CRIMINAL MINDS’ Simon Mirren Talks TV, Wounded Warrior Project
“I’m still learning to write every day,” Simon Mirren told me in a personal interview.
Even as Executive Producer/Showrunner extraordinaire Simon Mirren speaks these words to me, my ears are still ringing.
It is humbling to hear that Mirren envisions himself as a “learner” of the written word, especially since he has so gifted the world of entertainment.
“I’m a storyteller first and a writer second,” he continues. “I really like to go out into the world and find new stories, meet real people.”
His journey as a writer, however eloquent, begins on a sad note. “I had a crew of friends I grew up with. And one of my closest and best friends was badly injured in a motorbike accident, which left him paralyzed from the neck down,” Mirren tells me.
The lingering pain is still visible, even in Mirren’s voice. He says, “We friends got together and went to see him in hospital. We didn’t want his life to change so dramatically. It already had, but we tried to keep him going. We learned how to take care of him. And I started writing about my experience in a kind of cathartic way.”
An Open Channel
His writing career may have started as a bridge to heal pain, but that’s not where it has stayed.
While building ceilings for London’s Channel 4 and staying with his aunt (Helen Mirren), he had the opportunity to look at a few scripts. Eventually, he tried writing one himself and shared it with a friend, who thought it was fantastic.
Mirren explains, “I was not really a huge fan of TV. I just wrote something and turned it in to them (Channel 4). The Big C approached me and asked if I would be interested in writing something. I said I’d give it a go. So, I wrote an episode of TV, and it went really well, which was the biggest surprise to me. And then they asked me to write another one. So, I wrote another one and then another one. I got into writing that way.”
He continues, “Later, I helped put together a show called Waking the Dead in London and then helped put another show together called MI-5 (Spooks).
The Move to America
“Then I met my mentor. I call him my mentor. He’s a writer, probably one of the best screenwriters in the world, and his name is Tony Gilroy. He suggested I get an agent and introduced me to Scott Seidel at ICM. Seidel contacted me and said, ‘I love your work. Would you come to America?’
“I came and went to about 40 meetings in two to three weeks time. It was crazy. I met some really great people. But I didn’t really want to come here just to come, so I went home. Then, I got a call from Ed Redlich, on Without a Trace, who’d seen some of the work I’d done on Waking the Dead. He offered me a job, so I came over and worked for about a year.
“That’s how I got here really. I didn’t ever want to come here unless I had a job. I was happy in my little world, building and just writing on the side.”
Criminal Minds Reality
But Mirren’s “little world” is destined for greater things. He says, “The second year I was here, I met writer Ed Bernero, who created Third Watch with John Wells, and who worked on Criminal Minds. “
Writing for Criminal Minds’ subject matter haunts him to this day.
“I was asked to write an episode for Season Two called “P911,” in which a child was caged and sold for sex slavery on the internet. It was a real story. I met the real people involved. I’ve never seen anything in life as awful as that. To this day, I’ve never told all the reality of the story, other than that the pedophile involved turned out to be the child’s father.
“At the end of the day, I like to entertain people. And I don’t know that that kind of thing is entertaining. If it enlightens people in a way that’s constructive and makes people think about child safety and shows what danger really looks like in the world, great.”
Mirren believes research can have a very negative influence. “I didn’t know that lots of pedophiles go to amusement parks,” he says. “Sometimes as good as the internet is, it could be a way for pedophiles to justify what they do. And, in fact, while doing my research, I did go to a very famous park and did spot one taking pictures. You don’t want to think that kind of thing is out there. It’s actually a small minority that might be affected by this, but I deal with the minority to tell the story. It’s a fine balance, and you have to be responsible about the time slot you’re putting these stories on television. That one had a really big impact on me.”
Future Series in View
These days, Mirren has a new project in the works, a potential drama for CBS that he’s working on with The Shield’s Shawn Ryan. “This story is very important to me, because it’s a true story.”
The project, as yet untitled, is based on the work of Professor James Fallon, a leading neurologist who appeared on the 99th episode of Criminal Minds. Fallon shows through his research on a single cell of saliva that one can not only learn physical attributes of a person, but that person’s disposition toward committing a crime. “It’s extraordinary and has such a profound effect on humanity. And, in fact, the FBI has started using genetics at crime scenes,” says Mirren.
Though he does realize the potential for a great series of “pandora’s box” storylines, at the same time it is important for Mirren to remain original, which is probably one reason he’s such a gifted writer. “I think any artist, painter, or writer has to be original. I don’t always succeed, but I try.”
Stray Dogs and Wounded Warrior Project
He’s also original in his ideas to help others.
“A lot of the stories I tell and that my friends tell are connected to the Special Forces. Shemar Moore’s character on Criminal Minds is an ex-Marine, and Alex O’Loughlin’s character on Hawaii Five-0 is an ex-Navy Seal. In writing stories for Criminal Minds, I’ve met real-life Marines, and they remain close friends of mine as well.
“When I watch these guys behind the scenes, I’m blown away by how much they’ve given up for their country, no matter what their political leanings are.”
Last year, Mirren and a group of his friends got together to participate in Tough Mudder, an event that raises awareness and money for the Wounded Warrior Project. Kevin McKidd (Grey’s Anatomy) and Shemar Moore joined him on his Stray Dogs team. He tells me, “I just said, ‘let’s try to make some money.’ That’s how it started. And we really went for it. We really worked hard for it. I thought it’d be fun, and it sort of just grew. It was a great experience. We all loved doing it, and it brought us all together. But,” he laughs, “I swore at the time that I would never do it again.” He pauses, reflects, “I would though. And, in fact, we have been asked to do it again this year. We also have lots of people sponsoring us now, so it’s pretty cool.” McKidd and Moore will rejoin him this year, as will O’Loughlin.
Even though it’s O’Loughlin’s first outing with the team, Mirren isn’t worried. “Alex loves all that stuff. He loves to run in the mountains. I asked him, ‘if you have the time, would you do it,’ and he said ‘absolutely, I’m in.’ And also, he wants to pay homage to the character he plays, which is an ex-Navy Seal. In every way, it was natural for him to do.”
It’s also that chance to raise awareness for a very worthy cause. Mirren says, “We’re in a difficult economic time, and there’s some concern that the money won’t be there for veterans in years to come. We’re just focusing on raising some money for Wounded Warrior and keeping it centralized to that, because there are so many veterans out there that have been affected. It’s nice to challenge yourself and work toward something.” He adds, “And, hopefully, the actors will finish in one piece.”
The Tough Mudder event is planned for September 22, 2012 in Lake Tahoe, California.
Cheryl has been a freelance TV/film writer for more than 10 years. Simultaneously, she has worked in PR for Bon Jovi Productions in NYC, PolyGram Records (also in NYC), and Rogers & Cowan Public Relations. Cheryl has published articles at suite101.com, “Sci-Fi Entertainment” magazine, and “Soap Opera Weekly.” She was also a credited researcher for English author Denis Meikle’s JOHNNY DEPP: A KIND OF ILLUSION. Cheryl enjoys writing for the entertainment industry and meeting new people. She is also an animal lover.
This article originally appeared at suite101.com.