Born on April 29 1970, Uma Thurman was raised in an offbeat,
bohemian household by intellectual parents. Her Swedish-born
mother, Nena, was a psychotherapist who was briefly married
to psychedelic guru Timothy Leary-that's about as offbeat
as a person can get-before marrying one of his prized students,
Robert A.F. Thurman. Uma's father has the distinction of being
the first American's to be ordained a Tibetan Buddhist monk
(he has long since renounced his monastic life and is currently
head of the religion department at Columbia University). Steeped
in Buddhist faith and encouraged to be free thinkers, Uma
and her three brothers, Dechen, Ganden, and Mipam (all four
children were named for Hindu deities; "Uma" translates
into "bestower of blessings"), developed a multicultural
worldview, to say the least. The family lived for extended
periods in India (while the children were in grade school),
Amherst, Massachusetts, and Woodstock, New York. Even Stateside,
the Thurman household had an international feel, as her father
hosted monks from around the globe, and entertained his personal
friend, the Dalai Lama, when he visited America.
Uma's unconventional upbringing didn't exactly make fitting
in with her peers easy; she has described herself as a gangly
and awkward child who was mercilessly teased for her peculiar
name (which she made a habit of changing regularly to more
commonplace names like Kelly and Linda in an attempt to be
accepted) and for being ugly and weird. Like most teenagers
Uma went through a rebellious stage, but in her family being
weird wouldn't make an impact, so she rebelled through joining
in all-American pursuits like cheerleading. "My parents
were Anti-Americana. They were so different I thought I had
to work hard towards assimilating." Never a particularly
happy child ("I was always very angry") Uma became
increasingly drawn toward acting after receiving her first
smattering of applause as a ghost in an elementary school
At fifteen, she was spotted by two New York talent scouts
in a production of "The Crucible" and they offered
her a chance to audition in New York. Being at this time completely
bored with school, she took the opportunity presented to her,
left school, and moved to New York city to become an actress.
"Uma always seemed to know what she wanted to do from
the day she was born, practically," says mother Nena.
"Her sense of destiny was very much in place. She took
acting classes and was in lots of plays. I tried to keep her
back as long as I could, but when she started to show signs
of the family restlessness, I really didn't feel I could say
no, because I had done the same thing myself."
Touching down in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen Uma supported
herself by washing dishes and by modeling, as her mother had
done years before when she was fresh off the boat from Sweden.
"I found it a very uninteresting way to spend time,"
she says. "Modeling is basically 'Buy more stuff! Don't
you want some more stuff? It will make you look ten years
younger and men will like you!'" Luckily, she didn't
have to work at it long: at sixteen, she landed her first
leading assignment-as a young vamp who seduces men to rob
them-in the low-budget thriller Kiss Daddy Goodnight (1987).
Inglorious as this debut may have been, Uma managed to garner
the only favorable notice granted the inconsequential film.
She slogged her way through her next project, the teen comedy
Johnny Be Good (1988), and was subsequently rewarded with
a more high profile role as the goddess Venus in Terry Gilliam's
spectacular The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988). During
this period she began to develop a reputation for playing
erotically charged roles. At seventeen, she performed as a
convent-sheltered naïf seduced out of her corset by John
Malkovich's reptilian Vicomte de Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons
(1988). Uma's performance was praised by critics, but the
public took more notice of her nubile beauty. The young actress's
fame was sealed with an appearance on the cover of Rolling
Stone Magazines "HOT" issue the next year.
Uma was however growing increasingly perturbed with the sex-symbol
image the media was trying to paint for her. "I was amazed
that showing my body would have such an overwhelming affect
on the media," she says. "It was shocking to be
put up as some kind of hot thing. It stunned me." She
rejected a flood of offers for work and fled to England to
lay low, she didn't want to be the next "sexual flavor
of the month". But whether she liked the way it had happened
or not, Uma Thurman had now arrived.
It didn't take long for Uma to start working again. She returned
to the US to star in John Boorman's Where the Heart Is (1990),
but the comedy-drama barely made a ripple at the box-office
or with critics. It was her next film, the art-house Henry
and June (1990), that was to cause yet another stir. Given
a rich role Uma didn't hold back one bit. Her stunning performance
was heralded by critics and set her up as a major acting talent,
much more than just another pretty face. This success was
followed by an appearance as Maid Marian in John Irvin's US
funded - but very British in tone - version of Robin Hood
(1991). The films release was unfortunetly poorly timed and
subsequently buried by the hype surrounding Kevin Costner's
bigger budgeted but very inferior version of the legend released
in the same year.
It was during this time that Uma was swept off her feet by
the gifted British actor Gary Oldman, by all acounts a very
charming and likeable man, who was also reknowned for his
hard partying ways. They married in September of 1990, but
the rocky relationship didn't last long and they split the
following year amid rumors of his excessive drinking. "He
was my first love," she remembers. "I had no prior
experience. It was a crazy love affair that ended."
Uma's acting continued though and in 1992 she starred in
more traditional Hollywood fair than she was used to, with
Richard Gere and Kim Bassinger in Final Analysis (1992), and
with Andy Garcia and John Malkovich in Jennifer 8 (1992).
Both films were fairly average efforts and performed with
little success at the box-office, but Uma's strong performance's
continued to increase her reputation as one of the best young
actresses around. Uma was at this time working hard to build
a career for herself and jumped at the opportunity to star
opposite Robert De Niro in the quirky Mad Dog and Glory (1993).
The low-key comedy-drama was greeted enthusiastically by critics,
but again box-office success was to elude Uma. This was a
trait that would continue to typify Uma's movies.
At age 22 Uma reached a cross roads in her career. Jaded
by the trials of the film industry and recovering from personal
problems she decided to take a break from acting, seriously
considering quitting completely and going to college. "I'd
taken on a lot of high-stress roles, and that exacted a toll,"
she says of the time. "I started very young, and I've
always been independent and tried to do everything myself.
I was naive in my own way. I didn't get it--I was taking on
too much all the time. I reached a point where I realized
all that and it was difficult."
It seemed however that the acting bug was firmly cemented
inside her and a refreshed Uma was enticed back to star in
Gus Van Sants Even Cowgirls get the Blues (1994). The exceedingly
offbeat movie was panned by dumbfounded critics, and was hardly
the successful return Uma was looking for. "It was one
of those things that was really ambitious, an unpaved area,
one of those kind of chances that I take," she says of
doing the movie. But Uma's career was to take a huge boost
when young upstart director Quentin Tarantino convinced her
to play Mia Wallace in his crime classic Pulp Fiction (1994).
Pulp Fiction was a commercial and critical hit. It remains
one of the best films of the decade, and totally rejuvenated
Uma's career (not to mention John Travolta's and Bruce Willis's).
Unlike her costars who cashed in on the success of Pulp Fiction
with Hollywood blockbusters, Uma by her self admitted "contrary"
nature, chose to follow up "Pulp" with two very
modest projects. A Month by the Lake (1995) was a leisurely
period drama in which Uma played a supporting role to Vanessa
Redgrave. The Truth about Cats and Dogs (1996) was a popular
romantic-comedy in which Uma teamed up with comedienne Janeane
Garafalo, and proved her comic talents.
During this time Uma was preparing to play Marlene Dietrich
in Louis Malle's biopic of the legendary star. However the
untimely and tragic death of Malle scuttled plans for this
and Uma declared that she didn't want to make the movie with
anyone else. This left a temporary void in her career plan,
which she filled with an appearance in the Independent fav,
Beautiful Girls (1996). She next landed the highly sought
after role of villainess Poison Ivy in Batman and Robin (1997).
Her amusingly devilish, sexy and downright weird performance
in the film is generally considered to be the clear highlight
of the sequel. She managed to garner critical acclaim in an
otherwise critically mauled film. It was the second film that
Uma had been in that grossed over $200 million worldwide (along
with Pulp Fiction).
Next up for Uma was Gattaca (1997) in which she starred with
her future husband Ethan Hawke. Gattaca was a rare kind of
sci-fi film that favored story and characters over special
effects, and it received a lot of praise from those who saw
it. The following year Uma returned to her period drama roots
to star opposite Liam Neeson in the big screen adaptation
of Les Miserables (1998). Her touching performance as the
tragic Fantine garnered her some of the best critical reviews
of her career. Despite both Gattaca and Les Miserables wining
positive reviews, they resumed the trend of disappointing
box-office performances for Uma's films. But the real disppointment
came after her appearance as Emma Peel in the misguided remake
of sixties spy show The Avengers (1998). The big-budget film
was initially billed as a blockbuster, but no one seemed to
tell the filmmakers this, they produced a movie far too offbeat
for mainstream audiences and it bombed.
Not that Uma could be seen to give a damn though. The relationship
she had commenced with Ethan Hawke in 1996 was sealed with
marriage in May 1998 and the pair welcomed a daughter, Maya,
in July of that year. A delighted Uma declared herself as
happy as she had ever been and that her career was no longer
a prime concern. But after the year she took off with her
pregnancy, Uma has shown renewed vigor in her acting. In early
1999 she gave an acclaimed performance opposite Roger Rees
in a New York stage production of The Misanthrope (1999).
She followed that up at the end of the year with an appearance
in the Woody Allen film Sweet and Lowdown (1999).
There were two releases for Uma in the year 2000. The Roland
Joffe directed historical drama Vatel (2000) won the coveted
opening spot at the Cannes Film Festival but only received
a limited release in the United States. Following that Uma
gave a highly acclaimed performance in James Ivory's drama
The Golden Bowl (2000). After problems with initial distributer
Miramax the film finally received release in the United States
in April 2001 by Lions Gate Films. Also to be released by
Lions Gate in 2001 are the low-budget indie's Chelsea Walls
(2001) and Tape (2001). In June Uma completed the filming
for her first movie as producer, Hysterical Blindness (2002),
which will be released next year.
Uma's career though is again to take a back seat to family
for a while as she is now pregnant with her second child.
The baby is due in January 2002. Because of this filming for
Kill Bill, Uma's long planned reunion project with Pulp Fiction
director Quentin Tarantino, has been put off until mid-2002.
Uma also has several other promising sounding projects in
the works - if she can ever find the time to do them.
Since the success of Pulp Fiction, it would be fair to say
that Uma has failed to capitalise on her potential. In her
own words she has moved "from side to side", continuing
to take varying character roles, but having the really meaty
lead roles ellude her thus far. As she enters her thirties
however - undoubtedly an actresses prime - it looks as though
Uma is ready to take the step up. With an expressed intention
to be more choosy about the work she does, beginning with
lead roles in films by such diverse directors as James Ivory
and Quentin Tarantino, the next decade in Uma Thurman's career
is shaping up to be even more interesting and successful than
the previous one.
"My ambitions have been raised as I have less to lose.
I feel I could do anything and if people don't like it, then
I'll go on to try something else. You see your friends go
up and down the ladder, but it's such a temporal way to look
at things. If you're a slave to the fame game then it's a
really ugly universe. That's not my mission - and I feel fantastic."