A.J. Cook has been a part of Criminal Minds since the show’s first season back in 2005. Cook plays Jennifer “JJ” Jareau but will have an extra credit attached to her name when she makes her television directorial debut with tonight’s brand new episode.

CBS Local’s Matt Weiss caught up with Cook ahead of tonight’s episode to discuss the challenges and rewards of directing, her future career plans and what to expect in tonight’s episode.

MW- Good morning A.J.! I want to first say congrats for making your directing debut for tonight’s episode of Criminal Minds!

AC- Thank you! I’m really excited for the world to finally see it, it’s like my baby. It’s a great episode, it’s written really well and I was so happy with it right out of the gate.

MW- So I know this is your first time directing on the show but is it the first time you’ve directed period?

AC- Film and television, yes. This is a first and it’s been a lifelong goal of mine. I was ecstatic that I finally got to take the reigns and not just to direct but to do it with this group of people at this point in time. It was incredibly special for me. As long as I’ve wanted to act I’ve wanted to direct so it’s been a lifetime of waiting, studying, shadowing –  I couldn’t be happier with it. It’s been such a wonderful experience.

MW- And what was your experience as a first time director working with your own fellow cast mates?

AC- I really love working directors that are also actors because they are looking at it a different way they see it through your eyes a little more. Not to say that other directors don’t have that ability but I just feel like being an actor, especially on this show, I know it really well so that was the easy part. My cast mates are also such pros, they don’t need notes, they know their characters so well.

I have to say the hardest part for me was acting [laughs], while I was directing. They did write me quite light in this episode, thank goodness! I didn’t have to act until my last two days of shooting but I found myself being in the scene as the actor and missing my cue because I was so busy watching everyone else’s performance –  I would be the one to blow it [laughs]. It took a little bit to get used to and I’m sure that will get easier with time.

MC- What was the biggest surprise throughout the process of directing?

AC- I think the biggest surprise for me was how collaborative it all is. Being an actor you see what’s in front of you on set. What I loved, loved, loved about directing was there’s a whole ‘nother world that opens up to you. You see what goes on in the office, you’re there through prep and post and you see how hard these people work. I always knew they worked hard but to see it first hand and work side by side with their incredible talent was a privilege. Surprised maybe isn’t the right word for it but it was really something special to see.

MW- Seems like you really had a great time doing this if I’m inferring correctly…

AC- Uhh you are [laughs].

MW- So is this something we will see more of from you in the future?

AC- Absolutely, this has always been the plan. I’ve hoped and dreamed of this moment for so long. I was nervous going into it because I wanted it so for long but until you do it you don’t know if it’s going to be the right fit for you. but it just felt like home for me, the whole time. I enjoyed it so much. I love a challenge and that’s basically what being a director is, you have to solve problems, it’s very similar to being a mom.

It was really cool for me to have those hopes and dreams and to realize them. It’s nice to know I’m heading in the right direction and I can continue to do this if I want to, and I do. It’s a huge passion for me and I love being at the conception level. I’m a very visual thinker so any script I read comes to life in my head and it was really cool for me to take those images in my head and have them come to life on the screen. To put out my vision.

MW- So you went through this whole process, achieved a lifelong dream, what can you tell us about the episode now that it’s here?

AC- It’s a big one. It’s an ambitious script. We tell this story, it’s a little different, we’ve told it a few times before on the show but it’s told in flashback format, which I love. It switches things up a little bit and right out of the gate from the very first frame you’re not sure what’s going on. You see Rossi in the most fragile and vulnerable state you’ve ever seen him in. We’re kind of seeing the aftermath of something we don’t know about yet. It’s a really cool way of telling and unfolding a story.

Then there’s Joe Mantegna, I mean, there are no words. He killed it and he was such a trooper because he had a lot in this episode. It’s our whole team though, that’s what I love about this show, it’s everyone coming together. It was really cool to set this up and to see Rossi go on this incredible, scary journey.

MW- Well this is a treat for me since today is my birthday so I know what I’ll be watching after cake tonight.

AC- Oh yay! Happy birthday, I made something for you! [laughs]

MW- Much appreciated! [laughs] Thank you so much A.J. and I can’t wait to watch the new episode tonight and more of your work in the future!

AC- Thanks Matt! Happy birthday, take care!

A new episode of Criminal Minds airs tonight at 10:00 PM ET/PT, only on CBS. Check your local listings for more information.