'Criminal Minds' shocker: Original series star explains decision to leave

'Criminal Minds' Says Goodbye to Shemar Moore
'Criminal Minds' Says Goodbye to Shemar Moore

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Wednesday's Criminal Minds, "A Beautiful Disaster."]

After 11 seasons, CBS' Criminal Minds is saying goodbye to one of its original stars.

Wednesday's episode marked the final one for series star Shemar Moore, who said farewell to the veteran procedural after his Derek Morgan opted to focus on his new wife and baby-to-be.

This season featured the supervisory special agent abducted, held captive and tortured. While Derek nearly dies after the ordeal, he wakes up three days later in the hospital and has a heart to heart with Savannah (Rochelle Aytes). After learning she's pregnant, he proposes marriage.

Wednesday's hour saw Derek secretly pursuing his assailants after returning from a six-month hiatus during which time he and Savannah got married. After being booted from the case, he pursues it anyway and Savannah is nearly shot in the process. It all hits a little close to home and Derek, realizing that family is what's most important, decides to leave the BAU.

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"It's a weird experience," Moore tells The Hollywood Reporter of his newfound free time. "I just spent 11 years with a group of people and it's a weird thing to walk away from -; but I did it on my terms and in the right way."

Moore wrapped his time on Criminal Minds more than a month ago and has spent the weeks since rewatching some of the drama's recent Derek-heavy episodes and appreciating the final scenes he filmed with longtime co-stars Thomas Gibson (Aaron), Joe Mantegna (David) and Kirsten Vangsness (Penelope), the latter of whom co-wrote Wednesday's episode alongside showrunner Erica Messer.

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"When we started, there were 102 cop shows ... and I questioned why they needed 103 but what we found out was that Criminal Minds was a different type of show," he says of his initial skepticism. "We were the little train that could. There were so many doubters and 11 years and 251 episodes later, I'm very proud. It's nice to exhale now. I feel really at peace with the fact that I left it all out on the field."

To hear Moore tell it, the decision to leave -- which he had been mulling for the past few seasons -- came as the actor says he was ready to stretch his wings and find a new challenge.

"Young and the Restless gave me confidence and told me that I had a right to be here [in Hollywood]," he says. "I got popular there but I wanted credibility and to prove that I could act. What Criminal Minds did was help people see that I could handle drama -; and keep my shirt on -; and tell stories. Criminal Minds was college and now I'm ready for grad school and the next step."

Moore credits his parents -- both of whom he called risk-takers -- for inspiring him to be brave and take creative leaps in his career. He points to finding inspiration from actors like George Clooney and Denzel Washington -; who both left successful shows like ER and St. Elsewhere -; as they bet on themselves and a career in features.

"I'm not saying I'm the next George Clooney or Denzel Washington because I haven't earned that right -; but without taking a leap, I'll never find out what I'm capable of," he says with a laugh.

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As for how Derek's journey ended, Moore credits Messer and her writing staff with not only convincing him to return for a proper exit but for also sending the character off in style.

"They knew I was getting itchy and that I wanted to take the jump. I wasn't mad but my creative juices [weren't flowing]," he says, singling out his time with guest star Danny Glover (who played Derek's his father) as a memory he'll forever cherish. "Erica promised me she'd take care of me and Derek ... and my final hurrah, I got challenged as an actor and Erica gave me such a beautiful sendoff. It's a culmination of everything we all brought to life and what Derek earned -; all in 43 minutes.

"Derek Morgan isn't walking off because Shemar is done with the show," he stresses. "Derek is walking away because there's part of his life that's missing and that he has an opportunity and he risks that every day but he needs to be a dad and experience that and be by his wife."

As for if Moore would ever return to Criminal Minds, that's an easy decision for the actor.

"I went back for two episodes [on Young and the Restless during Criminal Minds] and I would have done it for free -- and the same goes with Criminal Minds. If they'll let me come in and play for a while, yes, I'd love to come back."

As for what's next, Moore co-stars and exec produces feature The Bounce Back due later this year and is open to returning to broadcast television -; or cable/streaming. He's most excited by the potential of doing a short-run series that will afford him time to spend with his family or travel.

"I'm looking for balance. I've been working hard for 20 years ... and right now I'm enjoying taking a breath," he says. "I want to be excited again and do what I wasn't free enough to do: learn a language, travel and play piano."