A young Kirsten Vangsness began acting in grade school, partly to overcome shyness. As she told reporter Matt Pomroy, her weight and “strange” appearance made it difficult for her to fit in when she moved to a new school. Her grades slipped, and when her parents made her choose between shop class and acting class, she chose acting — “because,” she said, “I hated the idea of shop even more” — and wound up getting her best grade in a long time, reinvigorating her outlook, overall.
“I was good at it,” said Vangsness. “So, it was like, ‘I’m going to keep doing that thing.'”
She initially stuck to theater, in part because she felt that people on television didn’t look like her, so she thought theater was a better fit. She struggled for a while, joking that she thought she’d be living on “cat food” forever. At one point, she had a day job as a substitute teacher. Her first formal roles were in two short films, in 1988 and 2003. Then, in 2012, she appeared in a TV movie, Annie Unleashed, an episode of the Disney Channel show Phil of the Future, and in three episodes of the short-lived airport drama LAX.
Then came Criminal Minds, and her life forever changed.