By  on April 11, 2006

She talks a mile a minute, has an admirer in Tom Hanks and can cry at the drop of a hat. Meet television’s newest desperate housewife.

Ginnifer Goodwin could be one of several young women bustling around the Hollywood Boulevard restaurant Memphis: 5-feet, 6-inches tall, long brown hair, slender legs tucked into black ballet flats. But upon further scrutiny, the voice like a silver bell, the glowing skin and the high, wide cheekbones are a dead giveaway she’s the actress among the laypeople.

“I mean, can you stand it? It’s utterly, absolutely, amazing. So exciting. I am just…I mean…so excited!” She’s enthusing, of course, over her new HBO series, Big Love, in which she plays Margene Henrickson, the youngest of polygamist Bill Paxton’s three wives. The other two are played by Chloë Sevigny and Jeanne Tripplehorn.

"My heart was not at first in television because I like to know the beginning, middle and end of my character’s journey,” she says over a plate of hummus and pita bread. “Knowing when it’s ending makes me feel safer diving in. But someone literally handed me this script and said, ‘It’s not TV, it’s HBO.’ Aside from the fact that Tom Hanks would be my boss [Hanks is an executive producer], I’m a great fan of Chloë Sevigny. And once I got past the shock that people live this lifestyle, I fell madly in love and wanted to be part of telling the story, however many years that entails.”

Clearly, the heavy roles aren’t something from which Goodwin, 27, shies away, literally or figuratively. In Big Love, whose pilot was shot two years ago, Goodwin packed on pounds to play a postpartum Margene. It was a long road to the deserts of Utah and California where the show is filmed. Goodwin underwent a three-month audition process, but in the end she nailed the part in one take.

Hanks, who calls Goodwin “Ginny,” says: “Well, she is pretty incredible. As soon as we saw her we knew she had it.”While Tripplehorn plays Paxton’s self-controlled first wife and Sevigny plays the manipulative, spoiled second one, Goodwin takes on the emotional role of the struggling, insecure newest wife and mother. “I really like playing women who are acutely aware of their insecurities. I am more aware in today’s Us Weekly culture of my own insecurities than I ever was before. It’s so dangerously irresponsible, the examples that most of our celebrities are putting out there, and a lot of the weeklies encourage that mind-set,” she says.

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