Criminal Instincts

Hudson Morgan

Jeanne Tripplehorn on terrific timing, cast chemistry and terrorizing tween girls

Is there better proof of the circle of life than the fact that Jeanne Tripplehorn—who first steamed her way into movie theaters as a sexy police shrink in Basic Instinct—is returning to the world of chasing psychos? This fall, the Emmy-nominated actress gets her badge as a profiler on Criminal Minds, the popular FBI procedural entering its eighth season on CBS. A lot has happened in the 20 years between these two roles, both on-screen (she’s been in everything from The Firm to Sliding Doors to HBO’s multiwifer Big Love) and off (she married actor Leland Orser and had a son, now 10). The Juilliard-trained actress, 49, even flashed her funny bone earlier this year as Dermot Mulroney’s ex-wife on New Girl, so you can pretty much forget the old Hollywood triple threat: these days it’s called Tripple-horn.

Watch!: So what attracted you to Criminal Minds?

Jeanne Tripplehorn: Well, it kind of came out of nowhere!

Watch!: Jeanne Tripplehorn isn’t a crime procedural junkie?

Jeanne: I do not watch these shows! I have a hard enough time turning my mind off before I go to sleep, so shows like this just get me all wound up. I was not familiar with Criminal Minds, but I sat down with [executive producer] Erica Messer and [creator] Mark Gordon and just thought it was a great opportunity. It was an example of the right role at the right time.

Watch!: How so?

Jeanne: Right now, my main focus is my family and I don’t want to travel, and that narrows your field of work opportunities. I was also trying to find something that was very different from Barb, my character on Big Love. This character is very cerebral and the tone of the show is just a complete 180 from what I’ve been experiencing the last five or six years.

Watch!: What can you tell us about your character’s back story?

Jeanne: I’m still kind of learning about her, but she’s career FBI, one of the youngest people recruited, a real hotshot. She’s a Georgetown professor in forensic linguistics, she’s a loner, worked on the Unabomber case, very driven, no children.

Watch!: And most importantly, not a polygamist.

Jeanne: Not a polygamist! In fact, she’s probably the one taking them down.

Watch!: Have you learned the lingo yet?

Jeanne: Well, I watched the entire seventh season before I started just to get into the rhythm and the tone, and I learned what an UnSub was. We also can’t stop saying “wheels up” around our house.

Watch!: Has the cast hazed you at all?

Jeanne: No, in fact I got a little scared because we were just shooting a scene and between takes they were telling me about the pranks. It sounds like Shemar [Moore] is the one who gets punked quite a bit, so I’m going to try—sort of how I conduct my life—to stay really under the radar. In general it was a really smooth transition, the cast has welcomed me, and all we do is laugh.

Watch!: Humor in the horror.

Jeanne: That was actually one of the questions I asked in my initial meeting with Erica and Mark. I said, “I’m the kind of person who, the more intense it is on the set, or if there’s a sex scene, that’s when I actually laugh the most.” Erica said, “That’s all we do.” And I said, “You know what? I think I can work like this.”

Watch!: What made you decide to migrate from film to television in the first place?

Jeanne: My family. I have a child and I don’t want to travel and be away from him. I don’t know how other people in this business do it when they’re on film sets and they travel. In seven or eight years I’ll go back to that life, but right now [my family] is the No. 1 important thing.

Watch!: What kind of stuff do you guys all do together?

Jeanne: We like a good road trip. A couple years ago my son and I flew to Chicago because my husband was working and the two of us did Route 66 for two weeks from start to finish.

Watch!: Are you prepared to start intimidating his future girlfriends?

Jeanne: He’s a pretty special boy. I’m going to start now.

Watch!: When you do find yourself in airports, what do you usually get recognized for?

Jeanne: Big Love. Everyone loves Barb. There’s a lot of Firm, a lot of Waterworld, and sometimes men will admit that they love Basic Instinct and then they blush, and it tells me a lot about them!

Watch!: Do guys approach you about it in front of their wives?

Jeanne: No, they’ll let their wives walk on, or usually it’s a young guy who just doesn’t even get it, like, [switches to funny voice] “I loved you in Basic Instinct!” You know, shout it from the rooftops.

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