tall Man’]. What can you say about that one?
Matthew’s very talented, and anything he gets to direct is very exciting because he sees things outside the box. He’s very passionate about how these episodes look and what’s incorporated in terms of personal choices. He’s also a wonderful artist so a lot of his drawings end up going into episodes.
We were talking in the process of [making this] about what he wanted people to look like and what he was going for aesthetically. He’s got some really spooky stuff you’re going to see. From what I hear, this episode is one of his favorites he’s done in terms of how it turned out. I know that it deals with urban legends and myths and some superstitions. It’s going to be really good.
It seems like everyone is enjoying being around each other, but with the shortened episode order this time, is it on anyone’s mind that there is an uncertain future? I know, unfortunately, that this is something you experienced before with [Beyond Borders].
It’s interesting. Even before Beyond Borders, I’ve been on shows that have went a season and got canceled, or have gone two seasons and got canceled. That’s just something that, as a part of this business, you have to accept. You’re never guaranteed a lengthy run, especially in this climate.
But, having come over to the main show and they’ve been going for so long, I was really surprised that there was never really a doubt. When they finished a season, they knew we were going to come back. Interestingly enough, I still feel that. There’s not really a sense of doubt on set. I think everyone is really focused on making these episodes really good, and I think the general consensus is that if we make these good and do them the right way, our fans will support us and we’ll keep going. Nothing is guaranteed and we don’t have any control over it, but from another side everyone is really proud of what we’ve done with the show. I’ve only been involved for two seasons, but for people like Kirsten [Vangsness], Matthew, and AJ — and Joe’s been there a long time too — they’ve done something really incredible. The same goes for producers.
If things were to come to an end, I think everyone would feel really proud and happy, although we don’t want that to be the case and we want to keep going. I think everyone thinks we’ve got a reasonable shot.
Have you been told that there could be another Simmons story coming up?
I have not been told that just yet, but they are always asking me questions about what I’d like to do with the family. It’s a tricky thing right now, because they haven’t heard anything from the studio about [additional episodes]. If it’s a situation where we have to tie things up, I don’t know what will happen with the characters. If there’s a situation where we get more episodes, which we all hope we do, I think there could be another Simmons one.
With that in mind, is there anything you’d love to explore?
Honestly, I really loved the episode on Beyond Borders that dealt with my Korean heritage, and after starting my career in South Korea I’d love to incorporate being able to speak a little Korean in an episode. I loved back on Beyond Borders that I was able to speak Korean to an UnSub, but I’ve yet to do that on Criminal Minds. Working with the family is also always fun.
I’m really open for anything, to be honest with you. I’d like to do something with Matthew. Simmons and Reid have some scenes together, but it’d be fun to have a Simmons – Reid storyline. I’d be open to anything.
We want to give a very special thank you to Daniel for his time and sharing his experiences on Criminal Minds with us. This is a show that we truly love here at CarterMatt and it was a thrill to speak to Daniel about the series.
What do you want to see for Simmons on Wednesday’s Criminal Minds, and over the rest of the season? Share right now in the attached comments. (Photo: CBS.)