Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS

After five years of playing agent David Rossi on Criminal Minds, there’s still a lot Joe Mantegna doesn’t know about him. But tonight’s episode, which finds Rossi flashing back to a long-time open case, helped fill in a few blanks.

In the episode, Rossi and the rest of the BAU find themselves in front of a group of college students, chronicling a serial killer case that spans 20 years. “The episode helped me define where he was and where he’s going,” says Mantegna. “We see a little more of that cocky attitude that was in him when he was younger. H was a guy who did it all his own way and was not tolerant — a loose cannon.”

Going back in time took a little magic from the makeup team — and the results were more than impressive. In fact, for Mantegna’s wife, they were almost a little too convincing. “It’s funny, I took a picture on my cell phone and texted it to my wife to see what reaction I’d get and she said, ‘Wow, I don’t remember this photo. Where were we? Did I take it?'” he says with a laugh. “We’ve been together over 35 years. They had my wife convinced it was a photo from 15 to 20 years ago. That was fun.”

Also fun was getting a chance to show viewers Rossi’s first meeting with BAU leader Hotch. (Costar Thomas Gibson also had a bit of a makeover for the scene.) The scene is just one of the nuggets of backstory fans will be treated to tonight. For Mantegna, the character exploration is one of the benefits of a procedural, where character development happens over longer periods of time. “The only character I’ve known longer than [Rossi] is Fat Tony on the Simpsons, and I’ve been doing him for 21 years,” he says.

But as viewers prepare to deep dive into Rossi, the show is also one episode away from saying goodbye to long-time character Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster). “It’s a different ballgame now and it’s all on her terms,” Mantegna says of the character’s exit. “And we’ve left the window open. We’ve set t up with her character that she has all this international experience and she could come back periodically. So I would be surprised if this was the last we saw of Emily.”


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