He’s known internationally as Dr. Spencer Reid on Criminal Minds, as well as for his roles in The Life Aquatic and (500) Days of Summer. He’s worked as a model. He’s directed a video for the Killers. He’s got his own record label. To top it all off, he’s a person of rare warmth, as i discovered firsthand when i arrived late for our meeting with a temperamental tape recorder and he graciously captured what follows on his phone.
BULLETT: I saw that you said in another interview that your family has been in Vegas since the 1940s.
MATTHEW GRAY GUBLER: Actually, the 1930s. Yeah, they go way back. My grandfather on my mother’s side grew up in Hollywood and did a lot of sound engineering. He recorded Bing Crosby’s albums. He also wrote a manual on celestial navigation for boats, which is still used today. He was a very smart fellow, much smarter than I. I think everyone in my family saw the opportunity in what is, to me, the essence of America: people building a mecca in the middle of a desert where nobody should even be alive, taking the most inhospitable terrain and turning it into America’s playground. It’s just a bold, truly American notion.
Have you, in your own short lifetime, observed a lot of changes in Vegas?
Absolutely. Just in the time that I’ve been alive, I’ve seen gorgeous hotels torn down, new ones put up—it’s sad to me. That’s the one thing about Vegas—I wish they preserved their history a little better. Vegas still is wonderful, but part of me wishes I could take a time machine back to the late ’60, or even the ’40s, and see it as it was like as a sort of Wild West. I love modernity and I love technology, and I love the growth of the modern mind, but part of me thinks that with all of these cameras and all of this surveillance and all of this checking, it’s taking away from courage and wits. One hundred and fifty years ago, I could have shot you for being a yellow-bellied rat. Now, you can’t even go through a yellow light without getting a satellite photo taken of you. I pine for the simpler times, I think.
I’m very interested in the past, and I’m seeing more and more of a decrease in an interest in history. You’re also interested in the past, and I’m wondering, when you were growing up, did that make you unusual?
That’s a great question. It might have something to do with my Vegas roots, with having fallen in love with a skyline and then a month later seeing it altered, and eventually making it out east and seeing buildings from the 1800s, and the richness, the detail. Take this with a grain of salt, but I think the thing that concerns me is that I’m a big fan of handmade, handcrafted, truly made-from-the-heart things, and a while ago, these professions like cobblers existed. People hand-did tile roofs and put a lot of masonry, and love, into their art form. Now, we’re veering away from that. What’s quickest, what’s fastest, what’s cheapest, what’s going to last the longest? It’s killing the charm. I believe in the seasons. I believe in birth, life, death, rebirth, winter, spring, summer, fall. I think people have a tendency to get trapped into this importance of the now, like “I’m so important, I’m on this planet for 80 years,” which is nothing. That’s like a freaking blip on a blip of a blip of a radar, and people think that’s all that exists.
I was looking at some of the photographs you’ve taken, and I noticed that you like to capture old faces.
I respond immensely to someone who has a story or character. I guess it’s wisdom. I see it in children, too. I see it in the very young and very old. Obviously there are cases of people our age, but it is most evident to me in the very young and very old. It really intrigues me artistically. I guess what I’ve realized recently is the reason I love children and old people is you’ve never met a disingenuous child. You’ve never met a 6 year old who was apathetic. They’re always excited about life. The same thing with a lot of older folks, who I think have a sincerity. I don’t know what it is, but it sort of disappears for a while, and if everyone could retain that, then I’d be happy.
You seem like such a sunny guy—and I don’t mean that in a Pollyanna-ish way—but I definitely detect a dark side in your taste and in your work.
I think it feeds in a little bit to my love of anyone with character or a story to tell. I think, when I look at my portraits especially, I see the most beautiful person I can imagine. To me, it doesn’t strike me as dark, but I hear that all the time. It’s just so weird. Maybe I celebrate too much—I’m in society, saddened by people’s perception of beauty. I think people are ephemeral, and to me, it’s all beauty.
What do you think about Marilyn Monroe, that ’50 voluptuous sort of figure?
Beautiful. I’m a fan of anyone being who they are. I’m not a fan of women trying to starve themselves. I’m not a fan of women trying to gorge themselves as they did in the Renaissance to be bigger. I’m just a fan of people accepting their own character. Genuine is what I respond to, and I think that era of Hollywood babes appeals to me most. The Kim Novaks. While there are women in this world who are very thin and beautiful, women who force themselves to not eat—I think it’s unfortunate that we’re encouraging that, in a sense. I think people should be as they are, and people should respond more to intricacies of human character.
Do you believe there are other dimensions?
I do. And I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately in terms of ghosts. I firmly believe in ghosts. I’ve had quite a few interactions. An interesting theory was proposed to me, that our brains rationalize them as, “It’s this thing from the past; it’s still here.” It’s easy to think that. What if ghosts are merely us glimpsing through dimensions? Time is stacked this way. Right now at this very time 30 years ago, there was a guy drinking some lemonade right here. What if early in the morning we came out and saw him? We’re not seeing him, we’re really just peeking through a dimensional wall. I love thinking about all of this, but that’s been in the back of my head for the past month. Partly because I live in a haunted house, I’m trying to rationalize it and be less scared. I’m like, Oh yeah, that weird perfume I smell isn’t a ghost. I’m merely smelling through dimensions. I do believe in dimensional time travel.
Sometimes, I think that everything that’s going to happen has already happened and we just don’t know it yet, and periodically, we get glimpses of it. That would account for precognition.
I have déjà vu once a week. It’s astounding. I also fancy myself a tad bit psychic, but not in a useful way.
Do you have any ghost stories? I would recommend Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw.
The original ghost story. Everyone champions that. Is it scary?
I thought so. Ghosts don’t have to do anything. All they do is show up and you’re all…
What the hell?
Fact or fiction: which do you prefer?
Fiction, absolutely. And I like the idea of fiction becoming fact.
Life imitates art?
Art is life. Life is art. I’ve seen rocks that are as beautiful as a painting, and I’ve seen paintings that are as beautiful as any tree. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s everywhere. I’m a big lover of trees and plants. To me, they’re some of the greatest sculptures on the planet. That said, I was at the Rodin Museum in France, and he’s a master.
Your life and your career sort of took this unexpected detour. I’m curious as to where you see yourself going.
I’ve always considered life a detour. It’s a detour among detours. I’ve never in any way tried to limit anything. I hope to write a children’s book and illustrate that. I hope to host a ghost story show on The History Channel. I hope to become a fencing champion. I hope to just continue challenging myself in new areas. I hope to gain some sort of musical talent. I hope to do a standup comedy tour. I have a lot of things that I would like to learn, and a lot of crafts. I’d love to learn how to make shoes. I wanna keep on keeping on. Keep on making stuff in any way. It’s been TV for a while, and I’ve been really lucky to be on this fun show. After that, I’ll do something just as fun. Every day has been better than the last. It’s been that way since birth.
If you’re curious to see Gubler’s artistic side, check out his exclusive Stephen Hawking painting here.