The Complete Evolution Of Criminal Minds' A.J. Cook

Most of us know the Canadian actress A.J. Cook as the brilliant and beautiful Jennifer "JJ" Jareau from the hit psychological crime show "Criminal Minds." She graced our screens every week for over a decade with her killer moves and witty dialogue, until the show ended in 2020 (via Country Living). But ever since the 1990s, Cook has appeared in over 30 projects, ranging from blockbuster hits to miniseries. At only 19 years of age, Cook got her start in a McDonald's commercial, which is bonkers to think about considering where she ended up not even a decade later (via TV Over Mind). 

The original "Criminal Minds" may have ended, but with the spinoff "Criminal Minds: Evolution" airing in 2022, our love for Cook is stronger than ever. From humble beginnings to a long-running TV career, her fans are always eager to see what the Canadian beauty will do next. 

A.J. Cook was legally blind as a child

Born July 22, 1978, Andrea Joy Cook, known by her stage name A.J. Cook, had an interesting childhood. Born in Oshawa, she spent most of her time in the town of Whitby, in Ontario, Canada, along with her parents Michael and Sandra, and her three siblings, Nathan, Paul, and Angela.

When she was very young, she was declared legally blind due to her severe astigmatism and had to get corrective surgery. However, none of that stopped her from pursuing her dancing career. At age 4, Cook began taking multiple dance classes such as jazz, tap, and ballet. She loved it so much that she started competing and teaching until 16 when she decided to try her hand at acting. However, she stated that if acting didn't work out, she would've opened a dance studio. And she also confided that she still tap dances to this day (via The Famous People).

AJ Cook got her big break in The Virgin Suicides

A.J. Cook fell in love with acting (and her husband) while attending Utah Valley University. She started acting professionally in the 1990s, guest appearing in "Goosebumps" and multiple TV movies. Her breakout role was in the 1999 Sofia Coppola cult classic "The Virgin Suicides," where she played troubled Mary Lisbon. The drama is based around five men remembering their times with the neighborhood Lisbon sisters, and their untimely suicide pact. Later that year, she starred as the lead, Shelby Merrick, in the short-lived series "Higher Ground." This American-Canadian show was based around teens at risk and took place in the mountains (via IMDb).  

Later, Cook starred in multiple hit films like "Final Destination 2," "Ripper," and "Out Cold." She then came back to the small screen by guest-starring in the series "Tru Calling." So the first decade of Cook's career was a wild one, and it only got wilder after "Criminal Minds" (via IMDb).

A.J. Cook was sadly fired from Criminal Minds

In 2005, A.J. Cook was cast as one of the leads of "Criminal Minds." The iconic Jennifer Jareau, also knowns as "JJ," continues to be a fan favorite for her 15-year run. Despite taking a hiatus from the show to do other projects, she continually came back to play her part. During her time during "Criminal Minds," her character did just about everything, from having babies to helping hunt down killers from all over the United States. 

However, she ended up getting fired from the show (reportedly for cost-cutting measures), and viewers were highly upset with the decision to let Cook go (via The Things). Due to overwhelming fan support, the show brought her character back. Despite having a hectic schedule with the CBS hit, she had time to star in other projects like "Vanished," "I'm Reed Fish," and "Wer" (via IMDb).

She has two sons with her husband of 20 years

As previously mentioned, A.J. Cook met her loving husband, Nathan Andersen, while attending university (via Paramount +). They married in August 2001 and have had a beautiful, low-profile relationship that keeps us all envious, which she sometimes showcases on Instagram. In September 2008, their first son was born. And because they're an adorable, awesome couple, they named their child Mekhai Allan. Seven years later, in July 2015, she gave birth to Phoenix Sky, and "Criminal Minds" fans have definitely seen his adorable face (via People). Both kids have appeared as JJ's sons on quite a few occasions and stole everyone's hearts. 

Cook regularly posts life updates on her Instagram such as the newest book to read, her car travels, and pictures of her amazing family. Fans are excited to see what A.J. Cook will do next, even if it's just on-the-road videos.

A.J. Cook is active in on-point charity work

Since 2018, A.J. Cook has been an ambassador for the Innocent Lives Foundation, according to a contemporaneous press release from the foundation (via Cision PR Newswire). According to the release, the job of an ambassador is to bring awareness to the foundation's mission, and that mission is to identify child predators who work under cover of anonymity. "We unmask anonymous online child predators to help bring them to justice," Cook said (via Southbay). 

Of her interest in the foundation's work, Cook has said that she was "devastated" to learn the sheer number of "children victimized each year" (per Cook's bio on the foundation's website). Once Cook realized the magnitude of the "crisis we are facing in our world right now" — as she referred to it (via Cision PR Newswire) — she felt she had to do something to forward the foundation's agenda, thereby becoming "part of the solution." Since its inception in 2017, the foundation has worked on more than 747 total cases (per the Innocent Lives Foundation). "I feel a sense of duty... to help people who are victimized," Cook said in 2021 (via Twitter). 

Additionally, Cook also appears to have some level of interest in dog-related philanthropy; she's pictured above with a rescue pup at a Wags & Walks charity benefit in 2019.

A.J. Cook was happy to return for the 'Criminal Minds' reboot

In February 2020, just before the coronavirus pandemic got into full swing, CBS aired its 324th and supposedly final episode of "Criminal Minds" after 15 seasons, according to The Things. At the time, A.J. Cook was at a point wherein it seemed to make sense to pull back from acting and spend more time with family. But, as the saying goes, even the best laid plans of mice and men go awry, and so, when "Criminal Minds: Evolution" premiered on Paramount+ in 2022, Cook was back on television screens as Special Agent Jennifer J.J. Jareau.

When Collider asked Cook in December 2022 whether she had any inkling a reboot would have been possible, she admitted: "Even when we wrapped, there were murmurings going around" of a possible reboot, at least one day. In other words, Cook and her castmates had a sense this wasn't the last the world had seen of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU). What seems to have been more surprising was how soon it was after the show's "wrap" that a reboot opportunity materialized.

That said, Cook and castmates (sans Matthew Gray Gubler, who declined to participate in order to pursue other opportunities, per Screen Rant), couldn't have been happier to execute this pivot, especially amid the coronavirus quarantine circumstances. "You didn't really have to convince any of us to come back," Cook explained to Collider. "It's like a family reunion."

A.J. Cook got to direct an episode of the 'Criminal Minds' reboot

If A.J. Cook had any hesitation about signing onto the "Criminal Minds" reboot (not that she appears to have), it could only have sweetened the deal that Cook had both the opportunity to direct an episode, and also to work with her real-life sons, who play her character's two children with her TV husband (per TV Insider).

"I love acting and it will always be a huge part of me, but there was just something about directing that felt like home," Cook told Southbay in an interview that took place before the reboot got greenlit. Nevertheless, the thought crossed Cook's mind that maybe she was "a complete crazy person" for signing on to direct both her children, as she put it to Collider in a December 2022 interview. "But it ended up being such a really cool experience .... What a unique and beautiful opportunity that I've been given here. I'm not only acting with my kids, but I'm directing them." 

It wasn't the first time Cook directed a "Criminal Minds" episode as she had done so once previously; but this time, her character had more lines and Cook had more acting to do. "There's sort of like a meaty JJ storyline with her family," Cook told BuzzFeed in November 2022. Since it was actually Cook's own children she was acting with and directing, it was an experience filled with "pinch-me moments." 

A.J. Cook had opinions about the 'Criminal Minds' reboot's salty language

A.J. Cook, who grew up in rural Canada, is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (via Famous Mormons). According to the Church, "profanity" — which "includes any type of unclean or vulgar speech or behavior" — is tantamount to an act of "disrespect or contempt for sacred things." Moreover, the Church admonishes adherents from allowing others to influence them toward adopting "foul language" (notwithstanding the potential benefits of swearing). Despite that "Criminal Minds" is devoted to mining the evil lurking in the minds of a dangerous few, one thing the show never delved into during its 15 seasons on the CBS network was profanity in the form of swear words.

Nevertheless, with the move to Paramount+ came a relaxed approach to salty language, as Cook told Collider. Although the Church admonishes the use of profane language, that would appear not to preclude its use as a form of non-gratuitous expression in the context of acting (via the Church). Indeed, Cook wasn't offended by the reboot's casual use of cussing.

Cook actually told Collider she thought it was pretty "awesome" that thanks to the move to cable, the reboot has the freedom to explore the dark themes "Criminal Minds" has always explored — but, this time, with a naturalistic raw edge to the dialogue.

Matthew Gray Gubler is still a close friend of A.J. Cook

As viewers of "Criminal Minds: Evolution" have had to accept, the BAU is continuing to pursue "unidentified subjects" without the benefit of Dr. Spencer Reid's preternatural genius (via Screen Rant). The reasons given for Reid's absence, as offered by the BAU's treacherous new boss Deputy Director Doug Bailey, were meant to be frustratingly vague, but the real-life circumstances were expressed unambiguously by actor Matthew Gray Gubler who started playing Reid soon after graduating from college.

After playing Reid for 15 seasons, Gubler was longing for an opportunity to delve into new characters and new projects, including trying his hand at directing and also authoring children's books (per CinemaBlend). Fans may be devastated, but imagine how A.J. Cook feels. After all, Cook and Gubler, who played star-crossed not-quite-so lovers over the course of a decade and a half (Reid was even the godfather to Jareau's two sons), weren't just acting out their close friendship. It turns out that Cook and Gubler are good friends in real life.

It also turns out that Gubler's absence from the reboot has not diminished his friendship with Cook (per CinemaBlend). In December 2022, Cook reached out to Gubler on Instagram to show warm support for his new kiddie tome "Rumple Buttercup: A Story of Bananas, Belonging, and Being Yourself," which has been marketed with a stuffed animal: "I need this right NOW!! Holy smokes I miss you GUBE!!!!!!"

A.J. Cook doesn't let Criminal Minds' dark subject matter affect her

Fans of the original "Criminal Minds," which ran on CBS for 15 seasons, are well aware of the show's dark premise. The reboot is no less dark since it follows serial killers using a global pandemic to maximize their preying power. The BAU, where A.J. Cook's character works, first as a media liaison and eventually as a criminal profiler (via Cheat Sheet), specializes in getting into the minds of, and flushing out, what the Internet Public Library refers to as high-risk criminals. Said criminals often are serial offenders with a penchant for harming the inherently vulnerable, and that includes young children (per Paramount +).

Given that she's a mother of two kids, it's understandable if Cook found the darkness of it all to be challenging, week after week, year after year. One way Cook seems to cope is through her role as ambassador to the Innocent Lives Foundation. But perhaps even more importantly, Cook, herself, has put to rest any concerns fans might have over how negatively the darkness at the core of the "Criminal Minds" oeuvre might affect her. "It's just such a beautiful environment, on our set," she told Collider. "That's why everyone was so excited to get back and do it again," including Cook — and her two sons. "They both did great. It was a lot of fun, and they're good boys."