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Uma Thurman Biography


Home > Actresses > T > Thurman, Uma > Biography


Birth Name: Uma Thurman
Born: 04/29/1970
Birth Place: Boston, Massachusetts, USA


Born on Apr. 29, 1970 in Boston, MA, Thurman was raised in an atypical home with a storied family history. Her maternal grandfather, Baron Karl von Schlebrugge, was a Swedish nobleman who was jailed by the Nazis during World War II for refusing to betray his Jewish business partners, and her maternal grandmother, Brigit Holmquist, was a famous model in Sweden who, in 1930, posed nude for a statue that overlooked the harbor in Smygehuk. Thurman was raised by her father, Robert, a professor of Eastern religious studies at Columbia University, who became the first American to be ordained as a Tibetan monk. Meanwhile, her mother, Nena von Schlebrugge, was a fashion model born in Mexico City who was introduced by Salvador Dalí to Timothy Leary, whom she married before Thurman's father. Though born in Boston, Thurman spent time at the family's bohemian summer retreat in Woodstock, NY and also traveled to the Far East, including several stops in India.

After leaving the Northfield Mount Herman School, where she performed in stage plays, and Amherst Regional Junior High School, she moved to New York on her own to attend the Professional Children's School and earn a substantial amount of money as a model. By the time she was 16, Thurman left school to pursue an acting career, making her film debut in "Kiss Daddy Goodnight" (1987), a low-budget thriller in which she played a young seductress who lures unsuspecting men with the promise of sex, only to drug and rob them. She immediately followed up with another low-ball indie, "Johnny Be Good" (1988), a raunchy teen comedy starring Anthony Michael Hall as a hotshot high school quarterback being recruited by top colleges. Thurman received widespread attention for her performance in Stephen Frears' "Dangerous Liaisons" (1988), playing the virginal Cecile de Volanges, who becomes the initial target for seduction by the misogynistic Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich) as the result of a cruel wager between him and his former lover, the Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close).

Well on her way to becoming an established actress, Thurman upped her profile as the Goddess of Love in Terry Gilliam's madcap opus, "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" (1989). But it was her portrayal of June Miller, wife of famed author Henry Miller (Fred Ward) in Philip Kaufman's "Henry and June" (1990), that revealed her to be an actress with considerable depth and ability. Thurman exuded charm and allure as June, who allows her husband to get involved with author, Anaïs Nin (Maria de Medeiros), while also having her own affair with the struggling writer. After playing Maid Marion in a gritty take on "Robin Hood" (1991), she turned in another strong performance as a blind woman targeted by a serial killer in Bruce Robinson's dark "Jennifer 8" (1992), which she followed with a performance as a sultry patient under the care of a San Francisco psychiatrist (Richard Gere) in "Final Analysis" (1992). Around this time, Thurman was getting a divorce from actor Gary Oldman, whom she met while visiting the set of "State of Grace" (1990) when she was 18. The short marriage lasted only two years, ending in 1992.

Back on the big screen, Thurman played an indentured servant to a cop (Robert De Niro) and gangster (Bill Murray) in the unusual gangster romance "Mad Dog and Glory" (1993). In Gus Van Sant's lumbering "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" (1994), a long-awaited, but unsatisfying adaptation of the popular Tom Robbins novel, Thurman's talents were virtually wasted in the leading role of hitchhiker Sissy Hankshaw. But Thurman was catapulted into the limelight with a strong turn as the drug-taking wife of a Los Angeles gangster (Ving Rhames) in Quentin Tarantino's phenomenon-creating crime noir, "Pulp Fiction" (1994). Though the time-jumping film focused on several characters, including two philosophizing hit men (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson) and an aging boxer (Bruce Willis) looking for one last score, Thurman and her severe black wig entered pop culture history, thanks to her memorable twist with Travolta in a 1950s-style diner. After doing the twist, her fearless character overdoses and in a truly shocking and disturbing scene, Travolta plunges a needle in her chest to shock her back to life. Among the many other accolades and award nominations "Pulp Fiction" received, Thurman earned an Oscar nod a Best Supporting Actress and perhaps even more important, the unabashed admiration and loyalty of director Tarantino, who would later refer to the actress as his creative muse.

While Thurman garnered praise for her turn as a young coquette flirting with Edward Fox in John Irving's "A Month by the Lake" (1995), the film stumbled at the box office. She fared better in Ted Demme's ensemble drama "Beautiful Girls" (1996), playing an outsider visiting a small town. Thurman played against type as a less-than-intellectual blonde helping friend Janeane Garofalo win a handsome beau in the comedy "The Truth About Cats and Dogs" (1996). Shifting gears, she offered a scene-stealing turn as villainess Poison Ivy to George Clooney's Dark Knight in the otherwise abysmal "Batman & Robin" (1997). Thurman returned to a more conventional role as the upright, somewhat frosty and passive worker in a futuristic space program who is romanced by a co-worker (Ethan Hawke) in the futuristic thriller "Gattaca" (1997). Thurman and the intellectual Hawke embarked on an off-screen romance that resulted in marriage the following year while seven months pregnant with their daughter, Maya Ray. Meanwhile, she followed with a highly-praised performance as Fantine in Bille August's remake of "Les Miserables" (1998) before teaming with Ralph Fiennes as Emma Peel to his John Steed in a big screen version of the hit 1960s television show "The Avengers" (1998), which was poorly received by critics and audiences alike.

There was a noticeable slowing down of Thurman's career, as she settled into her new role as wife and mother. She did, however, find time to take roles which appealed to her, appearing to good effect in small parts in non-mainstream projects, including Woody Allen's "The Sweet and the Lowdown" (1999), the Merchant-Ivory production "The Golden Bowl" (2000) and her husband's high-minded art film "Chelsea Walls" (2001). In 2002, she received positive reviews for her role in the cable film "Hysterical Blindness" (HBO) in which she successfully played against type as a desperately insecure working-class girl from New Jersey who, along with her best friend from high school (Juliette Lewis), spends her nights patrolling the local bars for love.

By 2003, Thurman was back in the spotlight for both good and ill. On the personal front, the couple's six-year marriage - one which many viewed as idyllic - collapsed after allegations of Hawke's infidelities with Canadian model Jen Perzow became public knowledge, courtesy of the tabloids. While the entertainment media circled the chum of their torn personal lives, Thurman managed to maintain an air of diplomacy despite the painful breakup; even civilly discussing the issue with Oprah Winfrey. Meanwhile, Hawke made himself the fool, claiming his wife's obsession with reviving her career led him into the arms of another woman. For her part, Thurman rebounded rather nicely, taking up with hotelier Andre Balazs soon after the split, while Hawke apparently spent the next few years suffering under the weight of his own guilt and the public's perception of him as the bad guy who broke the movie goddess' heart.

Meanwhile, professionally, Thurman returned to the screen under Tarantino with "Kill Bill, Vol. 1" (2003) and "Kill Bill, Vol. 2" (2004), the writer-director's bloody two-part magnum opus tribute to exploitation films and Sergio Leone, based on an idea the two developed on the set of "Pulp Fiction." In a bravura performance, Thurman played The Bride, a nameless woman beaten and left for dead who arises from a coma to wreak violent vengeance on her betrayer (David Carradine) and his martial artist minions. In between "Bill" installments, Thurman appeared opposite Ben Affleck in the John Woo-directed sci-fi thriller "Paycheck" (2003), a disappointing adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story about an engineer (Affleck) who discovers that he has had his short-term memory erased and that he has been working for the past three years doing highly-secretive government work.

After "Vol. 2," Thurman looked resplendent as a one-time rock group costumer-turned-record exec who falls for John Travolta's Chili Palmer in "Be Cool" (2005), the entertaining sequel to "Get Shorty" (1995) that reunited her with her "Pulp Fiction" co-star. Thurman enjoyed another onscreen dance sequence with Travolta - this time more sensual and romantic then frenetic, though no less compelling. Next she went toe-to-toe with Meryl Streep in the romantic comedy "Prime" (2005), playing a 37-year-old woman reeling from a divorce and working through intimacy issues with her therapist (Streep), only to be reinvigorated by her affair with a much-younger man (Bryan Greenberg) who happens to be her therapist's son. Once again breaking type, she sang and danced her way Mel Brooks-style alongside Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane in "The Producers: The Movie Musical" (2005), playing the Broadway duo's sensual, leggy and English-challenged secretary, Ulla.

Thurman next joined Luke Wilson for "Super Ex Girlfriend" (2006), in which Wilson learns his girlfriend is a superhero and breaks up with her when she gets too controlling and neurotic, prompting her to use her powers to exact revenge by tormenting and embarrassing him. With her career seemingly taking a step backwards, at least in terms of making high-profile projects, Thurman nonetheless remained a steady presence in films. In a rare appearance on television, she had a small role on "The Naked Brothers Band" (Nickelodeon, 2007), a teen mockumentary about two brothers (Nat Wolff and Alex Wolff) struggling to balance stardom and friendship. Back in the feature world, Thurman played the adult version of a young woman (also portrayed by Evan Rachel Wood) who suffers a traumatic event prior to her high school graduation that gets revealed years later in "The Life Before Her Eyes" (2008). Meanwhile, Thurman was set to return to more prominent fare with "The Accidental Husband" (2009), a romantic comedy in which she played a radio talk show host specializing in repairing people's damaged romantic lives who suddenly faces the revenge of a caller who took her bad advice. After playing Medusa in "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightening Thief" (2010), Thurman had a five-episode arc as a difficult movie star bucking for the lead in the fictional play "Marilyn" on the popular Broadway-themed series "Smash" (NBC, 2012- ), which earned the actress her first-ever Emmy Award nomination.