One glance at the cast and crew's behind-the-scenes photos for the new season reveals a parade of the creepy and macabre: giant cockroaches, a human skull, a severed leg.
"I think all I have to say is welcome to Season 10!" Cook said, laughing. "In Season 10, it's go big or go home. I'm really loving this season because it just feels more like these really great psychological thriller mini-movies that they're making every week."
And while fans have come to expect suspense and chilling story lines from the show, Cook teases that this season they've upped the ante.
"It's like a mind frick, you know what I mean? It totally messes with your head. It's gonna be creepy and scary, but people love that — people like to curl up and watch it," she explained.
So although Cook concedes that some viewers may prefer to DVR it and watch it the next day in the comfort of the morning light, she promises the show isn't too graphic.
"It's not overly gruesome, because when we show that stuff it's for a split second, if at all. I think we use a lot of the Hitchcock effect — we talk about it, and what you're going to think up in your mind is far worse than anything we can actually show on the screen."
During this season, the show will plumb deeper into J.J.'s psyche, too, as she struggles to come to terms with the "whirlwind" she's experienced since returning to the BAU and the unresolved issues lingering from her departure.
"J.J. is a typical woman," Cook said. "We're so good at internalizing everything and pushing it down and pushing it down and pushing it down. But the hard thing about that is we can only do it for so long. So, yeah, I think we're going to maybe see her have to come to terms with everything eventually."
Still, Cook remains in awe of her character's resilience. J.J. has held her own through seeing team members lose their lives, nearly losing her own, seeing her family threatened and watching her best friends get brutalized.
"I don't know how J.J. does it, honestly. It's crazy! That's what I love about her, though. She's such a busy professional/mom/caretaker/ass-kicker. She's just the all-around woman," said Cook, cautioning, "but she's human. And I think we're going to see that side more in Season 10. You can only stretch yourself so thin, and I think that's a valuable lesson for everyone to learn."
J.J. can breathe a little easier, though, in the knowledge that while J.J. deals with more of the emotional stuff, we likely won't have to go through any gut-wrenching near-death experiences for Cook's character... at least for a few episodes.
"I think that would be unfair to everyone," Cook said, laughing. "We need to keep J.J. out of harm's way for a little bit!"
Actually, one of the biggest shockers for Cook and the rest of the cast this season had little to do with the inherent danger of being part of the BAU but, rather, with a new addition to the team. "I think the really big deal about Season 10 is that we've got Jennifer Love Hewitt joining the cast," Cook shared.
"It's been so great! We were all just shocked when we heard. Like, 'What? Jennifer Love Hewitt wants to come play with us? OK... but she's, like, a star!'"
The casting has proven a great fit, said Cook, who gushed that — in addition to being super-nice — Love Hewitt is the consummate professional. "I really like her character," Cook said. "She's kind of this scrappy little thing. It's going to be a fun character for her to play, and unlike anything she's every really played before."
But as excited as she is about Love Hewitt joining the ensemble, Cook admittedly plays favorites with another costar: her 6-year-old son, Mekhai, who plays J.J.'s son Henry.
"It was just a walk in the park for him," she explained of Mekhai joining back on the show's 100th episode. "Me, on the other hand, I was a nervous wreck. I was, like, shaking and... oh gosh, it was horrible. But I've since moved past that, and he's been so easy. It's been so much fun for him to be on set and play with Mommy, and it's all just pretend for him."
In fact, being a busy working mom has inspired Cook to branch out off set as well. Today, she launches her first fashion collaboration with Ideel so fans can sample A.J.'s effortless style.
On grabbing the opportunity, she told us, "I really do love fashion, and I love easy fashion. I mean, c'mon, let's be realistic. I'm a mom. Kim Kardashian can do it in stiletto heels, but I can't — I'm a little more practical. You can be stylish and still be practical."
Her collection — four looks including morning workout, mom-on-the-go, red carpet and, yes, even J.J.-inspired — reflects that distinct blend of laid-back, but still chic style Cook is often approached over. "It's been a lot of fun to pull all these looks together and put it out there and say, 'Yeah, I'd wear this,'" she said.
But, although she admits she'd love to venture into the lifestyle/fashion arena further in the future, there's no need for Criminal Minds fans to panic just yet.
"I love my Criminal Minds fans," she said, "and I don't think I'm going anywhere."
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