Jeanne Tripplehorn and the Joys of Polygamy

The "Big Love" star says she’s got the best job in town

By Margy Rochlin
Dress: Oscar de la Renta; earrings: Bochic
Photograph: Photo by: Andrew Macpherson

“There are so many facets to this particular prism,” Tripplehorn continues. “You would think going into it that it’s the ultimate male fantasy, but it’s really the ultimate male nightmare. [It tells men,] ‘You’d better watch what you ask for, because you’re going to get it . . . and get it, and get it.’ ”

Her Tulsa Touchstone
It was in an earlier male fantasy gone awry that Tripplehorn made her big-screen debut: 1992’s controversial Basic Instinct. Supporting Sharon Stone’s vixenish star turn, Tripplehorn commanded attention as the possibly unbalanced, bi-curious Dr. Beth Garner, who engages in rough sex with her detective patient (Michael Douglas). A year later, Tripplehorn established her reputation for a certain whirring, cerebral acting style as the wife of the in-too-deep lawyer played by Tom Cruise in The Firm. But her next big film, the futuristic Waterworld (starring Kevin Costner), became a prerelease laughingstock, not for its performances but for its ballooning budget. “In retrospect, I realize it made me reluctant about films,” Tripplehorn says today of the media scrutiny. “There were things that were so out of my control and a bit overwhelming.”

She dealt with her early bursts of fame and high drama by retreating to her hometown of Tulsa. “I remember
after Basic Instinct, I came home, and for like a month and a half, I mowed the lawn and just lived,” says the actress, who calls the city her touchstone. She owns coffee table books about Tulsa and vintage photos of the former oil boomtown, and she can talk for hours about the closeness of her friends and family there, the Art Deco and Mediterranean-influenced architecture, the laid-back vibe. “I have to be in Los Angeles right now, which is not really my ideal place to live,” says Tripplehorn, who appeases her hometown longings with occasional road trips. Last summer, she loaded up her iPod and she and an L.A. girlfriend flew to Tulsa, emptied a few storage units Tripplehorn had maintained for years and drove her belongings back to L.A. in a U-Haul. “My girlfriend, bless her heart, she was so game,” says Tripplehorn of the 20-hour-plus trek. “We had a blast!”

For all the sentiment that every building and intersection holds for Tripplehorn, Tulsa is also alive with memories of her beloved mother, who died suddenly of an aneurysm in 1992. The actress got the news while she was filming The Firm. “It was very difficult, and I don’t talk about it a lot,” says Tripplehorn, who, grief-stricken,
returned to the set for several more months of shooting. “I had to focus; I had to pull from reserves of concentration, and it was actually a godsend. I know it was scary for Sydney [Pollack, the late director], because I don’t think he knew how strong I was.”                  

From Deejaying to Juilliard
Tripplehorn’s parents divorced when she was a toddler. Her father, who still lives in Tulsa, was a guitarist with the pop group Gary Lewis and the Playboys and “a huge influence on me in choosing a creative path to earn a living,” she says. Her mother, an elementary school teacher, encouraged her only daughter (the actress has a half-brother, an Austin-based musician) to set her sights on a more practical occupation than the arts. “She wanted me to be an orthodontist,” Tripplehorn says. “Her rationale was, ‘You’ll make lots of money and make people look good! It’s the perfect job.’ But she was really supportive of my pursuing a creative life, expressing myself artistically.”

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