Fall TV Preview

Jeanne Tripplehorn: 'Female Energy' on the Criminal Minds Set Offsets Dark Subject Matter

You could say that Jeanne Tripplehorn is feeling Big Love for her new TV role, on CBS’ Criminal Minds — this despite the at-times grisly subject matter at the heart of a series about serial killers and those who track them.

Making her debut in the Season 8 premiere (airing tonight at 9/8c), Tripplehorn plays Agent Alex Blake, a forensics linguist expert who, when the action picks up, has already been with the BAU for several weeks. She’s got Hotch’s vote, knew Reid before boarding the team and enjoys a difficult past with Strauss. Now there’s just the matter of winning over Garcia, who was away in London all this time, helping Prentiss get settled into her new life.

TVLine spoke with Tripplehorn about making the move from Juniper Creek to Criminal Minds‘ world of homicidal creeps, where women who kill with ice picks are almost quaint.

RELATED | Fall TV Preview: As a Tweaked Criminal Minds Team Hunts Killers, a Killer Will Hunt Them

TVLINE | What was your decision-making process after Big Love? What you were looking for, ideally?
Well, those are big long questions. Ideally what I would look for, that’s a question unto itself but… Anybody not like that character I played for five years, anybody but Barb-like women. Even though it was the greatest experience I’ve ever had, and while it was really sad to let go, I was looking for creatively something as opposite, as completely different as I could find. I like to call Criminal Minds “the right job at the right time” because my priorities are, first, my family and being local –and there’s hardly anything that films in Los Angeles, where I live and we raise our son. So the fact that this came along out of the blue was a Godsend because second on the list was to find something as radically different as I could from Barb. Alex Blake is the one-eighty opposite.

TVLINE | But as you said, you are a mom, and we saw what Mandy Patinkin recently said about Criminal Minds‘ dark subject matter [that a series that would “kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year” was “destructive to my soul”].  Did that give you any reservations?
No. My tipping point with this show was meeting with [showrunner] Erica Messer, who is an amazing woman, and [exec producer] Mark Gordon. At first when I looked at last season’s Criminal Minds, I was a little concerned about the violence, but every reality, news program or crime show [has content that’s] just as bad, and they have entire channels devoted to them. I would also note that half of the people that work behind the scenes are women, including both [EP] Janine [Sherman Barrois] and Erica, who are running the ship. And the first episode was written by a woman [Messer]…. There’s a lot female energy on the set, and I don’t know if that helps to counteract the violence but it’s pretty equal opportunity in the violence department. We kind of cover it all — animals, humans, male, female. It’s all covered.

TVLINE | What do you like most about Alex? And what are her flaws?
I think her biggest flaw is that she is a workaholic devoted to her job, at a total expense of her personal life. She has a husband, and they’re both probably made for each other because they’re dedicated to their work first.

TVLINE | He’s off doing Doctors Without Borders, right?
Yes, so there’s a big huge Skype relationship. We’re filming [Episode] 7 right now and we have yet to meet the husband. That’s a big question mark, so he’s non-existent. She is all about her work, “career FBI.” I admire her intelligence and her drive and her wanting to do what’s right by the world. She is a team player. There’s a lot to like about Alex.

TVLINE | I heard she a bit of a past with Strauss.
We get right to that in the first episode. You find out that [Alex] was moving her way up the career ladder and [Strauss] just didn’t come to her aid when she should have. She’s a linguistics expert and during [the 2001] anthrax [scare], Alex was blamed for a failure that occurred and Strauss did not step in, when it wasn’t really Alex’s fault. Alex ended up falling down the ladder, so it’s taken her a good decade to get where she is.

RELATED | Matthew Gray Gubler Teases a ‘Uniquely Done’ Criminal Minds Love Story

TVLINE | What’s another interesting interpersonal dynamic that Alex has with somebody?
She and Matthew Gray Gubler’s character, Reid, are very close friends. They knew each beforehand, in academia. He’s a little more on the nerdy side than she is but they are just two brains that really get along and they have a really beautiful friendship.

TVLINE | Have you by chance caught your sister-wife Ginnifer Goodwin on Once Upon a Time?
I saw the first four episodes, and she is living her dream. We love Disneyland, she loves Snow White…. I just saw her a week ago, and I’ve never seen her so happy. She’s having a great time and feels really great about the work. I love it. I knew the minute she got that job, that it was just heaven-sent!