Meet Jeanne Tripplehorn, the ultimate actor’s actor

Meet Jeanne Tripplehorn, the ultimate actor’s actor | Soho House

The star of ‘The Terminal List’ on entering the ‘fun’ phase of her career and why she’s embracing everything the future has in store

Tuesday 9 August 2022   By Kimberly Truong   Photography by Ryan Pfluger, shot at Soho Warehouse   Styling by Marc Era   Hair and Makeup by Stephen Sollitto   Hair by Marcus Francis 

When Jeanne Tripplehorn was a girl growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, she was taken to see a screening of the classic film The Women, starring Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell. Her grandmother, who she often stayed with, had a passion for the golden age of Hollywood, and the local library was running a series of film screenings. 
‘I remember she told me going in, “Now, everybody in this movie is a woman. There’s not one man in this movie.” And I thought that was just the most amazing thing,’ the 59-year-old actress says during a recent phone call. ‘At the very beginning, these two women are walking into the beauty salon and their dogs get into a fight. And I remember leaning over to [my grandmother] and asking, “Are the dogs both girls too?”’
It’s an anecdote that elegantly foreshadows the arc of Tripplehorn’s career. After studying in Juilliard’s drama division, she booked a role in TV movie The Perfect Tribute before her breakout role in 1992’s Basic Instinct. Since then, she’s become a female force to be reckoned with on the testosterone-soaked landscape of Hollywood. For cinemagoers, there was The Firm, Waterworld, Sliding Doors, and Mickey Blue Eyes. For prestige and network TV fans, there was Big Love and a stint on Criminal Minds. And with the rise of streaming, Tripplehorn has established strong footholds in three of the biggest platforms of the industry with Hulu/FX’s Mrs. America, HBO Max’s The Gilded Age, and most recently, Amazon Prime Video’s The Terminal List.
Watching Tripplehorn in action, it’s clear that she’s an actor’s actor. She commands the screen in a way that only a pro can. For The Terminal List, Tripplehorn stepped into the figurative and literal pantsuits of her character Lorraine Hartley, a Secretary of Defense, by studying real-life women in politics from military backgrounds. 

Meet Jeanne Tripplehorn, the ultimate actor’s actor | Soho House

‘To know the world that I’m in only makes it that much richer and it also gives one confidence, because you could take away my words and I’ll still be able to live in that world,’ she says. ‘You have to have it in your head, too – it helps when you have incredible set design, you get the costumes on, and a wig, and that starts to help put things together – but the initial reading and exploring the world that your piece takes place in is everything for me.’
Even before she decided to pursue a career on the stage, Tripplehorn knew she had a creative soul. She started as a radio DJ out of high school for the local Tulsa rock station KMOD (with the radio name Jeannie Summers), and the actor whose father, Tom, was a guitarist with Gary Lewis & the Playboys, says music has remained one of her strongest influences.
These days, Tripplehorn spends her days off dabbling in the piano, guitar and ukulele, modestly calling her skills ‘spotty’. Whether that’s true or not, music is a form of stress relief for the actor, though she says one of her current dreams is to play a role where she’d have to learn to play an instrument at a professional level – especially given that she’s currently in, what she’s calling, the ‘fun’ phase of her career.
‘I’ve been doing this for so long, and I feel like I’ve had different phases of being an actor,’ she reflects. ‘When I was really little, it was fun – it was pretend, I was with my friends, we would just have these worlds and scenarios. And then I went to Juilliard and I studied it, and there’s a technique. And then after that, I was married and I had a child, so I was a working actor.’
‘I’m not saying that I don’t have to work now because obviously I still do, but I’m now able to be a little choosier in what I want – and what I want is, I don’t want to act because I have to, I want to act because of a particular director or a script that inspires me to play as an actor, and to get back to why I loved it in the first place,’ she says. ‘Play is just more of a metaphor for freedom, I think. I just want to fly a little bit more than I have, because I’ve been a bit grounded.’ 

With her son now off to college and a little more time on her hands, Tripplehorn says she’d love to get back to doing theatre. ‘Especially now that the COVID curtain has lifted a little bit and we’re back to business, and also where I’m at age wise, there’s never been a better time.’ 

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