GALESBURG — Galesburg native David “Dieterich” Gray filled a key role on Wednesday night’s episode of “Criminal Minds,” a TV drama in its 13th season on CBS.
The episode followed the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit as they investigated a home invasion and attempted murder in a small town in Virginia. Gray described his character, Rick Sturgess, as a “creepy bad guy.”
“He’s a convicted sex offender and we are led to believe he might just be, in fact, the bad guy who perpetrated this crime,” Gray said Wednesday night from Los Angeles. “It’s a horribly violent assault on a wife and mother of two. As bad as this guy is — and he’s bad — he did not in fact do the thing we are led to believe he might have done. It’s a bait and switch.”
Gray auditioned for the role in early November, got a callback a week later, and shot the episode in the last days of November.
“I had been in the ‘Criminal Minds’ casting department a number of times, and we always had a great relationship,” Gray said. “It felt to me as though they were fans of me and fans of the voices I would bring into the audition room. It felt like they were looking for a spot for me, something that would be a great fit.”
Though it was Gray’s first time on the show, it wasn’t the first time he’d dabbled in the dark and disturbing.
“I’ve certainly played creepy,” he said. “I’m either a quirky home economics teacher on Nickelodeon or Disney or I play a serial killer. My career has always ridden in that fashion. Whatever my type or unconventional delivery style is bodes to teen-friendly or the darkest of the dark.”
Gray recalled his callback for the producers session, in which he read a scene in front of a dozen writers and producers:
“These scenes were really dark, and I really went for it. There was an intense moment at the culmination of everything — I was all revved up, I was all emotionality and energy. I was gripping the bottom of my chair and my eyes were closed and I felt all the words come out, and then there was silence. My eyes were still closed, and as my body started to relax, I slowly opened my eyes and I saw these people all staring at me with their mouths wide open. They burst into applause.
“I’m not ‘tooting my own horn’ here, but that was startling to me because that never happens. Usually it’s ‘that was great’ or ‘that was lovely.’ You get good feedback or just a thank-you, which means ‘see you later.’ That round of applause was a first for me. I felt I had done what I was expected to do and maybe more. When I got the phone call with the job offer, I was through the moon.”
Gray reports sharing laughs with show writer Simon Mirren, befriending Kirsten Vangsness, who plays Penelope Garcia on the show, and shaking hands with Joe Mantengna (David Rossi), who greeted every person in the room before the first read-through.
“It was a total joy,” Gray said of the overall experience. “Everyone is like a big family. They’ve been doing it so long that both the cast and the crew all know each other. … From the hospitality to kindness to accommodation to friendliness, it was really a joy. … They made every attempt to make me feel welcome.”
Gray got the acting bug while performing with the Prairie Players Civic Theatre in Galesburg. He first appeared there at age 9 in a production of “South Pacific.” It was his mother, Lee Gray, who had shown up to audition, but the directors needed a young boy for the show and persuaded Gray to sing a song, too.
“I guess they thought I was charming, this shy, 9-year-old kid, because they cast me and we performed at the Orpheum,” Gray said. “That was my first introduction to what being a participant in the world of theater really meant. Theater and show biz are like a big family. We all have this common interest, and we’re all a little bit weird, a little bit off; we’re extroverted and we’re excitable. The thing I thought was the most fun were the cast parties. Here I am hanging out with adults — we played theater games and charades and everybody was welcome. It was a lot of fun. And I never really looked back.”
Gray went on to perform in local shows including “How to Eat Fried Worms,” “West Side Story,” “Once Upon a Mattress,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and more.
Gray, now 40, attended Galesburg High School, Carl Sandburg College and Illinois State University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in acting. He worked as an actor for 10 years in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles, where he has lived for nearly five years. He’s also acted in New York City, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C.
Gray has had roles on a number of other TV shows, including “Westworld,” “The Bold and the Beautiful,” “High & Mighty,” “The New 30,” “Fresh Off the Boat,” “Uncle Buck,” “American Horror Story” and more. He’s appeared in commercials for State Farm, Allstate, GEICO and others. He’s even portraying an “otherworldly god” on an upcoming video game.
When asked for his advice on acting and “making it big,” Gray shared that he recently attended a screening of “Darkest Hour,” followed by a Q&A session with lead actor Gary Oldman — that’s someone who truly made it big, Gray said, and someone he still looks up to.
“I am certainly one of the fortunate ones. That’s not to say everything came my way — I had to procure it and drum it up with blood, sweat and tears, learning how to do this and be good at doing it,” Gray said. “If I had any advice to anybody considering working in show biz, it’s to do the work. Get really good at what you do so that when you walk into room, you can walk in with confidence knowing that you are the expert at what you do in that room. They (the producers, writers, directors, etc.) are the experts in their departments. You have to be an expert in yours — and then persist. And opportunities will come your way.”
And you can’t go wrong with kindness and a positive attitude.
“The most important thing is to be nice to every single person you meet,” Gray said. “The production assistant, the cinematographer, the camera assistant — they will later make a feature film … and they will no longer be a production assistant. I’m not saying falsely be nice, but be genuinely nice. You are not above anybody. You were once an intern or a ‘Character No. 14.’ It makes for a much better environment if you find joy in embracing the new relationships you find on stage, off stage and off camera — and have fun.”
Robyn Gautschy: (309) 343-7181, ext. 265; firstname.lastname@example.org