‘Criminal Minds: Evolution’: Zach Gilford Thinks ‘Midnight Mass’ Helped Him Land Elias Voit Role

Zach Gilford has come a long way from Friday Night Lights. The actor played nice-guy quarterback Matt Saracen in the high school football drama from 2006 to 2011. But he’s very much not a nice guy in Criminal Minds: Evolution. The revival of CBS’s long-running Criminal Minds premiered Thanksgiving Day on Paramount+, with Gilford taking on a central role in the series as the chilling serial killer Elias Voit. He spoke with Showbiz Cheat Sheet about how his recent role in Netflix’s Midnight Mass helped him land his part in the new Criminal Minds and how there’s a little of Matt Saracen in his portrayal of Elias Voit.

[Warning: This article contains spoilers for Criminal Minds: Evolution Episodes 1 and 2.]

Zach Gilford thinks ‘Midnight Mass’ helped him land the ‘Criminal Mind: Evolution’ role 

Zach Gilford as Elias Voit in 'Criminal Minds: Evolution'
Zach Gilford as Elias Voit in ‘Criminal Minds: Evolution’ | Monty Brinton /Paramount+

Last year, Gilford starred in Mike Flanagan’s horror miniseries Midnight Mass. He played Riley Flynn, a former businessman who’s just out of prison after serving four years for killing a woman in a drunk-driving accident. Riley returns home to Crockett Island, which is soon plagued by a series of strange, supernatural events.

Gilford thinks his performance as the troubled, guilt-ridden Riley helped him land the Elias Voit role on Criminal Minds: Evolution.  

I think really between Midnight Mass and maybe even some Friday Night Lights is kind of how I got this role,” Gilford said. “I think the creators, I know they were big fans of [Midnight Mass] and I think it was just seeing kind of the darker side of me that I think they were like, ‘Oh, he could be a serial killer.’” 

The new ‘Criminal Minds’ shows ‘who these monsters really are’ 

But Voit isn’t just any serial killer. When the pandemic forced him to halt his killing, he started building a network of other murderers. Criminal Minds: Evolution takes place in 2022, when the world has opened back up and Voit has activated his deadly network. 

In its original run, Criminal Minds typically took a case-of-the-week approach to storytelling. But Evolution stretches things out, with the BAU agents tracking Volt and his network of other killers over the course of 10 episodes. That allows for a deeper dive into a “complex character” like Voit, Gilford said. 

“What we’re doing, which we haven’t really ever been able to do before in Criminal Minds, is we’re going home with the UnSub and we get to see who these monsters are when they’re humans and they live in the world and they have jobs and the people who are around them,” he explained.

Elias Voit has a little Matt Saracen in him 

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The twist on the original Criminal Minds format means audiences get to see Voit not just as a killer, but also how he appears to those who don’t know his true nature: an average guy with a job, a wife, and a couple of kids. From that angle, he’s a character not unlike Matt Saracen. 

“I think the Matt Saracen aspect brings it to the human side of Voit where [people were like] ‘I think Zach can make an audience like anyone, even a serial killer,’” Gilford said. “So we’ve basically marrying Friday Night Lights and Midnight Mass and that’s Criminal Minds: Evolution.” 

New episodes of Criminal Minds: Evolution are available Thursdays on Paramount+. 

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