Interview: Matthew Gray Gubler On the Ghostly ‘SUBURBAN GOTHIC,’ directing ‘CRIMINAL MINDS’ & Personal Projects

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001Preston Barta // Editor

As the unfailing genius Dr. Spencer Reid on CBS’s CRIMINAL MINDS— which airs this evening— Matthew Gray Gubler has a lot on his plate. Audiences got to know Gubler’s character as the Supervisory Special Agent with the BAU who catches criminals and cracks the latest cases.

Matthew Gray Gubler as Dr. Spencer Reid in CRIMINAL MINDS. Photo courtesy of CBS.

Matthew Gray Gubler as Dr. Spencer Reid in CRIMINAL MINDS. Photo courtesy of CBS.

In real life, Mr. Gubler is even busier: he’s balancing his CRIMINAL MINDS job (as actor and director) 11 months out of the year with a remarkable three films slated to release this year (SUBURBAN GOTHIC, HOT AIR and BAND OF ROBBERS). We managed to catch Gubler while promoting his latest weird-fun-fest, SUBURBAN GOTHIC, which follows the story of a man as he fights to solve the mystery of the spirit that is threatening the lives of those around him.

We talked to Gubler about his character’s arc, working with John Waters and Jack Plotnick, and the many hats he wears, metaphorically speaking that is.

Matthew Gray Gubler: “Hey, Preston! How are you doing, man?”

I’m doing fantastic! How about yourself?

Matthew: “I’m great!”

Good, good. Yeah, I saw that SUBURBAN GOTHIC has been doing well. I mean, my wife follows you on Instagram and she said that all your screenings have been selling out. That’s awesome, man!

Matthew: “It’s been crazy, man. I’m so damn honored. It’s really a crazy, crazy bash. It’s the type of a film that only makes sense in a theater filled with lunatics [Laughs]. We have a lot of fun surprises and crazy stuff for people, so I am just jazzed.”

That’s awesome, man. One of the reasons why I love that we get to know your character, Raymond, so well is through a series of flashbacks.

Matthew: “Yeah!”

We get insight into his depression, his visions and why he is the way he is. I think it’s a great device to learn about someone. Of all the other characters you’ve played, if you could have flashbacks for one of them— to get to know them a little bit better and learn more about that guy— who would you be most interested in seeing a backstory to?

Matthew: “[Laughs] I would love to see the backstory to this character Kyle Orfman that I played in this movie called LIFE AFTER BETH that recently came out.”

Yeah! I love that movie.

Gubler as Kyle Orfman in LIFE AFTER BETH. Photo courtesy of A24.

Gubler as Kyle Orfman in LIFE AFTER BETH. Photo courtesy of A24.

Matthew: “He’s sort of like this deranged, childlike, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT kid who is the body of a wannabe security guard, and I would love to see what got him to that point. So, so odd.”

That would have been my answer, too, honestly.

Matthew: “Oh, good!”

I could not stop laughing in that movie when your character tells Dane DeHaan’s character to close the door yet he’s still in your room. Ah, man. It was great.

Matthew: “‘Close the door!’ [Laughs] ‘No, get out of my f-cking room and close the door!’ Oh, that was such a fun movie to make and a great character to play.”

I can imagine. I mean, I very rarely laugh out loud during movies; I tend to just chuckle. But I laughed out loud during that part and another part in SUBURBAN GOTHIC when Raymond leans over to his dad and tells him, “You’re a total f-cking creep, and that’s a fact.”

Matthew: “[Laughs] Ah, thank you, man. That’s so— I’m very happy to hear that. It was fun to say that to Ray Wise.”

I bet!

Ambrose (Muse Watson) grabs Raymond (Gubler). Photo courtesy of FilmBuff.

Ambrose (Muse Watson) grabs Raymond (Gubler) in SUBURBAN GOTHIC. Photo courtesy of FilmBuff.

Both of those films, LIFE AFTER BETH and SUBURBAN GOTHIC, they’re the kind of movies where the audience either gets its offbeat humor right away, or it’s just not for them. I think you said it best in something I read: “It’s a movie made by weirdos for weirdos.”

Matthew: “Yeah! That’s exactly what my feeling is. I speak for the director [Richard Bates Jr.] as well when I say my only goal in life (and his only goal in life) has ever been to make those who feel like outsiders feel not so lonely. This movie especially is one for those: for anyone who feels like an outsider. We just want to show them a good time.”

For sure! I love that this is initially a crazy situation for Raymond (all the ghosts), but as time goes on, it begins to feel more natural for him, especially near the end. What is a role that you’ve taken on that initially felt crazy and unpredictable but you were later surprised by how natural it began to feel?

Matthew: “That’s a good question, man. I try with every character I play to definitely give them a three-arc structure. You know, Raymond for instance, it was that: it was starting off not confident, confused by ghosts, scared by ghosts, finding his way and finally being able to kiss a beautiful girl. I really approach everything, whether it’s Kyle Orfman, Spencer Reid— well, it’s different on a TV show because the arc is over a decade compared to 90 minutes. But I always try to start them somewhere different from where they finish, and I think that is important to storytelling.”

John Waters is Cornelius in SUBURBAN GOTHIC. Photo courtesy of FilmBuff.

John Waters is Cornelius in SUBURBAN GOTHIC. Photo courtesy of FilmBuff.

Absolutely. Was John Waters just the coolest guy?

Matthew: “Of course he is, man. I feel so lucky because I’ve acted with him twice. When he was in his twenties, we looked like twins. We looked exactly the same. He once had me host one of his touring comedy routines. I got to work with him on one of those, playing him as a MC. It’s been such a honor to get to work with that guy a couple times. He’s an icon for all us weirdos, and him giving us his stamp of approval means the world.”

That’s really cool, man. I honesty had no idea he was in the movie. I liked to go into movies blind, especially nowadays with the spoiling internet. So I kind of jumped from my seat when he came on screen.

Matthew: “Yeah! He’s so funny. How often do you get a blowjob offer from John Waters to receive the skeleton of a dead little girl [Laughs].”

[Laughs] Yeah, that one part in the movie. He’s actually bringing his comedy show to Dallas, where I am from, next month, I think.

Matthew: “Yes! Are you going to see him?”

I’m going to try! I just have to convince my wife.

Matthew: “Ah, man. You gotta go. It’s a great show he does.”

I really want to, so we’ll see! But I’ve read that you’ve been directing, and you gotta a couple things in the pipeline that you’ve written. Is that right?

Matthew: “Yeah! I do. I went to school for directing. I’ve just been very fortunate and swept up into the world of acting. I direct two episodes of CRIMINAL MINDS a year. I’ve co-written a script that I am hoping to directing in the next seven months. So yeah! Just keep storytelling in any way possible.”

Is that the movie that is supposed to be the scariest PG movie ever?

Matthew: “Oh, that’s actually something different. I want that to be the second film I direct. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s an indescribable romance-comedy.”

Very cool. Do you think something like that is possible to pull off? I mean, I don’t know if you’ve seen THE CONJURING, but it’s rated R and it doesn’t have any blood, gore, sex or language. I think the MPAA just found it so terrifying they had to give it a R rating, which is crazy.

Matthew: “Yeah! But, I think it is possible. To me, the greatest form of directing is kind of letting the story unfold in viewer’s minds. Alfred Hithcock, to me, made the scariest movies of all-time. I really don’t think you need violence or gore to spook people. There were a couple movies in the 70s and 80s made by Disney that horrified me. One was SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1983) and the other was THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS (1980), and they are marvelous, spooky-toned movies that really get underneath your skin all while being PG. It’s an accomplishment.”

For sure, for sure. You mentioned you directed episodes of CRIMINAL MINDS. Are there any other past projects that you worked on strictly as an actor that you wish you could have experience from the director’s perspective? If you could go back and look at it from their angle.

Matthew: “You know— good question. But, not really. I’ve been so lucky to work with such great directors in the film world. Every one of their visions was so wonderful; I always trusted them implicitly and it was always their story to tell. TV is a little bit different because we have 10 years of it and each episode is different and I know to put a stamp on it. With movies, I’ve always had total faith in the director.”

Jack Plotnick and Patrick Wilson at our SXSW SPACE STATION 76 press junket. Photo courtesy of DailyActor.

Jack Plotnick and Patrick Wilson at our SXSW SPACE STATION 76 press junket. Photo courtesy of DailyActor.

Right. It’s funny. I asked the same question to your buddy Jack Plotnick, who plays Cousin Freddy in SUBURBAN GOTHIC, and he just directed SPACE STATION 76, which I saw at South by Southwest last year.

Matthew: “Yeah! He’s great. I love him. I actually got to direct him in a CRIMINAL MINDS episode last year.”

I actually watched that very episode just a few nights ago with my wife on Netflix. I was like, “Wait! I know that guy. That’s Jack Plotnick!”

Matthew: “Yeah, man!”

That’s cool!

Matthew: “He’s a great actor.”

So, how did your relationship development with him? Did you meet him working on SUBURBAN GOTHIC, or was it on CRIMINAL MINDS?

Matthew: “Yeah! One of the coolest things about our director is he knows every special, unique actor out there. So we cast him to play my cousin in the movie, and then I had a CRIMINAL MINDS episode coming up where I was looking for someone whom you couldn’t really describe, and Jack Plotnick is exactly that. It was marvelous. He seamlessly just went into that.”

That’s great, man. Oh! I forgot to mention, I also really liked the Wes Anderson-like side-tracking shot that you guys would go back to throughout the film. It was a very unique way to show what the characters were all doing at that moment. And the music behind it is great as well.

Matthew: “Thanks a lot! Yeah, Ricky, had a very symmetrical vision, and it’s fun to be a part of that.”

Awesome. Alright, last question. If you could teach a college course of your creation, what would you teach?

Matthew: “I think it would be writing children’s stories.”

SUBURBAN GOTHIC arrives in theaters and on VOD on Friday, Jan. 30.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.