Things You Might Not Know About Criminal Minds Star Kirsten VangsnessPublished on March 20, 2017. Updated February 20, 2020
Since 2005, TV fans have come to know actress Kirsten Vangsness as her beloved Criminal Minds character Penelope Garcia. As one of the longest running stars on the show, she has gained a huge and loyal fanbase, and despite her prominent role on such a major series, it is truly surprising she is not in the headlines more! When the actress does do interviews, it is often about Criminal Minds, her co-stars and working on the series, but there is so much more to the star than just that role! Here are some things you might not have known about Kirsten Vangsness:
10. Speech Therapy
Now Vangsness is eloquent and quite verbose like Penelope Garcia, but it wasn’t always that way. As a child, Vangsness had a lisp and had to undergo three years of speech therapy while in elementary school to correct the lisp. In an interview with Inspirer, the actress revealed that, as well as having a lisp, she was very shy, and it made her a target for classmates. “I got bullied a lot and I basically stopped talking in the eighth grade,” she said of her difficult time in grade school.
There is not doubt that Vangsness is a wonderful actress, but she has many talents she pursues outside of an acting career. Vangsness is also a writer and a playwright and she created her own one person show called Mess, and also wrote a play called Potential Space that she turned into a web series! She also has work that has been published in the Los Angeles Times and has also written three episodes of Criminal Minds: 2015’s “Nelson’s Sparrow,” 2016’s “A Beautiful Disaster,” and 2017’s “Spencer.”
Kirsten Simon Vangsness was born on July 7, 1972 in Pasadena, California, to Errol Leroy and Barbara Mary. She was raised in the small-town of Porterville, California, where she was a part of the 4-H program and ended up moving to Cerritos, California, where she graduated from Cerritos High School in 1990. In 1995, she graduated from California State University, Fullerton.
7. Animal Lover
On her social media, the actress has often shared her love of animals and has several of her own cats, including Sergio, GusGus, Friggy and Octavigus. She has been an avid supporter of animal rescue groups and has been a vegetarian for over 20 years, and her love doesn’t extend to just her own animals. In an interview with Buzzfeed, she was asked what is the first thing she does in the morning and her answer was “feed the wild animals.” “There’s a group of fixed-and-then released super feral cats in my hood and they have some sort of network between themselves and the local possum and raccoon community. They all collectively show up at my house for proper breakfast.”
6. Becoming an Actress
Although Vangsness had an interest in acting from a young age, it wasn’t something she had planned on making a career out of. “I came into it by accident. My dad did a lot of performing in community shows, and my sister and I would play background characters. However, my sister would play the ‘teenager’ where I would be the ’70 year old woman.'” She also revealed that her parents made her take acting classes after the bullying became so bad in the eighth grade that she stopped speaking. “I was really scared by the first few assignments were just of pantomiming. So I didn’t have to talk. At the time I hadn’t gotten an A in anything, but I kept getting A’s in this class. It became something I knew I wanted to do but I couldn’t do it for a living. I didn’t give myself permission to do it for a very long time.”
5. Odd Jobs
Vangsness’ first credited acting role is in 1998’s short Sometimes Santa’s Gotta Get Whacked, but she had been writing and starring in plays long before that. Unlike TV work, however, acting in plays is rarely enough to live off of, so she had many odd jobs to make ends meet before becoming a star. Vangsness has worked as a substitute teacher, child counselor, restaurant hostess, personal assistant, grant writer, and murder mystery dinner actress. She finally landed her first paid acting role in a Diet Dr. Pepper commercial.
4. Being Penelope
While starring on Criminal Minds has now defined the actress’s career, it could have been much different as her character was only supposed to be on the show in one episode and say a few lines. Due to the positive response to her character, they wrote her into another episode and it was up to Vangsness to create the character more fully. “I had to develop her character more. She’s a product of my imagination, so in my imagination I want to be that. I don’t think I’d want to be that sweet though. She’s very sweet. She likes things that really aren’t my jam. I love that she loves machines and connects to that world, I just don’t connect that way. I’m much more of a hands on type of person, where she isn’t. When you get to play a character for 12 seasons, you start to share traits. I’m giving her more of me and I take more from her. But it’s fun that she’s different than me. I think she’s great, I really look up to her,” she said in an interview.
3. Personal Life
Over the years, Vangsness’s personal life has been quite the topic of discussion. For awhile it was assumed that she was a lesbian because she began dating film and television and editor Melanie Goldstein in 2006, but after ending their engagement, the pair separated in 2013. After the relationship she revealed in 2015 that she had begun dating actor and writer Keith Hanson, and revealed she was in fact bisexual. As of November 2015, it was reported that she and Hanson had become engaged.
2. Net Worth
After beginning acting as a child thanks to her parents, Vangsness acted in plays for years before landing her first on-screen role in a commercial. In the early 2000s, she added to her resume with small roles in Phil of the Future, LAX and Annie Unleashed. In 2005 her life changed when she appeared in the pilot episode of Criminal Minds as Penelope Garcia. Now, thanks to her long starring role on the series, she has an estimated net worth of $4 million.
1. Going to Work
Although Vangsness has now played the same character for 12 seasons, she says she never grows tired of Penelope Garcia and in some ways can’t believe it is actually her job! “I am always sort of delightedly surprised when someone recognizes me because as far as I’m concerned, I’m just going to work and getting paid to act and that alone is fantastic, I forget people watch it too.”