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Shemar Moore, Criminal Minds

CBS

Shemar Moore stunned Criminal Minds fans every last night when he revealed that he'd said his last "Baby Girl" and was departing the long-running CBS procedural after 11 seasons. 

After his character Derek Morgan was abducted, tortured and nearly killed, he chose to step away from the BAU to spend time with wife Savannah (Rochelle Aytes) and baby son Hank—reasoning not so dissimilar from Moore's own. With some time between the announcement that Moore, who's starred on Criminal Minds since the pilot, was moving on, E! News got on the phone with the actor to speak about why he made his decision, what filming his last episode was like, and what he plans to do next. What follows is part one of our unedited conversation.

Shemar Moore, Criminal Minds

CBS

Big day for you, huh?
It is. It's been busy. Busy day yesterday, emotionally and exciting for the fans to see it all go down.  And today I'm just celebrating and talking about it. It's good.

Obviously, the episode filmed a while ago, so you've been away from the set for a little bit. What's it been like to watch the episode air and see the reaction? What has these 24 hours been like for you?
Well, today I haven't really seen much reaction because I've been talking to folks like you and doing The Talk. It's been more of just my own reaction. But yesterday was a trip. What I did is, I was home with my mom and some friends, and we had a little soiree. People came over to watch the show and celebrate it, but what I did before people showed up to my house is, I was there with my mom and just two friends. We were sitting in my backyard, drinking wine, and I went onto Instagram. At 4:00, I had posted a picture of Derek Morgan, and my caption was, "Tonight, I give you my heart." I really believe that. It's one of, if not the, proudest episodes of my career. I've been blessed to do a lot of things. I've done movies and The Young and the Restless, whatever I've done, but for 11 years to culminate the way it did and for me to go out the way I did last night—so, I was sitting out in my yard on my page, and I just clicked on the comments on that Derek Morgan post that I put up at 4:00 p.m. It's 5:58, obviously I couldn't see the telecast, but I was just watching the comments come in.

Criminal Minds

CBS

It was amazing. They were excited, they were stressed, they were sad, they were mad, they were shocked. Some were sad and crying, "I can't stop crying. This is not OK! Shemar Moore, eff you. This is not OK! How can you do this to me? I've been watching you since I was nine years old. This is not OK!" Even though they were yelling and screaming, it made me emotional because I knew it was all out of love and it was out of 11 years being together. What I've been saying wherever I go, any interview I do or what have you, I need  my fans, homies, and baby girls to just know that it's not goodbye. Derek did not die. Those elevator doors closed. And yes, I am wanting to see what else is out there for me and what else I'm capable of in my career and also in my personal life. I'm looking for balance. I want to fall in love, get married, have kids, travel. I want to walk my dogs more. Just get some balance. Those elevator doors closed and I have no problem because CBS and more importantly my fans and my family at Criminal Minds have been so good to me, I'm not opposed to those doors opening up again. Now, it may not be permanently, and it may not be for a full season, but if there's an opportunity to go back and dance and play, I wouldn't be opposed to that.

Criminal Minds

Sonja Flemming/CBS

You touched on what led you to make the decision, finding the balance and wanting to see what else is out there for you in your career. But what was it specifically now that was the time? What spoke to you about right now that made you realize this is when you wanted to make the decision?
I can answer that in two ways. There was no plan until the beginning of season 11. For a couple years, there was a feeling. And I had the same feeling when I was on The Young and the Restless. I say this a lot: I treat my acting career like school. The Young and the Restless was high school. I knew I needed to evolve and graduate. And then Criminal Minds has been college. And I just feel that I needed to evolve and graduate. So now I'm going to go to grad school or whatever you want to call it. I'd been talking to [showrunner] Erica Messer and some of the executives and producers and let them know that I'm just starting to feel this itch. I'd seen other actors out there in the business getting these opportunites that I would love a chance. What I'm fighting for in my life, and more specifically in my career, is that shot. I'm very happy with what I've accomplished, but I want to take another step. I'm just hungry like that. I want to see what else I can do.

Criminal Minds

CLIFF LIPSON/CBS

So, once the producers, Erica Messer especially, knew, she said, "If you honor the show, if you honor the fans, we can honor the show, we can honor the fans." She said, "I promise you I will give you a hero's goodbye." And I didn't want to just abruptly leave the show because that wasn't fair. It wasn't fair to me, it wasn't fair to Derek Morgan, it wasn't fair to the fans. It wasn't fair to my cast, it wasn't fair to the crew. Obviously the politics of negotiating what that's going to be turned into 18 episodes. She said, "By the time you walk away, in sports analogy, I hope you're going to feel like you left it all on the field." After I finished shooting episode 18, and many episodes in season 11, especially episodes 16 and 18, I hugged Erica. I said, "You kept your promise." I'm very proud of what we did. She said, "I'm not going to kill you. I'm going to give you all your Derek Morgan-isms, you're going to do that Morgan thing, and then we're going to embrace the team, and then you're going to walk off into the sunset." I think we completely, successfully did that.

I was going to ask you, you said that Erica said she wasn't going to kill you. Was that something you were really adamant you didn't want that ending for the character, you didn't want such a final thing? Was that a talk you had had?
No, I thought they would kill me. I've had a lot of say in what's happened with Derek Morgan, but my job's to say the words. They write and produce it, and I show up and memorize it. I internalize it, and then my job is to bring it to life. I'm not that guy. But I said, "If you kill me, let's do it in grand fashion." But she said, "No, we're not killing you." And then we collaborated, trying to figure out, to develop the story. It came out of her mind. She wanted to know the heart of Derek Morgan, what I felt was important after 11 years of being Derek Morgan, what were the poignant messages we wanted to send in [episode] 18, so we brainstormed. And she wrote a draft, and wrote a draft, and wrote a draft, and it became "A Beautiful Disaster."

Criminal Minds, Joe Mantegna

Adam Taylor/CBS

The final episode was really a family affair. Matthew Gray Gubler directed, Kirsten Vangsness co-wrote the episode with Erica. What was it like to have the close family be so involved in this from all aspects?
When we shot the pilot in Vancouver in 2004, I was like, "There's 103 cop shows on television. Why is there going to be 104?" None of us thought this thing was going to fly. And then all of a sudden, we got picked up and I'm like, "OK, maybe we'll do one season." And then we just kept going and kept going. But what also happened is we all grew, we all evolved, we all got more confident. We all became a close-knit family, and what I love is, I didn't choose to direct or produce or write on Criminal Minds, but because of my experience of collaborating and working out scripts and things like that, I've now taken on trying to produce. I've produced a movie that I'm excited about that'll be coming out. But I digress, enough about me. To answer your question, Matthew went to NYU as a director, and as the seasons progressed, he began directing. That inspired Joe [Mantegna] and Thomas [Gibson] to start directing, and that, in turn, inspire Kirsten, because she was writing a lot of theatrical work because she started a theater company called Theater of Note, and then she started writing. It was cool that we were no longer just doing our jobs as actors, we were doing our jobs but also being given the chance to show other sides of our creativity. I'm so proud of them.

What's cool is Thomas Gibson got to direct episode 249 of season 11, which was not only a very cool episode for me, but included Danny Glover, so that's a nice little check on his resume. [Laughs] We actually spoke about it—me, Erica, [exec producer] Breen Frazier, and a few others—how cool would it be to not only get to the 250 mark, but also it's my departure, so keep it in the family. So Thomas did 249 (and Danny Glover played my father, which will be a memory for the rest of my life), and of course Mr. Joe Mantegna, who's just the man, he got to direct 250. And Matthew Gray Gubler, directing's in his veins. I mean, he is a mad scientist when it comes to directing, but it's his passion and he loves it so much. To get Pretty Ricky, my brother, to direct my send-off, it was pretty special. If Criminal Minds makes it to 300, I don't care where I'm at, I'll figure out a way to come back to that, for sure. What I joke about is I bet you that Matthew, Joe, and Thomas will probably co-direct it, and Erica and Kirsten will write it.

I have a feeling we'll get to that 300. I'm pretty positive.
Mm-hmm.

For part two of our chat with Moore, including his thoughts on what he'll miss most and what he's looking forward to in the future, head right over here.

Criminal Minds airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBS.