Sept. 15--So the story goes something like this: Jeanne Tripplehorn started out hot in Tulsa, becoming the youngest rock music DJ in the country, then having not one but two local TV shows by the age of 20, all before hustling her way out of town as fast as possible, off to Hollywood and never to return.
Or something like that.
"That sometimes feels like the perception, like I'm the person that never comes back to Tulsa, when I come back often because I love it here," she said in a recent telephone interview, talking about coming home this week for a premiere of her new movie, "Morning," at Circle Cinema next weekend.
"I do admit that I like to stay under the radar," she said. "That's just me."
Tripplehorn came onto everyone's radar after she starred in a succession of 1990s film blockbusters -- "Basic Instinct," "The Firm," "Waterworld" -- but less known to Tulsans was that she maintained a residence in the city (an apartment at downtown's Sophian Plaza) until just about 10 years ago.
Her father, Tommy Tripplehorn -- the renowned rock-and-blues guitarist and a founding member of Gary Lewis & the Playboys -- still lives here, so of course she visits Tulsa.
"I was virtually raised" at Utica Square, she says with a chuckle, so of course she and her family visit Queenie's when in town.
When she married in 2000, it happened at Trinity Episcopal Church. When her former partner in the KMOD booth, Phil Stone, died last year, she called in to the station to offer condolences.
The longtime star of HBO's "Big Love" and now a regular on "Criminal Minds" is all over town when she returns, but people don't often fuss if they recognize her. Sometimes they don't even notice.
Like in July, when she and her husband, actor Leland Orser, and their 11-year-old son, August, all woke up early on Independence Day to run in the Fleet Feet Firecracker 5k along with more than a thousand others.
"It was my first 5k, and we all ran it, and August did very well -- he was third in his age group," Tripplehorn said. "Then later someone tells me they heard on the news that 'You were on the sidelines watching your son run,' and I was like 'What?' Come on, Tulsa, I was right there! That's not me on the sidelines."
'Tulsa just keeps getting better and better'
Tripplehorn has maintained the kind of connection with her hometown that led to her and her husband promising many of their friends that when their labor-of-love film "Morning" was ready for theaters, it would come to Tulsa first.
"I'm so happy that this worked out with Circle Cinema, because that theater is special," she said. "It's the kind of place where people can expand their horizons, and to find (an art-house) theater like this that is operating that way, like the (Williams Center) Forum when I was growing up in Tulsa, that is just one of the many exciting things going on in Tulsa."
She has friends and family here, but as she noted from her husband: "Leland said that what's great about Tulsa is making new friends and new experiences, and that when we come we're not only nostalgic about reliving the past, but in making new memories. We do that at the Woody Guthrie Center and the art crawl and Circle Cinema.
"Tulsa just keeps getting better and better, and we want our son to know Tulsa."
"Morning" features Tripplehorn in a remarkable performance opposite Orser, who wrote and directed the film, which co-stars Laura Linney and Elliott Gould.
The road to finishing "Morning" was a long one, as the couple discovered in the independent-filmmaking process, but their pride in the finished product leads her to believe this drama will not be their last such project.
"The dream for us, besides living there full-time, would be to make a film in Tulsa," she said. "We've talked about this, and I'd want us to write it."
'The best job that a teen could have'
When Tripplehorn was her son's age, she was already planning her career path -- as a veterinarian, even talking her way into helping out at a local facility.
Then there was performing with Theatre Tulsa and in American Theatre Company's "A Christmas Carol," but some of her earliest acting performances happened over the telephone.
"I remember being 12 or 13 and being bored with my friend and us calling up the DJs, pretending to be different characters so they didn't know it was the same person calling every time," Tripplehorn said, laughing.
"This one DJ figured it out and started putting my characters on the air, and then my mom helped me to intern there. It was just a matter of, if I wanted to do something, I would do it."
Or, as she told the newspaper in 1980, at age 17: "If someone tells you that you can't attain your goals, don't listen."
"I've thought about that a lot, (where that drive came from), and with my schedule and with school. ... I don't know if I would have ever succeeded without that drive," said Tripplehorn, now 50. "I left Tulsa because one door would open for me again and again. When I was young, I can say that (that determination) kept me busy and it kept me out of trouble."
"Now let me say, the best job that a teen could have is as a DJ at a rock music station," she said, before recounting some of the experiences available to a teen who by 18 was working the morning-drive schedule -- as Jeanne Summers -- for KMOD's "Breakfast Club Zoo."
Taking Tripplehorn on a bit of a trip down memory lane, the words "the greatest" come up often. Like her private limousine ride with the rock band Journey in 1980.
"That was the greatest," she said, adding that while working on a film later she spoke with Journey's then-lead singer, Steve Perry, "and I was telling him about my amazing night, and the road manager who gave me this extra limousine, and Steve said that is one of the greatest stories, and I said, 'It was because of you guys. You guys were the greatest.' "
Then came a little word-association with some of her other local accomplishments.
How about "Creature Feature" on KOKI in the early 1980s, a horror-film show with Tripplehorn portraying characters during commercial breaks like Mingo Valley Girl and gossip reporter Mona Garrett: "That was just immense creativity, working with Jim Millaway and Sherman Oaks, doing those skits we'd do -- I remember all those bugs (for the Miss Junebug contest skit). It was such an honor because (those guys) had that connection to 'Mazeppa,' and I was so young watching 'Mazeppa' on the couch. ... I felt really a part of a great TV tradition."
How about KTUL's "Night Shift" in that same era: "Incredible, and then being able to simulcast on KMOD on Saturday nights, and I remember the time my dad and his band played, and there we were working side by side. That was the greatest."
'Just blew me out of a cannon'
When Tripplehorn did leave Tulsa, she found work off-Broadway and on Broadway before being accepted into the Juilliard School's Drama Division along with fellow Tulsan Tim Blake Nelson as well as Laura Linney, her longtime friend who co-stars in "Morning."
She was still in school when she won the role of the slinky police psychologist in "Basic Instinct," which led to her being cast as Tom Cruise's wife in "The Firm," based on John Grisham's best-seller.
Other hits included "Sliding Doors" with Gwyneth Paltrow and "Mickey Blue Eyes" with Hugh Grant, all made in the 1990s, shortly before Tripplehorn met Orser and then became a mom.
"Those big films gave me a great base, which can help to get other films made, and I knew back then I'd usually play 'the woman' in these films" opposite the male star, she said.
"I always knew my best work was ahead of me, and that led me into 'Big Love' (five seasons on HBO as one of Bill Paxton's three wives), and as an actor from there I just ran to playing very complex women, very textured, and that has led to Leland's movie."
Her other acclaimed performances in recent years included an Emmy nomination for playing Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the HBO movie "Grey Gardens" and her work in "Five," the Lifetime movie anthology of short films about breast cancer's effect on people's lives.
These roles, and her character in "Morning" -- as a broken woman in the days following the burial of her young son after an accident -- offer a depth absent from most of her early films.
"All of those movies from the 1990s gave me something, and 'Basic Instinct' just blew me out of a cannon, and that was great," Tripplehorn said, "but the great thing about being an actor is that I plan on doing this for the rest of my life."
TULSA PREMIERE OF 'MORNING'
What: First showing of "Morning" includes reception with Tulsa actress Jeanne Tripplehorn and her husband and co-star, Leland Orser, and a screening of the film, with question-and-answer session to follow.
When: 5:30 p.m. Saturday for reception, 7 p.m. for screening of film and Q&A.
Where: Circle Cinema, 12 S. Lewis Ave.
Tickets: $50 for reception and screening; $25 for screening and Q&A only.
Information: www.tulsaworld.com/circle, 918-592-3456; film begins regular Circle Cinema run on Sept. 27.
Michael Smith 918-581-8479
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