BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Occasionally acting can just be a job, says actress Jeanne Tripplehorn. But, for her, most of the time it's a calling.

Best known as the kinky lawyer in "Basic Instinct," sensible Wife No. 1 in "Big Love" and the waterlogged love interest in "Waterworld," Tripplehorn admits her passion for it waned slightly after she had her son, who's now 9.

"I lost the heart for acting because my heart was with my family and my son, so that was really, 'I don't know if I want to do this anymore.' But then they get older and you realize you have to flex that independent artist in yourself again, and I realize I'm fully whole because I have my son. I'm so lucky because as an actor I get to be a mother full time when I do it, and then I go off and work. Then I come back and get the balance. I get to be a working mom when I need to and I can be a full time mother, which I love."

That ennui soon passed, as she proves in Lifetime's "Five," premiering Oct. 10. The project is an anthology of five short films about breast cancer, directed by famous femmes such as Jennifer Aniston, Demi Moore and Penelope Spheeris. It stars a galaxy of luminary actors including Patricia Clarkson, Tony Shalhoub, Jennifer Morrison and Ginnifer Goodwin.

Tripplehorn is the thread that stitches all five parts together, as the one character touched by all their lives.

She admits she likes acting because it enables her to be somebody else. "I had a big imagination when I was a little girl, and I think it gets harder as you get older and it becomes a profession, and it's a job. I think the whole point of life is to enjoy what you do and not (have it) be work. I still feel that way. ... There are days when it is a job. You've got something going on at home and you're distracted and not into it. You don't feel like playing. It's like, 'I don't want to go outside and play.'

"But when I have a moment with another actor or group of actors and we, what I call 'lift' off the page, where we're so engrossed and inside what we're doing, it reminds me of when I was a little girl and would pretend and you'd get so deeply drawn into this alternate reality. And I still love the simplicity of that. It's harder. But it's like a hole-in-one. When it happens now, it reminds me why I do it."

The reason she does it is because she can't help herself, she says. "You have to want it more than life itself. Any artist -- whether it's an actor, a painter -- you have to want it more than life itself. You can't live a fully realized life unless you do it. Those are the ones that are going to survive because they're going to do it. They just have to."

She started out as a radio DJ and wet her feet in local theater. She even dropped out of one college, hoping to attend Juilliard. "I went to New York and I auditioned for Juilliard two weeks after I arrived in New York, and that kind of gave me the structure and framework. Right after I got out of Juilliard, I did a TV movie-of-the-week with Jason Robards and Campbell Scott then I got 'Basic Instinct,' and I was off to the races."

She supported herself mainly through student loans.

"In my third year at Juilliard in the summer I did a commercial for AT&T. That gave me a little money, but not much. So I tried to do commercials on my off-time. I worked at the Museum of Television and Radio during the summer, I was a cataloguer."