Kirsten Vangsness
Vangsness in 2019
Kirsten Simone Vangsness

(1972-07-07) July 7, 1972 (age 51)
Alma materCalifornia State University, Fullerton (BA)
  • Actress
  • writer
Years active1998—present

Kirsten Simone Vangsness (born July 7, 1972)[1] is an American actress and writer. She is best known for her portrayal of FBI Technical Analyst Penelope Garcia on the CBS drama series Criminal Minds. She portrayed the same character on the spin-off series Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior,[2] Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.

Early life

Vangsness was born in Pasadena, California, daughter of Errol Leroy Vangsness, of Norwegian descent, and wife Barbara Mary (née Marconi), of Italian descent. She was raised in Porterville, California, and later moved to Cerritos, California. She graduated from Cerritos High School in June 1990 and attended Cypress College in Cypress, California.[3] She later graduated from California State University, Fullerton in 1996.[4]



Vangsness became involved in acting as a child to help overcome shyness[5] and got her first big break in the theatre, where she won several awards, including the 15 Minutes of Female Best Actress Award, the Los Angeles Drama Critics Award for Best Emerging Comic Actress, and the Golden Betty Award.[4]


Vangsness' work has been published in the Los Angeles Times. Since 2014, Vangsness has co-written four episodes of Criminal Minds. In 2014 she co-wrote "Nelson's Sparrow" with executive producer, Erica Messer.[6] In 2015 she co-wrote "A Beautiful Disaster" once again with Messer[7] and in 2016 she co-wrote "Spencer" with Messer. The Criminal Minds series finale was also co-written by Vangsness and Messer.[8]

Personal life

In a 2011 interview, Vangsness described herself "as queer as a purple unicorn singing Madonna".[9] She was in a seven-year relationship with editor Melanie Goldstein, to whom she was engaged, until 2013.[10]

In 2015 she announced her engagement to Keith Hanson.[11] Though she has been engaged to both a man and a woman, Vangsness says she doesn't identify as bisexual. "...If I were straight, I would say I was, but I don't totally understand it myself. I don't want to have an answer to something that I don't really have an answer to."[12]



Year Title Role Notes
1998 Sometimes Santa's Gotta Get Whacked Tooth Fairy Short film
2006 A-List Blue
2008 Tranny McGuyver TV News Reporter Short film
2009 Scream of the Bikini Interior Decorator
2010 In My Sleep Madge
2011 Sarina's Song Party Guest Short film
The Chicago 8 Sketch Artist
2012 Remember to Breathe Vocals for Young Alice Short film
2015 Kill Me, Deadly Mona Livingston
2016 Diane & Devine Meet the Apocalypse Fawn
2017 Axis Heather (voice)
Dave Made a Maze Jane


Year Title Role Notes
2004 Phil of the Future Veronica Episode: "Age Before Beauty"
LAX Ticket Agent / Stephanie 3 episodes
2005–present Criminal Minds Penelope Garcia Also starring (season 1); main (seasons 2-present); 333 episodes
2010 Vampire Mob Laura Anderson
2010–2012 Pretty the Series Meredith Champagne 14 episodes
2011 Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior Penelope Garcia Main Cast; 13 episodes
Second City This Week Herself 1 episode
2011–2013 Good Job, Thanks! Therapist 2 episodes
2013 Shelf Life Freaky Squeaky 6 episodes, webseries
2016–2017 Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders Penelope Garcia Special Guest; 2 episodes


  1. ^ Vangsness, Kirsten (July 24, 2007). "Kirsten's Blog". CBS. Archived from the original on October 12, 2007. Retrieved October 7, 2007.
  2. ^ "Criminal Minds' Kirsten Vangsness Joins Spin-Off as a Series Regular". TV Guide.
  3. ^ Cypress College Public Information Office (May 4, 2012). "Cypress College @Cypress Newsletter" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 28, 2013. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
  4. ^ a b "Actress Kirsten Vangsness Helps Solve Cases on Television Show". California State University, Fullerton. April 13, 2010.
  5. ^ "The nerd who got heard". Matt Pomroy. March 6, 2008. Retrieved June 7, 2017.
  6. ^ "CRIMINAL MINDS Season 10 – 1013. Nelson's Sparrow – Press Release". Criminal Minds Round Table. January 8, 2015.
  7. ^ "CRIMINAL MINDS Season 11 – 1118. A Beautiful Disaster – Press Release". Criminal Minds Round Table. March 17, 2016.
  8. ^ Sharon, Keith (February 18, 2020). "Kirsten Vangsness goes from starring in and co-writing the 'Criminal Minds' finale to new creative ventures". Orange County Register.
  9. ^ Anderson-Minshall, Diane (November 2011). "The Purple Unicorn". The Advocate. p. 42.
  10. ^ Waldon, Dave (September 23, 2008). "Kirsten Vangsness Thrives on 'Criminal Minds'". AfterEllen. Archived from the original on October 6, 2008. Retrieved October 6, 2008.
  11. ^ "'Criminal Minds' Star Kirsten Vangsness Is Engaged: 'He's the Perfect Partner'". People.
  12. ^ "'Criminal Minds' Star Kirsten Vangsness Is Engaged: 'He's the Perfect Partner'". People.

External links