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Shemar Moore on His Criminal Minds Exit: "I'm Proud of the Way Things Ended for Derek Morgan"

The actor discusses why he chose to leave, if he'd return and the origin of "baby girl"

Joyce Eng

[Warning: The following story contains spoilers about Wednesday's episode of Criminal Minds. Read at your own risk.]

That sound you hear is baby girls crying everywhere.

After 11 years and (probably) 103 broken doors and 214 tackles, Shemar Moore exited Criminal Minds on Wednesday's episode.

Directed Moore's "little brother" Matthew Gray Gubler, and written by his "baby girl" Kirsten Vangsness and showrunner Erica Messer, the episode quickly reveals the aftermath of last week's shooting: Morgan's (Moore) pregnant wife Savannah (Rochelle Aytes) was shot, but she and their baby survive. It's all hands on deck once again to catch the unsub -- Chazz Montolo (Lance Henriksen), the father of Dirty Dozen hit man Giuseppe Montolo -- minus one. Hotch (Thomas Gibson) removes Morgan from the case because it's too personal and he doesn't want Morgan's family to suffer the same fate his did after his tango with The Reaper (RIP Haley). Obviously, that doesn't sit well with Morgan. But after getting some hints from Reid (Gubler) and an actual message from Montolo from JJ (A.J. Cook), who doesn't agree with Hotch's call, Morgan goes rogue and heads to one of his renovated houses (callback!), where he finds Montolo, who (wrongly) believes Morgan killed his son earlier this season.
Criminal Minds boss on Shemar Moore's exit: "There is no replacing Derek Morgan"

Montolo sadistically holds Morgan at gunpoint with only two bullets loaded. "If this is how it ends, it's meant to be," he tearfully tells the BAU over the phone as Montolo clicks through the empty chambers. "Promise me you'll look after Savannah and my baby." But he tackles Montolo and refuses to shoot him unarmed despite Montolo's taunts. After the BAU busts in and arrests Montolo, Morgan makes it back to the hospital in time for the birth of his son, Hank Spencer (!) Morgan. "Hotch, I get it," he says. "I never knew that 6 pounds, 1 ounce could knock me out."

As Morgan takes stock of the highs (marriage, baby) and lows (oh, you know, being kidnapped, tortured and burned) of the past six months, and his new priorities, everyone knows what's coming, even though it's never explicitly said. "I don't want you to stay," Reid says. "Because I know why you're leaving and I couldn't be happier for you." And so, after some emotional, heartfelt "this isn't goodbye" goodbyes with everyone -- "You will always be my original baby girl," he tells Garcia (Vangsness) -- Morgan leaves behind his BAU family for his new real one.

TVGuide.com chatted with Moore about his exit, why this episode is his proudest moment on the show, the birth of "baby girl" and more.

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Was this your decision? Was it mutual with the network and Erica?
Shemar Moore: Erica said she was so tired of looking at me. She was tired of me being late in the morning. She's was like, "You've got to get the hell up..." -- no, I'm kidding. [Laughs] My mother sends me these great cards. ... She gave me this one card and I'm looking at it right now and it says, "Leap and the net will appear." That's what she did her whole life. She thought outside of the box and she never got too comfortable because she wanted to continue to grow. There's been other people in my life who are like that too. I don't want to be ordinary. I don't want to follow. I want to be bold and I want to see what I'm capable of. So yes, it was my decision.

I've treated my acting career like school. The Young and the Restless: eight years. [That was] high school. Criminal Minds: college. Now I'm ready for grad school, a Ph.D., whatever you want to call it. I'm just ready to grow. I just want to leap. And I don't know where I'm going to land, but I believe that I'm going to land. ... I'm not leaving to go be a big star. I'm not leaving to go make a bunch of money. ... I'm leaving because I just creatively want to be fueled and [am] excited to try new things and see what else I'm capable of. But I'm always going to look back and salute. They did not kill me on The Young and the Restless and I went back to say hello and thank the fans. Erica Messer refused to kill Derek Morgan. Those elevator doors closed. Am I going to sign a long-term contract? Probably not. But if they ask me to come back and dance, yes, I would be willing to do that. [But] not right away.

Eleven years in college is a long time.
[Laughs] It is! ... I wanted to see what the next chapter of my acting career is and also have a little balance so I could pursue other avenues of my life. I want to get married, I want to have kids, I want to travel. What's funny is in the last month -- dogs can't talk, but I swear to God, my dogs look at me and go, "Why are you walking us so much?" "Because I ain't got sh-- to do! Daddy doesn't have a job! So let's go for a walk!" It's been this weird, bittersweet feeling because it's what I've known for so long. I'm just taking time to breathe, exhale, enjoy the view. ... I'm going to spend the next month just saying, "Thank you, thank you, thank you," because I'm really proud of it and what we did together.

How much input did you have in planning out Morgan's arc this season, which started with the Dirty Dozen and built to this trilogy of episodes devoted to him?
Erica, Breen [Frazier] and the rest of the writing staff came to me with ideas towards the end of Season 10 and through the hiatus. But what Erica said was, "You come back for Season 11 and just allow us not only to honor you, Shemar Moore, but more importantly, Derek Morgan the character, the crew -- the 368 people who make that show work -- and most importantly, the fan base that has supported us so we can do what we do. Let's give Derek Morgan a proper goodbye." We had the wrap party this past weekend and I hugged her really tight. And I looked at her and said, "You kept your promise."

I've done 251 episodes. I'm proud of many of them. But in Episode 16 [this season], Danny Glover played my father, which is a dream come true, and 11 years of Derek Morgan was touched on in that episode. And in this, Episode 18, it was about us. Nobody dies. ... It's a great story, and it's about the team coming together and their bond. And everything you've learned about Derek Morgan culminates. ... You've heard all the expressions: "left it all on the field," "drop the mic." When those elevator doors close, Derek Morgan is dropping the mic.

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Even though the show by its nature is gruesome, when it comes to the team, you've never killed anyone off except for Strauss (Jayne Atkinson), who wasn't a regular, and Gideon (Mandy Patinkin), and that was off-screen seven years after he left. When one of you leaves, the character just leaves the job, which is realistic. People move on in real life.
Right. And I probably shouldn't say this. I appreciate and respect and learned so much from Mandy Patinkin. Mandy Patinkin is one talented, talented, eccentric man. Some of the craziest people in the game are the most interesting people to watch. He went to Homeland and he took his next step. He took many, many steps. [Criminal Minds] killed his character for whatever reason. I hope I get my Homeland one day and they still don't kill Derek Morgan. [Laughs]

I hope you get your Homeland and I really don't think they'll kill off Morgan. I do think they gave him the closure they had promised, with his dad and the evolution of his and Reid's friendship. It was Reid giving Morgan the pep talk last week when he was in a funk.
Everything you're talking about -- the relationships with Reid and Baby Girl Garcia and Hotch and JJ and everyone -- all those things were in this episode. I don't know how they did it because [the first cut] was 17 minutes too long and they had to cut stuff. And I hated that! I was like, "But this line, but that!" "Nope. We gotta get to the Honda ad!" [Laughs] But I love that the last third of the show is all about the team and relationships, not necessarily in the words, but it's us. You feel the love. Somehow Erica and Kirsten got it all in 43 minutes. I think it competes with -- I'm not saying it's the best -- but just how people remember Episode 100, I think they'll remember 251. Not because of my departure, but because of the team and the emotional component.

Was it deliberate that Thomas, Joe [Mantegna] and Matthew directed these last three episodes, and Erica and Kirsten co-wrote your last episode? That couldn't have been a happy accident.
I think so. I remember having a meeting and Erica saying, "We have a plan." It was deliberate on Erica's part. It wasn't my idea. ... What's beautiful is I didn't think this show was going to have a chance in hell when we shot the pilot. I was sick as a dog with the worst cold of my life in Vancouver for four and a half weeks. It was raining every day except for three days. I was telling my representation at the time, "Get me outta here! This show has no chance!" It got picked up. We started doing our thing. In Season 2, we got our own identity. The show got stronger. The team started to evolve. Mandy did his time and left. Joe came in and brought this energy. Hotch became Hotch, and Morgan put on the jeans and combat boots. All of the sudden "baby girl" was born and "chocolate thunder" was born. And I grew as a person, as a man, as an actor tremendously. ... I started producing in other areas of the business. And Matthew, who went to NYU for directing, started to direct. He was never supposed to act. He just happens to have a good luck charm in his pocket or something. He's had two auditions in his life! [Laughs]

I know -- Wes Anderson and this, and he got them both!
Yeah, he had The Life Aquatic. Then he wanted to meet [producer] Mark Gordon about directing. They said, "Just audition for this thing called Quantico because then you can get in the office and you can go in the other room and meet Mark Gordon." And he goes into the room and reads and he gets the job! ... Now 11 years later, he's rich as hell, pretty, popular as hell and a great actor. Always imitated, never duplicated! If they gave me what Matthew has to do, I would've quit or been fired a long time ago. [Laughs]

But my point is, we all evolved. Matthew started directing, and that inspired Joe and Thomas. And that inspired Kirsten to write. What's so cool is my baby girl co-wrote my final episode. It was beautiful to see Thomas get to direct Danny Glover in 249. Then Joe Mantegna, who is just the man, gets 250. And then Matthew Gray "Lucky Charm" Gubler of NYU gets to direct 251 -- I'm directed by my little brother -- and Erica Messer, who started on the writing staff who evolved and became the showrunner, gives me the best hug anyone could give me with 251. I'm willing to bet Criminal Minds will get to Episode 300, and Joe, Thomas and Matthew will all co-direct it, and Erica and Kirsten are going to write it.

Maybe they'll ask you back for that one. Paget [Brewster] came back for 200.
This business is all about politics, so I'm not promising anything. But from a creative place, from a passionate place, if I'm asked intermittently to come back like they did at The Young and the Restless, from my heart, the answer is yes, yes, yes, yes. But I don't know where I'm going to be in my career and my life when that time comes. But is it possible? Yes, it's possible.

I've watched the show since the beginning and Derek's definitely grown and changed over the years. In Season 1, he was kind of eager to please, and then he became the action hero and ladies' man, but he never came off one-note.
Can I interrupt real quick? On television, I have been the most sexually deprived person. [Laughs] On The Young and the Restless, I would steal my brother's wife and she would die or leave me. And now you say Derek was a ladies' man. Derek Morgan was doing nothing!

He was perceived to be one. He was the single guy. But, yes, we hardly saw him on dates or have a girlfriend until Savannah.
Yeah! Garcia had like five boyfriends! I'm just teasing, but it is wonderful bringing it to the end. Yes, it happened kind of quickly, but Derek didn't just get married. Excuse me for talking in the third person, but it's not just Shemar Moore's exit. The reason Derek is leaving -- after people cry and scream at the TV because people don't like change hopefully will realize this -- is for his unborn child, for his wife, for a part of his life that has always eluded him. It's the progression. ... What I'm so proud of is, in this episode, there are things you never realized or thought Derek was capable of. You're still learning about him. It was great for me as an actor and it was a great gift from Erica and the writing staff. I have watched Episode 16 probably around 20 times. ... I've watched Episode 18 exactly 41 times. It's not because I'm vain and I want to watch how great I am as an actor. It's the final dance and it's so beautifully done.

My favorite Morgan moment is when he and Reid were stuck in the elevatorand cried for Hotch. What's your favorite moment or episode?
The elevator thing is pretty great. My favorite memory from the show that's not on-screen is when they brought me to work at 6:30 in the morning. I'm not a morning person at all. I have my baseball hat and my sunglasses on, not to be cool, but don't talk to me until I finish my Starbucks coffee. They walk me to rehearsal. I walk around this bush in Griffith Park. I'm looking down because that's the way I walk when I'm tired. I stop and look up and six feet in front of me is a 3,000-pound grizzly bear going, raaawwwwrrrrr! I almost poo-poo-ed in my pants. They punked me! They rented a grizzly bear!

This is your Revenant.
Yeah, and it was in my face eating marshmallows. That's what it ate. The trainer had a chain on and I'm like, "That chain ain't gonna do sh--!" I was so scared. The whole crew was dying. They've gotten me with bats and rats. I just have a big "S" on my forehead for "sucker." Those are my memories -- the camaraderie. We truly are a family. But as far as episodes, yeah, me and Reid in the elevator, me coming out of Baby Girl's shower with a rainbow towel on. Little things like that. As far as poignant episodes ... Season 2's "Profiler, Profiled," which came full circle in Season 8 in "Restoration." There was a show ... where not that I got all the lines, but Derek got to be in command. It was called "25 to Life" [in Season 6]. I was proud of that opportunity. And I'm not just saying this because of the timing, but Danny Glover playing your father? That's for the rest of my life. No joke. ... And honestly, because of what it represents for us as a team, it took 11 years, but this episode is my proudest moment of Criminal Minds. I'm proud of the way things ended for Derek Morgan.

Do you have a favorite non-"baby girl" nickname you've called Garcia?
Yeah, but I can't say it on TV! I wanted to call her "sugar t--s." So Paget was like, "Well, you can call me 'sugar t--s' because I've got nice boobs." So on set, she was like, "Shemar, you can only say 'baby girl' on TV, but we know you have to get this off your chest, so around the set, you can call me 'sugar t--s.'" So I called Paget 'sugar t--s." [Laughs]

But I've said silly pet names my whole life -- baby girl, sweet thang, cutie pie. ... This started in Season 1 or 2 when I had a scene with Kirsten on the phone ... and I was just in a goofy mood and said, "Hey, baby girl, check this out. I need you to work your magic. We're looking for a white guy in a minivan. Age 31 to 35. Do what you do. Let me know. Show me something good." I just kind of riffed and I was waiting for the script supervisor to go, "OK, Shemar, that was nice, but can we stick to the script?" They didn't say anything and it made the episode. Back in those days, there wasn't social media. It was just blogging and stuff started coming in -- "That was cute." Kirsten started coming back with "chocolate thunder," "brown sugar." Then fast-forward a couple episodes, I go to the table read and "baby girl" is in the script. And "chocolate thunder" is in the script. They didn't always write it the right way, so me and Kirsten finessed it and did it our way, but the fact that they were putting it in, that's how that relationship, outside of chasing the bad guy, came to be. And then you've got "pretty boy" [for Reid].

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And "kid."
Yeah. He's my little brother. And I'm "baby boy." I don't know where I came up with that. I'm actually glad I'm not considered the pretty boy. [Laughs] I mean, this guy and his long hair. He would be a pretty woman. I would mess with him. In one of the scenes, I was like, "Hey pretty boy, c'mon, let's go to the crime scene." And it stuck. That was just us messing around. That's the stuff I'm really going to miss.

What's next for you besides walking your dogs?
My dogs are so busy! I've got a movie [The Bounce Back] that I produced and put together and co-starred in that's going to be out. I'm just wearing my producing hat. Producing is attention to detail and I'm enjoying that. I've got some projects, whether they're for cable or feature films. I'm not going to sit back and wait for Spielberg to call me and all that stuff -- though it would be cool -- but in the meantime, I've got some ideas. Some of them are for me in front of the camera and some have nothing to do with me that I just want to put together and put out there. But I want to take a second and exhale. I want to travel a little bit. I want to hang out with my family. In the very near future, you'll hear the next chapter.

But right now, it's saying goodbye to Derek -- not forever -- and getting my movie out and showing a different side to me. I'm not disappearing. I'm grateful to all the fans, all the baby girls. We really would not be here without them. Hopefully they'll follow me where I go. You'll see me on social media and all that. You won't get rid of me that easily!

Criminal Minds airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on CBS.

(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)