Criminal Minds is going around the world.
The CBS drama's spin-off, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, premieres Wednesday (10/9c), nearly a year after the backdoor pilot introduced us to Jack Garrett (Gary Sinise) and the International Response Unit.
But 11 months later, Jack's crime-fighting team looks a little bit different. Anna Gunn, who played international law expert and linguist Lily Lambert, is gone. In her place are Clara (Alana De La Garza) and Mae (Annie Funke), who join Jack, Matthew (Daniel Henney) and tech analyst Monty (Tyler James Williams).
"This is a great group. They're a group that feels like they've been working together a long time, which is lovely," creator and executive producer Erica Messer tells TVGuide.com. "Like our original heroes, you get a really wonderful, they're-all-in-this-together vibe from them. There are obviously similarities [between the two teams], but these guys are they're own people, and I think everyone's going to enjoy getting to know them."
Here is the 411 on the IRU.
Role: IRU Unit Chief
Jack is the Atticus Finch of FBI agents. A 20-year veteran, he's a stand-up guy in pursuit of justice who's well respected by his peers and employees. His strong character is one of the things that Sinise was adamant about portraying. "In the beginning, we had wondered if this was going to be the type of law enforcement character who's had a difficult time, difficult home life. He's dealing with certain things that have haunted him," Sinise tells TVGuide.com. "I suggested maybe we go in the opposite direction and play a successful marriage, married to his high school sweetheart, long relationship, six kids, been a good dad, been able to find a way to raise a family and travel the world ... trying to help Americans."
Messer says Jack, who comes from a long line of FBI agents, was conceived to honor the great work law enforcement officials do every day. "He's definitely the kind of leader you look up to, the kind of officer you'd want to be," she says. "He's not quite idealized, but it's the way he carries himself that feels very noble."
Role: Cultural anthropologist
When we first meet her, Clara has been on a two-year sabbatical from the FBI following the death of her husband, who was a fellow agent and, like her, knew Jack. "She has this lovely backstory about working with Jack as part of another team for several years," De La Garza says. "They have this wonderful friendship and bond." In the premiere, Jack asks her to pitch in on a case in Thailand because of her fluency in Thai, and by the end of the episode, she's back in the IRU. "When she joins the team, it's kind of like coming home," De La Garza says. "I think her heart is fully in it, but your past is always your past. It's real for her. It'll be interesting to see how that [husband] story line carries throughout hopefully many seasons to come."
The producers, who felt that a cultural anthropologist was more vital to the show than Lily's legal eagle, transferred Gunn's character's linguistic skills to Clara. She is fluent in 13 languages, including Thai, French and Creole, and De La Garza speaks "six or seven" of them in the first season. "I found French really difficult," says De La Garza, who worked with a different translator every episode. "That was tricky for me, to kind of swallow it and make it sound authentic. It's really interesting with each language how you find out about different inflections. In America, we put inflections on lots of things to change the meaning, In Thai, there was a line I had to say that I kept saying like a question but it was actually a statement. I was like, 'This feels awkward.' It's like retraining your brain."
Role: Special ops agent
An Army brat, Matthew has a wife, Kristy (Kelly Frye), and four kids, including baby twin girls, at home. Like with Jack, Matt's full and fulfilling family life was a deliberate choice. "A lot of times with a character like Matt, he's portrayed as single, usually some sort of substance abuse issues, alcohol recovery or something," Henney says. "Matt is pure, he loves his family to death and I think people will connect to that. His big struggle is, when can I get home to see my kids and how much is my wife working? How exhausted is she from watching these guys constantly?"
Messer views Matthew as a younger version of Jack, who can offer some pearls of wisdom about raising a large family with such a demanding job. And while Hotch (Thomas Gibson) started out with a happy marriage and family on the mothership before divorcing, don't expect the same from Beyond Borders' married men (for now anyway). "We've never really done that large stability at home before, so we want to show that this kind of lifestyle can work," Messer says. "People make it work all the time and their families are going to be a big part of [the show]."
Role: Medical examiner
During the post-backdoor pilot audit, producers also realized the IRU needed a resident medical examiner to bypass the bureaucratic red tape in various countries, which is immediately on display in the premiere. "Because we're going abroad, there are so many cultural challenges and differences and investigative roads that we have to take that it isn't the same as Criminal Minds," Messer says. "There are other ways you have to investigate abroad. Sometimes you don't have the cooperation of the local authorities the way you do in the United States. Having Mae on the team is super helpful and it's fun for us because we've never written that type of character [as a regular] before."
Young and spunky, Mae has a fun-loving big bro-little sis relationship with Matthew and was in the FBI purely as a medical examiner before being brought onto the IRU. "I still do a lot of the medical examining on the show when there's a body or anything," Funke says. "I make a comment in the first episode: 'I've spent too long in the freezer.' To kind of get out and find herself in this new world, the tactical side, is really exciting."
Russ "Monty" Montgomery
Role: Tech analyst
Monty is the technically the tech analyst, but he's really, as Williams describes, "all-purpose." Or, if you ask Messer, he's a mix of Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness), JJ (A.J. Cook) and Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler), since Monty also takes on the JJ-esque role of talking to victims' families and is a wunderkind like Reid. "I can see him being a little bit closer to Reid," Williams says. "There are a lot of aspects of him that are like Garcia because they come from the tech world. But I think emotionally he's super hooked in to every case in a way we haven't seen on the mothership or this show yet. He does not know how to separate the two yet."
It's those dual sides to Monty that drew the actor to the role. "I did not want to just kind of be this tech analyst who just has information that you don't really understand as you hear it, but you know something good is being said," he says. "I've always loved characters who've had this internal conflict and characters who are not ready for the emotional journey they're about to go on, and that's what was really interesting about Monty. He's someone who's incredibly bright, spends a lot of time in front of the computer, but at 22 may not be ready to tell people that their family members have died over and over and over again every week. This is eventually going to hit him pretty hard. He's doing the job of three people and that's very tiring. He's doing it at an age when they'd rather just be focusing on themselves at that point."
Seriously, wait until you see this thing. Since the team is constantly traveling, the show souped it up with all the necessities (read: everything). "It looks like an actual FBI office inside, which is what we were going for. It's got all these cool gadgets and screens," Messer says. "We're always on the jet, so our roundtable room scenes that we would have on the mothership are happening on the jet. It's a nice setup in there. You kind of want to stay there."
One person who hardly frequents the jet set, though, is Williams, who's stuck behind his wall of computers. "The jet is really intense. We've had like three vehicles in it. It's like a lounge. There's like four or five TVs. I do get a little jealous of that," he says. "There's something epic about them just walking onto the jet and starting every day. That's cool. Not everybody gets on a badass jet every day that's just the size of a city block."
Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders premieres Wednesday at 10/9c on CBS.
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