The Criminal Minds revival's new big bad says Penelope will meet her match this season

The Criminal Minds revival's new big bad says Penelope will meet her match this season

WARNING: This story contains spoilers for the first two episodes of Criminal Minds: Evolution.

It's a COVID-19 world, and Rossi and the gang are up against their biggest threat yet.

While others baked sourdough, Criminal Minds: Evolution's new big bad built a network of serial killers during the pandemic. The network goes operational once the world opens back up, and it's up to the BAU to hunt them down amidst constant obstacles from higher ups. The revival's gory two-episode Thanksgiving premiere identifies the mastermind behind it all: Elias Voit, described as an analyst at a global cybersecurity firm with a dark side.

Recuperating in shipping containers post-murder and orchestrating a network of killers warrants a dark side, indeed. But! A twist! When Voit, played by Zach Gilford (Friday Night Lights, Midnight Mass), isn't up to no good, he's a husband! With two kids! Who probably attends PTA meetings! "It just starts getting creepier and creepier," Gilford tells EW. "Because as the show goes on, we'll spend more time with me not being a serial killer and just being a person in the world."

He adds, "I think the audience is going to start to have feelings about this person and feel for him at times." Ahead of episode 3, Gilford — who, fun fact, auditioned for the role of Spencer Reid for the original pilot over a decade ago — teases what's to come, including the villain's dynamic with the BAU.

Criminal Minds: Evolution
Criminal Minds: Evolution

Monty Brinton/Paramount+ Zach Gilford in 'Criminal Minds: Evolution'

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you a Criminal Minds fan before you signed on for the revival?

ZACH GILFORD: I mean, I didn't realize what their fans were like until I signed on. I always liked the show. If it was on, I'd always find myself getting lost in the episodes, but I was not a week-to-week for 15 years kind of guy. I also had a bit of a bittersweet relationship with it because it was one of my first auditions I ever had. I was so convinced I was going to book a series regular on a show and it was going to be so cool, and I didn't get it. Then it was like, "Oh, that show's been out for 15 years. Could've been me." But now 16 years later, I get to do it.

You auditioned for the original series? For which part?

Yeah, for the original pilot. To be honest, I don't even remember. It was so long ago, but I think it was probably for Matthew [Gray Gubler]'s part, just based on what parts were options.

I love that. We're coming full circle here. But diving into your character. It's clear Elias is the mastermind behind this network of serial killers. We know he has a wife and kids, but that's all we know as of now. What can you tell us about him?

What's so cool about this season and what they're able to do this year that they've never been able to do before is go home with the unsub. And what that allows you to do is see who these monsters are when they have to pretend to be humans in the human world. And they have wives. We see at the end of episode 2, I have a wife, I have two daughters, I have a job. It just starts getting creepier and creepier. Because as the show goes on, we'll spend more time with me not being a serial killer and just being a person in the world. I think the audience is going to start to have feelings about this person and feel for him at times, but then you're like, "Wait, but he's a serial killer." It kind of messes with your mind because you start to think, this could be my neighbor, this could be someone at the grocery store, this could be anyone. It's not as if these monsters are just hiding in dungeons somewhere.

Criminal Minds: Evolution
Criminal Minds: Evolution

Michael Yarish/Paramount + Kirsten Vangsness and

He works as an analyst for a cybersecurity firm, so I'd imagine he'll go toe-to-toe with the incomparable Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness) at some point. What can you tease about that?

All I can really tease is he's the best. It's a fun little detail about Voit that they worked in, that he's a cybersecurity mastermind. So of course, for her to meet her match in any sort of way or find someone who challenges her in any sort of way, gets under her skin. I think frustrated Penelope is one of the funnier parts of her personality. I can't really say too much. But yeah, I think it's a great little detail they came up with to work in a bit of, for lack of a better word, rivalry between the two of them.

What will his dynamic look like with the rest of the BAU?

The thing is, which is tricky and interesting, they don't know who I am. It takes them forever to figure it out. At that point, I think it becomes clear that I'm a mastermind evil genius like they've never seen. I think that is a great foil to Rossi [played by Joe Mantegna], who is the greatest profiler of all time. There are little Easter eggs here and there about my character theoretically being aware of who Rossi is in the world, because he's written books and things like that. As much as there's a computer aspect with Penelope, I think it sets up the head of the BAU coming to [a] head with the head of the serial killer network.

What can you tease about his family? Will we be learning more about them and that family man aspect as well?

100 percent. The third episode you get a lot more of his personal life and setting up who he is as a character and not being a bad guy. No one would ever know. When we go home, we see this guy and you think, he's the nicest, he could be the other dad at my preschool, or, you know, he just loves his kids and does his best. He has a job, he cares for his wife, he cooks breakfast in the morning. So it's just really hard to wrap your head around the other side of him.

Criminal Minds: Evolution
Criminal Minds: Evolution

Michael Yarish/Paramount + Zach Gilford in 'Criminal Minds: Evolution'

What else can viewers expect in the third episode? 

They can expect to get a much clearer picture on who Elias Voit is. It's not just the guy who, in the first few episodes, you're seeing in a shipping container or digging holes in the woods. You actually see him start to interact with people and get to see both sides of him. It's not just, now we're in his personal life, or, we're just seeing him be a bad guy. You see him go between the two and it starts to show you how he balances those two and how he's for this long made it work.

Where are you guys in terms of filming?

We've got two weeks left. We wrap on [December] 5th, so it's almost done. I mean, it's been quick and fun. It's been one of the best sets I've ever been on, especially coming into season 16 of a show. [The cast] couldn't be more welcoming. I think they also have, like, new life, because they've had two years off. It's now Paramount+ instead of CBS. It's the same show, but different. They get to tell the story over the course of an hour instead of 42 minutes and it's just more cinematic. And like I said, now we're going home with the unsub, so I think everyone's excited about that. . . and they've been so collaborative. They'll give these scripts a little earlier than they normally would and say, "What do you think of this?" It's been a great experience.

Is there anything else you're excited about from the rest of the season for viewers to see?

I'm just excited for everyone to watch it. I know the fans love this show so much. I really think they're going to love how it's changed, [but] it's nothing drastic. After 15 seasons, what you care about more is the characters that you've been watching for 15 years. You're more invested in these characters and you get to go home with them more in this season. And like I said, you get to do it with the unsub as well. It's a more serialized show this season, which I love. Because like I said, with the original 15 seasons, if it was on TV, I caught it, I'd turn it on, I'd always finish the episode and love it, but it wasn't something where I was like, "I need to find out what happened." Now it's going to be something where you're like, "I cannot wait for the next episode because I need to know what happened."

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. New episodes of Criminal Minds: Evolution drop Thursdays on Paramount+.

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