Occupation: Actress, Model
Date of Birth: April 29, 1970
Place of Birth: Boston, Mass., USA
Sign: Sun in Taurus, Moon in Aquarius
Relations: Husband: Ethan Hawke; ex-husband: Gary Oldman; daughter: Maya Ray Thurman-Hawke
Education: High school
UMA THURMAN HAS a body of Venus and a brain of a genius. At least that’s what most of her co-stars have to say about her. Those who have had a pleasure of an interview have never failed to compare her to screen legends like Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, and Lauren Bacall. Like those sirens of Hollywood's Golden Era, Thurman projects a Sphinx-like allure: it's not so much that she's beautiful (though she is) or that she's talented (though she is), but she shares with them a magnetic aura of self-possession, sophistication, and intelligence.
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 AF Thurman. Uma's father has the distinction of being the first American to be ordained a Tibetan Buddhist monk (he has long since renounced his monastic life and is currently chairman 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.
Thurman'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. Though she tried to join in all-American pursuits like cheerleading (her mother got the vapors over that one), Thurman became increasingly drawn toward acting after receiving her first smattering of applause as a ghost in an elementary school play.
At fifteen, she began to evidence signs of what her mother diagnoses as "the family restlessness" and left school to move to New York City and become an actress. Touching down in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen, Thurman supported herself by washing dishes and by modeling, as her mother had done years before when she was fresh off the boat from Sweden. Thurman loathed her cover-girl aping, and, 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 Good Night (1987). Inglorious as this debut may have been, Thurman managed to garner the only favorable notice granted the utterly forgettable film. She slogged her way through her next project, Johnny Be Good (1988), but was subsequently rewarded with a more respectable role as the goddess Venus in Terry Gilliam's spectacle The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. During this period, she began to develop a reputation for playing erotically charged roles. At eighteen, she performed as a convent-sheltered nanf seduced out of her corset by John Malkovich’s reptilian Vicomte de Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons. Aghast at the media frenzy ignited by her bodice-ripping performance, Thurman fled to England and rejected a flood of offers. She didn't want to be the next sexual flavor of the month.
It wasn't long before the fair damsel was coaxed back into Hollywood's clutches. And some of her subsequent roles only extrapolated her relatively modest schoolgirl-turned-wench cover-rumpling in Dangerous Liaisons: in 1990's Henry & June, Thurman, as novelist Henry Miller's bisexual, Brooklynite wife, June, pulsated as the mutual carnal interest of both Miller and French writer Anans Nin, both of whom not only acted out their obsession for her physically, but, between them, feverishly penned thousands of torrid pages about their encounters with her. The film became something of a cause for its strong (bi)sexual content, which nearly resulted in the film receiving an X rating (it was finally released with an NC-17 rating).
Thurman counterbalanced her steamy, uninhibited performance as June with roles in thoroughly innocuous mainstream fare like Final Analysis, Jennifer 8, and Mad Dog and Glory, films in which, more than anything, she decorated the scene with her eccentric beauty. In 1994, Thurman went back off the beaten track when she agreed to appear in Pulp Fiction. (Her initial reservations about the ultra violent content were overcome by meeting Quentin Tarantino and being encouraged by his "painterly" vision of underworld brutality.) For her performance as the heroin-sniffing moll-with-it-all, Thurman snagged her first Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actress. Her hit-and-miss parade continued with a string of performances in Generation X-ish comedies like Beautiful Girls and The Truth About Cats and Dogs, and in a period comedy, A Month by the Lake. In 1998, Thurman joined Liam Neeson, Claire Danes and Geoffrey Rush in a film adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les MisTrables, and teamed up with Ralph Fiennes to outwit villain Sean Connery in the big-screen version of the '60s cult TV classic The Avengers. The following year, a radiant Thurman co-starred alongside a full-tilt Sean Penn in Woody Allen’s valentine to '30s-era jazz musicians, Sweet and Lowdown.
Despite her attempts to guard her privacy, Thurman's love life has been a subject of prime public interest ever since Dangerous Liaisons. She wed actor Gary Oldman in September 1990, but they split the following year amid rumors of his excessive drinking. The couple divorced in 1992. Following a set romance with her Beautiful Girls co-star, Timothy Hutton, in 1995, Thurman commenced a relationship with Ethan Hawke during filming of the 1997 futuristic thriller Gattaca; the couple married in May 1998 and welcomed a daughter, Maya Ray, in July.
1999 Sweet and Lowdown
1998 The Avengers
1998 Les Miserables
1997 Batman & Robin
1996 Beautiful Girls
1996 The Truth About Cats and Dogs
1995 A Month by the Lake
1994 Pulp Fiction
1994 Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
1993 Mad Dog and Glory
1992 Jennifer 8
1990 Where the Heart Is
1990 Henry and June
1988 The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
1988 Johnny Be Good
1988 Dangerous Liasons
1987 Kiss Daddy Goodnight
1991 Robin Hood
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)