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

At 14, Tripplehorn made a series of prank phone calls with a friend to a late-night disc jockey at KAKC, playing various characters, and was invited to the station to learn the technical aspects of radio. Many Saturday morning training sessions later, she had morphed into Jeannie Summers, as she called herself, at station KMOD. “I was 16, the youngest female deejay in America,” she says of that part-time gig. After high school graduation, Tripplehorn became a full-on local celebrity, hosting a morning radio show, appearing on TV and acting in plays with Tulsa’s American Theater Company. “I’m surprised I never got fired because I’d oversleep,” she says. “There was one point when I was 18 or 19 where I was literally working 17-hour days.”

Over the years, she also submitted comedy sketches to the folks at Saturday Night Live and in 1985 got a personal rejection note from Al Franken and Tom Davis, saying, “We have no doubt made some terrible mistakes, and perhaps hired some deadbeats less able than you. Forgive us.” For Tripplehorn, it was like “I’d called out in the dark and a voice responded back. They were funny and warm about it.”

It dawned on her that what she needed was a bigger challenge. “I just outgrew [the Tulsa entertainment scene],” says Tripplehorn, who moved to New York and was accepted into Juilliard’s four-year program (her classmates included Laura Linney). “I wanted to be a legitimate actor.”

She’d barely received her diploma when she beat out Marcia Gay Harden for the lead in the Public Theater’s production of John Patrick Shanley’s The Big Funk, a role that required full frontal nudity as well as a nightly smearing with great blobs of lubricant. “She was spectacular, brand new and had such a great presence,” says Shanley today, recalling how on opening night his Hollywood friends (he’d recently won an Oscar for writing Moonstruck) showed up and took note of the lush-lipped, brown-haired unknown. “At the party,” Shanley adds, “Don Henley got all moony-eyed over her.” Another big fan? Danny DeVito. According to Shanley, when he mentioned to DeVito that Tripplehorn was up for Basic Instinct, the actor asked if his pal Michael Douglas had seen the play yet. “I said, ‘Yeah, he has.’ And [imitating DeVito’s conspiratorial chuckle] he said, ‘I think she’s going to get the part!’”  

"Maybe in My Eighties I’ll Do Botox"
It’s 19 years later, and Tripplehorn isn’t an ingénue anymore. But she’s still her mother’s unspoiled Tulsa girl, padding around her house, sans foundation, mascara or lipstick. “I hear her voice every day,” the actress says of her mom. “She’d always say, ‘You look so much better without makeup. You’re just so beautiful the way you are.’ She made me feel very confident.” So far, Tripplehorn has resisted plastic surgery. “Maybe in my eighties, I’ll do Botox,” she says, adding that lately she’s been thinking that enhanced body parts seem like relics from another time. “I can’t pass judgment, but aren’t fake breasts already looking really 1995?”

Instead, she concentrates on keeping things together with a healthy diet and lots of exercise: “I get bored, so I mix it up, do whatever I can to get the blood going—yoga, boot camp, Pilates.” Her motivation stems as much from basic pragmatism as from vanity. “I got married later in life,” says the actress, who had a long on-and-off relationship with actor Ben Stiller. “I had a child later in life. I want more years.”

Love at Second Sight
Back in 2000, just before getting together with her husband, Leland Orser, Tripplehorn had almost given up on finding Mr. Right. “I was at the point that maybe it wasn’t supposed to be, and that I was going to be a single mom,” she says. “I was 37, unmarried, and I was OK with it. Then this came out of nowhere.”

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