Uma Karuna Thurman (born April 29,
1970) is an American actress. She has performed in leading roles in a
variety of films, ranging from romantic comedies and dramas to science
fiction and action thrillers. She is best known for her work under the
direction of Quentin Tarantino. Her most popular films include Dangerous
Liaisons (1988), Pulp Fiction (1994), Gattaca (1997) and Kill Bill
Thurman's mother, Nena Birgitte Caroline von Schlebrügge, was a fashion
model born in Mexico City, Mexico in 1941, to German-born Friedrich Karl
Johannes von Schlebrügge, and Swedish-born Birgit Holmquist, from
Trelleborg. In 1930, Birgit Holmquist, Thurman's grandmother, modeled for
a nude statue that stands overlooking the harbor of Smygehuk. Thurman's
father, Robert Alexander Farrar Thurman (b. 3 Aug 1941), was born in New
York City to Elizabeth Dean Farrar, a stage actress, and Beverly Reid
Thurman, Jr., an Associated Press editor and U.N. translator. Thurman's
mother was introduced to LSD guru Timothy Leary by Salvador Dalí and
became Leary's third wife in 1964; she later wed Thurman's father in 1967.
Thurman's father, Robert, a scholar and professor at Columbia University
of Tibetan Buddhist studies, was the first westerner to be ordained as a
Tibetan Buddhist monk. He gave his children a Buddhist upbringing: Uma is
named after an Dbuma Chenpo (in Tibetan, the "db" is silent; from
Mahamadhyamaka in Sanskrit, meaning "Great Middle Way"). She has three
brothers, Ganden (b. 1971), Dechen (b. 1973) and Mipam (b. 1978), and a
half-sister named Taya (b. 1960) from her father's previous marriage. She
and her siblings spent time in Almora, India, during childhood, and the
Dalai Lama sometimes visited their home.
Thurman grew up mostly in Amherst, Massachusetts and Woodstock, New York.
She is described as having been an awkward and introverted girl who was
teased for her tall frame, angular bone structure, and unusual name
(sometimes using the name “Uma Karen” instead of her birth name). When she
was 10 years old, a friend's mother suggested a nose job.
As a child, she suffered bouts of body dysmorphic disorder, which she
discussed in an interview with Talk magazine in 2001.
Thurman attended Northfield Mount Hermon, a college preparatory boarding
school in Northfield, Massachusetts, where she earned average grades, but
excelled in acting. Talent scouts noticed her performance as Abigail in a
production of The Crucible, and offered her the chance to act
professionally. Thurman moved to New York City to pursue acting and to
attend the Professional Children's School, but she dropped out before
Thurman began her career as a fashion model at age 15. She signed with the
agency Click Models. Her modeling credits included Glamour Magazine. In
1989, she appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine's annual Hot
Thurman made her movie debut in 1988, appearing in four films that year.
Her first two were the high school comedy Johnny Be Good and the teen
thriller Kiss Daddy Goodnight. Thurman appeared in The Adventures of Baron
Munchausen, playing the goddess Venus alongside Oliver Reed’s Vulcan.
During her entrance Thurman briefly appears nude in a homage to
Botticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus. With a budget of $46 million and
box office receipts of only $8 million, the film was a commercial failure.
Her breakthrough came in her role as Cecile de Volanges in Dangerous
Liaisons. Actresses Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeiffer earned Oscar
nominations for their performances. At the time, she was insecure about
her appearance, and fled to London for almost a year, during which she
wore only loose, baggy clothing.
Soon after the release of Dangerous Liaisons, the media were eager to
profile Thurman. She was praised by her co-star John Malkovich, who said
of her, “There is nothing twitchy teenager-ish about her, I haven’t met
anyone like her at that age. Her intelligence and poise stand out. But
there’s something else. She’s more than a little haunted.”
In 1990, Thurman co-starred with Fred Ward in the sexually provocative
drama Henry & June, the first film to receive an NC-17 rating. Because of
the rating, it never played in a wide release but critics embraced her;
The New York Times wrote, “Thurman, as the Brooklyn-accented June, takes a
larger-than-life character and makes her even bigger, though the
performance is often as curious as it is commanding”.
Thurman’s first starring role in a major production was Gus Van Sant's
1993 adaptation of Tom Robbins' Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. It was a
critical and financial disappointment; Thurman was nominated for a Worst
Actress Razzie. The Washington Post described her acting as shallow,
writing that, “Thurman’s strangely passive characterization doesn’t go
much deeper than drawling and flexing her prosthetic thumbs”. Thurman also
starred opposite Robert De Niro in the drama Mad Dog and Glory, another
box office disappointment. Later that year, she auditioned for Stanley
Kubrick while he was casting a movie to be called Wartime Lies, which was
never produced. Her agent said she described working with him as a “really
After Mad Dog and Glory, Thurman auditioned for Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp
Fiction, which grossed over $107 million on a budget of only $8 million
USD. The Washington Post wrote that Thurman was “serenely unrecognizable
in a black wig, is marvelous as a zoned-out gangster’s girlfriend”.
Thurman was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar the following
year. Entertainment Weekly claimed that, “of the five women nominated in
the Best Supporting Actress category this year, only Thurman can claim
that her performance gave the audience fits”. Thurman also became one of
Tarantino’s favorite actresses to cast, stating in a 2003 issue of Time:
“Thurman’s up there with Garbo and Dietrich in goddess territory”.
She starred opposite Janeane Garofalo in the moderately successful 1996
romantic comedy The Truth About Cats & Dogs as a ditzy blonde supermodel.
In 1997, she starred opposite her future husband Ethan Hawke in the
dystopian science fiction film Gattaca. Although Gattaca was not a success
at the box office, it drew many positive reviews and became successful on
the home video market, some critics were not as impressed with Thurman,
such as the Los Angeles Times which stated she was “as emotionally
uninvolved as ever”. Her next role was Poison Ivy in Batman & Robin, the
fourth film of the popular franchise. Batman & Robin became one of the
largest critical flops in history, though it did garner nearly $100
million over its production budget in box office receipts making it a
financial success. Thurman’s performance in the campy film received mixed
reviews, and critics compared her with actress Mae West. The New York
Times wrote, “like Mae West, she mixes true femininity with the winking
womanliness of a drag queen”. A similar comparison was made by the Houston
Chronicle: “Thurman, to arrive at a ’40s femme fatale, sometimes seems to
be doing Mae West by way of Jessica Rabbit”. The next year brought The
Avengers, another major financial and critical flop. CNN described Thurman
as, “so distanced you feel like you’re watching her through the wrong end
of a telescope”. She received Razzie Award nominations for both films. She
closed out 1998 with Les Misérables, a film version of Victor Hugo’s novel
of the same name, directed by Bille August, in which she played Fantine.
After the birth of her first baby in 1998, Thurman took a rest from major
roles to concentrate on motherhood. Her next roles were in low-budget and
television films, including Tape, Vatel, and Hysterical Blindness. She
also starred in Chelsea Walls, a movie directed by then-husband Ethan
Hawke. In 2000, she narrated a theatrical work by composer John Moran
entitled Book of the Dead (2nd Avenue) at The Public Theater. She won a
Golden Globe award for Hysterical Blindness, a film for which she also
served as executive producer. In the film, she played a New Jersey woman
in the 1980s searching for romance. The San Francisco Chronicle review
wrote, “Thurman so commits herself to the role, eyes blazing and body
akimbo, that you start to believe that such a creature could exist — an
exquisite-looking woman so spastic and needy that she repulses regular
Joes. Thurman has bent the role to her will”.
After a five-year hiatus, Thurman returned in 2003 in John Woo's film
Paycheck, which was only moderately successful with critics and at the box
Her next film was Tarantino's Kill Bill, which relaunched her career. In
Kill Bill she played assassin Beatrix Kiddo, out for revenge against her
former lover. Tarantino wrote the part specifically for her. He also cited
Thurman as his muse while writing the film, and also gave her joint credit
for the character, whom the two conceived on the set of Pulp Fiction from
the sole image of a bride covered in blood.
Production was delayed for several months after Thurman became pregnant,
as Tarantino refused to recast the part. The film took nine months to
shoot, and was filmed in five different countries. The role was also her
most demanding , and she spent three months training in martial arts,
swordsmanship, and Japanese. The two-part action epic became an instant
cult classic and scored highly with critics. The film series earned
Thurman Golden Globe nominations for both entries, and three MTV Movie
Awards for Best Female Performance and twice for Best Fight. Rolling Stone
likened Thurman to “an avenging angel out of a 1940s Hollywood melodrama”.
The inspirations for “The Bride” were several B-movie action heroines.
Thurman's main inspiration for the role was the title character of Coffy
(played by Pam Grier) and the character of Gloria Swenson from Gloria
(played by Gena Rowlands). She said that the two characters are “two of
the only women I've ever seen be truly women holding a weapon”. Coffy was
screened for Thurman by Tarantino prior to beginning production on the
film, to help her model the character.
By 2005, Thurman was commanding a salary of $12.5 million per film. Her
first film of the year was Be Cool, the sequel to 1995's Get Shorty, which
reunited her with her Pulp Fiction castmate John Travolta. In the film,
she played the widow of a deceased music business executive. The film
received poor reviews, and came in below expectations at the box office.
In 2005, she starred in Prime with Meryl Streep, playing a woman in her
late thirties romancing a man in his early twenties. Thurman's last film
of the year was a remake of The Producers in which she played Ulla, a
Swedish stage actress hoping to win a part in a new Broadway musical.
Originally, the producers of the film planned to have another singer dub
in Thurman's musical numbers, but she was eager to do her own vocals. She
is credited for her songs in the credits. The film was considered a bomb
at the box office, but many praised Thurman's efforts, including A. O.
Scott of the New York Times who said: "Uma Thurman as a would-be actress
is the one bit of genuine radiance in this aggressively and pointlessly
shiny, noisy spectacle."
With a successful film career, Thurman once again became a desired model.
Cosmetics company Lancôme selected her as their spokeswoman, and named
several shades of lipstick after her, though they were sold only in Asia.
In 2005, she became a spokeswoman for the French fashion house Louis
On February 7, 2006, Thurman was named a knight of the Ordre des Arts et
des Lettres of France for outstanding achievement in the field of art and
In May 2006, Thurman bought the film rights to the Frank Schätzing novel
The Swarm, which is in development and due for release in 2011. When the
film remake The Women was in pre-production in 2006, Thurman was cast as
Crystal Allen, alongside Annette Bening, Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, Sandra
Bullock, Ashley Judd, Lisa Kudrow and Anne Hathaway, being directed by
James L. Brooks, but the director was changed and Thurman was no longer
part of the cast.
In July 2006, Thurman starred opposite Luke Wilson in My Super
Ex-Girlfriend. Thurman portrayed a super-heroine named "G-Girl" who is
dumped by her boyfriend and then takes her revenge upon him. Thurman
received a reported $14 million for the role, but the film flopped. Once
again Thurman was well-received, yet the film was not.
In February 2008, she starred opposite Colin Firth and Jeffrey Dean Morgan
in The Accidental Husband, a romantic comedy about a woman who finds
herself married while engaged to another man. It seems like archetypal
Hollywood contrivance, but according to Thurman, a similar situation
happened in New York.
Thurman starred as "Elsa" in the British telefilm My Zinc Bed, in which
she plays a cocaine addict, starring opposite Paddy Considine and Jonathan
She finished filming Motherhood, an indie comedy, about the challenges
faced by a mother preparing for her daughter's birthday.
She will star in the film version of the 1950s books Eloise In Paris,
playing the role of Nanny, this film is to be directed by Charles Shyer.
Thurman also agreed to star in the new Muppets movie, playing a ticket
Bollywood director Vishal Bharadwaj has announced his interest in Thurman
to star in his latest film venture opposite Hrithik Roshan, in a
biographical film of the life of actress Nadira. The film is still in its
pre-production stage. Uma Thurman has shown interest in playing either
Marlene Dietrich or Greta Garbo.
Thurman supports the United States Democratic Party, and has given money
to the campaigns of John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Joseph R. Driscoll.
She supports gun control laws, and in 2000, she participated in Marie
Claire’s “End Gun Violence Now” campaign. She also participated in Planned
Parenthood’s “March for Women’s Lives” to support the legality of
abortion. Thurman is a member of the board of the New York– and
Boston-based organization Room to Grow, a charitable organization
providing aid to families and children born into poverty. She serves on
the board of the Tibet House.
In 2007, Thurman hosted the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway with
actor Kevin Spacey.
While living in London after shooting Dangerous Liaisons, she began dating
director Phil Joanou. On the set of State of Grace, she met English actor
Gary Oldman. They were married in 1990, but the marriage ended in 1992.
On May 1, 1998, Thurman married actor Ethan Hawke, whom she met on the set
of Gattaca. Hawke's novel Ash Wednesday is dedicated to "Karuna",
Thurman's middle name. Thurman acknowledged that they had married because
she was pregnant - seven months at their wedding. The marriage produced
two children, daughter Maya Ray Thurman-Hawke (b. July 8, 1998) and son
Levon Roan Thurman-Hawke (b. January 15, 2002).
In 2003, Thurman and Hawke separated, and in 2004 they filed for divorce.
When asked on The Oprah Winfrey Show if there was “betrayal of some kind”
during the marriage, Thurman said, “There was some stuff like that at the
end. We were having a difficult time, and you know how the axe comes down
and how people behave and how people express their unhappiness”.
Director Quentin Tarantino has described Thurman as his "muse". However,
in a 2004 Rolling Stone cover story, Thurman and Tarantino denied having
had a romantic relationship, despite Tarantino once having told a
reporter, “I’m not saying that we haven’t, and I’m not saying that we
Thurman owns a townhouse in New York's Greenwich Village, but lives in
Hyde Park, New York. Raised as a Buddhist, she considers herself agnostic.
Thurman dated Andre Balazs from 2004 to 2006. She was engaged to London
based Franco-Swiss financier Arpad Busson, whom she began dating in late
"Tall, sandy blonde, with sort
of blue eyes, skinny in places, fat in others. An average gal." -
Uma Thurman, self description
"I'm very happy at home. I love to just hang out with my daughter, I
love to work in my garden. I'm not a gaping hole of need."
"It is better to have a relationship with someone who cheats on you
than with someone who does not flush the toilet."
"I was not particularly bright, I wasn't very athletic, I was a
little too tall, odd, funny looking, I was just really weird as a
"Desperation is the perfume of the young actor. It's so satisfying
to have gotten rid of it. If you keep smelling it, it can drive you
crazy. In this business a lot of people go nuts, go eccentric, even
end up dead from it. Not my plan."
"My washing machine overwhelms me with its options and its
"Everyone looked the same, everyone had it down to such a perfect T.
You get bored. That's when you have to say, 'I will be
worst-dressed.'", on her questionable choice of Oscar attire this
"I had to go to a mirror and look at it. I couldn't picture myself
in my own head. I had no image beyond a stick figure. I wasn't a
mean person as a kid, or dumb, and something has to be said to
justify excluding you."
"Before I had my child, I thought I knew all the boundaries of
myself, that I understood the limits of my heart. It's extraordinary
to have all those limits thrown out, to realize your love is
I think we all exude essential truths about ourselves, and then, as
an actress, there's what you do with it. There's your wit and your
imagination, and what you can cook up from your experience and
understanding of what makes a human being tick.
In show business, to pry open doors in new areas is really tough.
Until you have a successful comedy, people don't think you could be
funny, which is what makes a director like Quentin Tarantino so
special. He sees beyond the things on the resume that you've done to
date and opens up wonderful cans of worms for you to crawl into.
That's a cool thing.
Having children flips the game from being about you to being about
what you can create in a home and what your responsibilities are.
I've thought about quitting, but I love what I do so much - it's the
big conundrum of my life.... So I'm fighting to keep my foot in the
business, be creative and stimulated, and still take care of my
I've known some great rock chicks, and it seems to me they're
allowed to have a lot more edge than movie people, where everybody's
got the latest youth serums going, the newest exercise and, if that
won't cover it, they'll do something else. There's this sort of
improve-yourself aspect, whereas the music business seems to have
this much more funky attitude, with, like, a slight respect for
"I've learned that every working mom is a superwoman."