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Uma Thurman

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 play.

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."

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