HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Janeane Garofalo is a pacifist who's trying to be practical.
"If I only took work that fit into my view of things, I would never work," says the 47-year-old actress and comic.
This explains why she is starring in one of the most anticipated network shows of 2011 -- "Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior," which debuts 9 p.m. Wednesday on KUTV Channel 2. The show is a spin-off of one of most violent programs on network TV. Garofalo plays FBI investigator Beth Griffith, who dives into murders, rapes, kidnappings and serial-killer chases. Each week's plot features investigators trying to understand the darkness in the mind of someone who would commit such crimes.
She's leading the cast alongside Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker.
For most of her career, Garofalo has been an outspoken liberal and pacifist. She used her Air America radio show to speak out against war, Republicans, sexism and violence against women. Garofalo, who grew up in a conservative household, also has targeted the Tea Party movement and other right-leaning groups.
"I am asked in certain roles to be another person," she says of why she'd do such a dark series. "If I took jobs that fulfilled every requirement I have in my personal vision, including my own standup comedy, I would never do anything.
"If I took the role of an assassin, I, obviously, do not advocate killing someone. However, I definitely think about (these dark roles) a lot."
Starting off in comedy clubs in the 1980s, Garofalo built a career as an actress, co-starring in the short-lived but critically acclaimed "The Ben Stiller Show" before appearing in a string of hit movies in the mid-1990s, such as "Reality Bites" and "The Truth About Cats and Dogs." And she was a regular on "Saturday Night Live."
In the next decade, Garofalo became more of a political voice through her work on Air America and a daily talk show. She remained on the road as a comic, though her film work yielded fewer blockbusters.
She finds that shaking off the darkness of "Suspect Behavior" scripts can be hard some days. "I have to keep reminding myself that (the role) isn't me," she says. "I have to override whatever feelings I have personally toward this sort of thing. The character I play is not uncomfortable with these things.
"Even in my own life, when I watch (violent shows), I think about these things. I think about the impact they have and what the messages are.
"But this isn't about what I think. This is about what the FBI profiler I play would do in these situations."
Certainly "Suspect Behavior" is quite a twist in her career. Though she's certainly had variety on her resume, including topical documentaries ("Left of the Dial") and social commentaries ("The Laramie Project"), she's better known for her comedic fare with bite ("Dogma").
As a bit of a release, Garofalo has adopted a dog that she found at a shelter while shooting an episode.
"I have a hard time leaving (the darkness of work), but sometimes there will be something that is a downer. I'm sorry. That's a terrible word -- 'downer' -- but ... sometimes (it) can be depressing. So if we are doing a scene all day that is dealing with this or if we are dealing with a (phony) cadaver for a long period of time, it does ... stick with me a little bit."