The glacial beauty went from wide-eyed ingenue in 'Dangerous Liaisons' to revenge-driven assassin in 'Kill Bill' . Did her career renaissance as Tarantino's muse doom her marriage?
Uma Karuna Thurman was born into a highly unconventional family. Her mother, Nena, was the daughter of the renowned Swedish beauty, Brigit Holmquist, who'd married a German nobleman Baron Karl von Schlebruge in the 1930s. Uma's mother, Nena, grew up to be just as stunning as Brigit; she was talent-spotted in Stockholm by top British photographer Norman Parkinson when she was only 16, who brought her over to London where she began modelling for Vogue magazine.
As one of the top supermodels of her day, she soon began mixing with the high-flyers of swinging 60s London, and in 1964 she married the controversial psychedelic guru Dr Timothy Leary, one of the trendiest intellectuals of his day. Leary was much older than Nena, so he was considered to be something of a father figure. Nena's first marriage didn't last, and soon afterwards she met and fell in love with Uma's future father, Robert Thurman.
Robert Thurman's background was just as unusual as Nena's, though in an entirely different way. He was the son of New York stage actress Elizabeth Farrar, and had studied classics at Harvard. At 19, he'd married an oil heiress, but soon divorced and went off to ride a motorbike across India with his friends. In India, he met the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, converted to Buddhism, and became the first American to be ordained as a Tibetan monk! He adopted a Tibetan name - Tenzin - and even his own children still call him that to this day.
Uma's parents met and married in 1966, and soon began a family. Most of her childhood was spent in Amherst, Massachussetts, or Woodstock, New York, where her father held various posts as a professor of religion. Uma is the second oldest child, and has three brothers: Ganden, who is now a computer expert; Dechen, who is an actor and director, and finally, Mipam, the baby of the family. All four children are named after Tibetan gods.
Growing up in such an unusual family, Uma felt herself to be something of an outsider, even from an early age. Uma's parents disapproved of popular American culture, and discouraged her from joining in with normal high school pursuits and hobbies - Uma wasn't exactly praised to the hilt when she joined the cheerleading squad. She attended several schools in quick succession and was frequently teased on account of her oddball name, and her even more oddball parents.
To overcome this problem, Uma even took to calling herself Kelly or Linda, instead of Uma. Unsurprisingly she grew up into an angry and difficult teenager: it was then that she first got involved in acting, however, and she was instantly hooked. Right from her first school play, she fell in love with theatre, and soon asked for acting lessons. Aged 14, she was sent to Northfield Mount Hermon School, but she'd already decided that she was done with school and wanted to become an actress.
Uma dropped out of Northfield a year later and transferred to the Professional Children's High School. With the help of her mother's contacts, she signed up with various modelling agencies: she was taken on by Click, and soon began modelling for Glamour magazine, where she worked with many of the country's top fashion photographers. But Uma's big dream was to act in the movies. She was soon spotted by talent scouts while at drama school and landed a part in her first film, 'Kiss Daddy Goodnight', where she played the role of a young temptress who picks up older men.
The offers soon began to flood in, leading Uma to drop out of school before she graduated. Her next film was 'Johnny be Good', a satirical film about the US education system: Uma played Anthony Michael Hall's girlfriend, but the film wasn't wildly successful. Uma's next two films, however, really helped to establish her as a top Hollywood actress.
First came Terry Gilliam's fantastically over-the-top movie, 'The Adventures of Baron Munchausen', which told the story of a legendary baron who went time-travelling and had all sorts of adventures along the way. Uma played the role of the 'God of War's' wife (the God was played by Oliver Reed), and posed naked as Venus on a giant sea-shell, where she's being dressed by cherubs. The film was a huge box-office hit, as was 'Dangerous Liaisons', Uma's next movie, where she acted alongside Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer and John Malkovich. The movie was an historical feature set against the background of the decadent 18th-century French aristocracy, and Uma played the role of a "sweet young thing" who is seduced by the wicked Vicomte, played by John Malkovich. The film was a huge success, and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Film, as well as winning other nominations for Michelle Pfeiffer and Glenn Close.
Perhaps because so many of her first movie roles involved removing her clothes, Uma was dismayed to discover that she was rapidly acquiring a reputation as a sex symbol. Horrified, she withdrew from public life for a while, fled to London, and even took to wearing baggy clothes. A short time later, however, she met actor Gary Oldman, and the couple were instantly attracted to each other.
Despite the fact that Oldman was twelve years her senior, they enjoyed a whirlwind romance, which ended in marriage in October 1990. The same year, Uma appeared in two more quality movies, which she'd specially chosen in order to help dismantle her unwanted image as a sex goddess: the first was John Boorman's 'Where The Heart Is', a comedy where Uma acted the role of daughter of a demolition tycoon. The second was 'Henry and June', a film based on the triangular relationship between the writer Henry Miller, his wife June (played by Uma) and the sexually voracious diarist Anais Nin.
Offstage, however, Uma's private life was in turmoil. Her marriage to Gary Oldman was ending, amid rumours of heavy drinking, and the couple divorced in 1992. At the time, Uma was quoted as saying, "Teenage weddings are among the things that don't count."
Around this time, Uma's career hit something of a plateau, but she was gaining valuable acting experience nevertheless, and improving her craft. She acted in 'Final Analysis', alongside Richard Gere, a classy thriller where Gere played the role of a psychiatrist who is treating a disturbed patient, played by Uma. In 'Jennifer 8', she played the role of a blind woman, Helen Robertson. Sadly, it was not a hit. Next, she acted in 'Mad Dog and Glory', alongside Robert de Niro, who, it's rumoured, screamed at her off camera in order to get her in the right frame of mind for shooting a particular scene!
Then came 'Even Cowgirls Get The Blues', where Uma played her first real leading role. Sadly, the movie was panned, and some critics believed that this would be the end of Uma's career. But they hadn't reckoned with the visionary skills of Quentin Tarantino, who cast her in the role of Mia Wallace, wife of the thug Marcellus in 'Pulp Fiction', a complex blockbusting crime drama. Thurman beat off competition from Holly Hunter and Meg Ryan to win the role, and she was Oscar-nominated for her performance. Far from her career being over, overnight Uma became one of the leading actresses in Hollywood.
Having firmly established her reputation as a leading lady, Uma took a break from making big-budget movies. Her next films included 'A Month By The Lake', 'Beautiful Girls', and 'The Truth About Cats and Dogs'. Next, however, she chose a role in the new Batman movie, and thus returned to the big time. She played the part of Poison Ivy, a former botanist who's now intent of killing all humans and leaving planet earth free for plant life! But the new film, 'Batman and Robin', wasn't particularly successful, although Uma was praised for her performance.
It was during production for the sci-fi thriller 'Gattaca' that she fell in love with co-star Ethan Hawke. The couple had actually already met before, at the premiere of 'Pulp Fiction', but Uma had thought that Ethan was too young for her! By now, however, she'd changed her mind, and fell for Ethan's sensitive charms. She was soon pregnant; a daughter, Maya Ray, was born to the couple in 1998, and two months later, Uma and Ethan were married in New York, and were blessed by the Dalai Lama.
Maya was soon joined by another baby, this time a boy called Levon, who was born in 2002. Uma and Ethan acted together in Richard Linklater's film, 'Tape', and Uma went on to win a Golden Globe for her performance in her next movie, 'Hysterical Blindness', where she co-starred with Gina Rowlands and Ben Gazarra. Soon afterwards, she returned to working with Quentin Tarantino, who allegedly now thought of Uma as his muse! Tarantino cast her for the female lead in 'Kill Bill'. Uma stars as The Bride, an assassin whose ex-boss destroys her wedding and thus initiates an orgy of murder and revenge.
While her career was going from strength to strength, her private life began to flounder. Whilst she was away in Vancouver filming 'Paycheck', Hawke was snapped enjoying the company of Canadian model Jen Perzow in Montreal, where he was filming 'Taking Lives'. Tabloid rumours abounded that Hawke was feeling insecure about Uma's relationship with Quentin Tarantino and was deeply worried that she was actually more than just a muse to the famous director. But whatever the cause of the split, Uma and Ethan's marriage was over.
Uma filed for divorce and soon began seeing hotel tycoon Andre Balazs. After appearing in the sequel to 'Kill Bill', Thurman starred in 'Be Cool', alongside John Travolta. She then decided to change pace by turning her hand to comedy. Uma starred in the stylish comedy 'Prime' (2005), and also took a fun minor role in the remake of 'The Producers' (2005). She went on to star in 'My Super Ex-Girlfriend' (2006) and 'The Life Before Her Eyes' (2007). She met financier Arpad Busson the same year. More recently, Uma has acted for laughs in the long-delayed movie, 'Accidental Husband' (2008), thus proving that she can do funny time and again.
She went on to play the lead in comedy drama 'Motherhood' (2009) before starring as evil Greek goddess Medusa in 'Percy Jackson & The Lightening Thief' the same year. After getting engaged to Busson, the couple split in 2009. Uma then starred in another romantic comedy called 'Ceremony' in 2010 before taking a break. She made up with Busson in 2011 and they soon announced that she was expecting their first child together. Their daughter, Rosalind, was born on 15 July 2012. In April 2014 they again called off their engagement.
In 2012, Uma acted in drama 'Bel Ami' with Robert Pattinson and in several episodes of musical TV show 'Smash'. She also appeared in 'Playing for Keep' the same year. In 2013, she starred in the flop comedy 'Movie 43' and 'Nymphomaniac'.
Despite the ups and downs of her private life, Uma's stunning looks, fabulous grace, undoubted acting ability and sheer hard work have all served to secure her place as one of Hollywood's leading ladies - a position she's certain to enjoy for many years to come.