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'New Girl': Jeanne Tripplehorn on Ouli's Awkward Return, Finding Humor After 'Big Love'

The guest star tells THR about returning to television, her under-referenced comedy resume and her investment in the Fox series' unrealized romance.

New Girl Jeanne Tripplehorn - P 2012
FOX

Jeanne Tripplhorn's name doesn't immediately recall a comedic resume.

Best known playing unsatisfied polygamist matriarch Barb Henrickson over five seasons of HBO's Big Love, leading lady in dramas like The Firm and even Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the scripted adaptation of Grey Gardens, her career has hardly been punctuated by laughs.

But the 48-year-old actress, making her second appearance on Fox's New Girl this Tuesday, wants everyone to know that she really does love comedy.

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"I left Julliard and immediately started getting cast in dramas," she tells The Hollywood Reporter, "which was great, but comedy has always been where my heart is. In Hollywood, when they get you pegged, it's really hard to get out from under people's perceptions of you. And the flip side of all that is that good comedies are really, really hard to come by."

One such comedy for Tripplehorn is New Girl. She counts the freshman series among television shows she watches regularly and didn't hesitate to sign up for the two-episode arc as Ouli, the ex-wife of Jess' (Zooey Deschanel) current boyfriend Russell (Dermot Mulroney).

"When I got the call from Fox, I told [creator] Liz Meriwether that it was like I got an invitation to a really good party," she says.

That's not to say Tripplehorn yuks it up by herself. Ouli's humor comes in the palpably awkward situations she's able to create for Jess. "In something like this, it's more serving the comedy," she says. "The comedy in this is Zooey and her reaction to what's going on."

What's going on includes Jess running into Ouli at the gym, accidentally getting a naked hug from her in the steam room and inviting her out for one of the least appealing three-person dates conceivable.

"She's just completely inappropriate and open-minded," says Tripplehorn. "She really likes Jess, but she can't see what she's putting out there."

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And while she notes that the unresolved tension between her character and her ex-husband is likely one of the reasons why his relationship with Jess is doomed, as a fan of the show, she's not going to object. "I'm really invested in the Nick [Jake Johnson] and Jess storyline," she says. "I'm so happy they have another season, though clearly they're going to take that a ways. You just want to see if they're going to end up together or not."

In the '90s, after acting and writing on her own sketch comedy show in her native Tulsa, Tripplehorn enjoyed comedic turns on The Ben Stiller Show and David Cross and Bob Odenkirk's Mr. Show -- something she said added to her appreciation for the New Girl set.

"I think that's what gives the show it's great energy," she says, referring to the variety of takes the series often shoots. "It just flies off the screen at you. Now that I've worked on it, I know how much improv goes into it, what they're weaving into the show. I think it's one of the reasons people respond to it so much. It just crackles."

Tripplehorn, who's own five-year run with Big Love ended last year, says she's looking for another series -- possibly a comedy -- she just hasn't found anything yet.

"There's not a lot out there right now," she says, adding that nothing from the past pilot season really appealed to her. "It's hard after Big Love. The writing was so good. The experience was so rich and so deep and over such a long period of time, I hope that I will have an experience like that again, but it may take a while. It was as gratifying an experience as I've ever had."

In the meantime, Tripplehorn seems happy to return to New Girl, should the opportunity ever present itself: "It's always nice, when you're an actor, to be working on something you watch and want to be a part of."