Certain Hollywood stars stand out from the crowd and achieve a level of fame, respect, and admiration that very few others can match. Uma Thurman is one of those stars, entertaining and amazing audiences worldwide since her breakout role in 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons.
From standing out as sex symbol Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction and slashing her way through samurai epic Kill Bill right up to her more recent work on the Broadway stage and TV screen, she’s been one of the world’s most outstanding performers, but her life has had its ups and downs. Here’s her story so far.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts
Uma was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on April 29 of 1970 to a pair of very interesting parents: Robert Thurman and Nena von Schlebrugge, who had met each other at the Hitchcock Estate, otherwise known as Millbrook, in the 1960s.
Uma’s father, Robert Thurman, is a Buddhist author and academic who has written and edited many books about Buddhism. Uma’s mother, meanwhile, is a Mexican-born fashion model with Swedish and German roots who was discovered in Stockholm and moved to NYC as a teen to begin a modeling career in the 50s and 60s.
A Fascinating Family Past
If we look back a little into Uma’s family history, there are some amazing stories to discover. Her maternal grandmother, for example, was Brigit Homlmquist, a famed Swedish beauty who married the Westphalian Baron Karl von Schlebrugge back in the 1930s. Von Schlebrugge was put behind bars by the Nazis for defending his Jewish business partners.
On her father’s side, too, there are some intriguing tales. Robert Thurman was the son of a stage actress and enjoyed a luxurious upbringing, attending Harvard and then marrying an oil heiress at 19. He later went to India and met the Dalai Lama, becoming the first American Tibetan monk.
An Intellectual Upbringing for Uma
With such bright, well-spoken, and interesting parents, it’s no surprise that Uma had a very intellectual upbringing. Indeed, her parents, who weren’t particularly fond of American culture at the time, encouraged Uma and the other children to take an interest in reading and philosophy.
At the family dinner table each evening, the Thurmans would talk about philosophical matters and hold debates with one another, and everyone was expected to join in. Robert’s students and Tibetan monk friends would also routinely enter the family home, broadening young Uma’s mind and horizons.
Surrounded by Buddhism from an Early Age
As well as being surrounded by intellectuals regularly, little Uma was also exposed to Buddhism from a very early age. In fact, she made her first trip to the Himalayas at the age of one and went again at the age of 11, spending around two years of her childhood in India.
She also met the Dalai Lama when he came to visit her father. Her parents raised her to study Buddhist teachings and principles, which influenced the young woman she became as she grew up, spending most of her youth in Amherst, Massachusetts, and Woodstock, New York.
She Had a Difficult Childhood
In some ways, young Uma was very lucky as a child to have such cultured and well-read parents. But in other ways, her upbringing had certain negative effects on her, leading to a lot of bullying and awkwardness at school with her peers.
She had to change schools several times when she was young, dealing with the pressures of being the “new kid” and also having to put up with bullying and jokes about her name and her parents, who were seen as a little unusual in the eyes of many of Uma’s classmates.
An Awkward and Shy Girl
Childhood wasn’t an easy time for Uma. Because she was bullied a lot and didn’t feel like she fit in with the other kids, she grew up as quite a shy, awkward, and introverted child.
She made efforts to fit in, even telling people to call her Kelly or Linda to avoid the teasing that her birth name seemed to cause, but she struggled to make friends. The situation wasn’t helped by her unique appearance, as she was a very tall child with large ears, eyes, and feet.
Feeling Like an Oddball
Her appearance contributed to Uma’s feelings of loneliness and made the other kids taunt and tease her even more. The negative emotions she experienced were compounded by her mother being such a famous and attractive mother.
In interviews over the years, Uma has admitted that she struggled with body dysmorphic disorder as a child and teenager. She didn’t like the way she looked or felt, and she struggled to find joy or success in any areas, not excelling academically or athletically.
She Became a Rebellious Teen
Growing up as an outsider, constantly picked on and teased, as well as belittled because of her appearance, Uma grew into quite an angry girl. As she entered her teenage years, this anger began to appear in the form of a rebellious nature.
She went through a “cheerleader phase,” much to the frustration of her parents, and started to look for new ways to express herself. She took part in various extra-curricular activities to try and find her passion, but nothing seemed to work.
Finding Something, She Loved
Finally, Uma found the one thing she loved that could help her finally feel at peace with the world: acting. She’d got her first taste of acting early, appearing in an elementary school play, and enjoyed it.
And, as she entered her teens and started to grow into a young adult, her passion for acting only increased. She started to take acting classes and took any chance she could to perform. It’s possible that since she wasn’t comfortable being herself, Uma found something special in the idea of becoming other people on stage.
Making a Big Decision
At the age of 14, Uma was sent by her parents to Northfield Mount Hermon School. However, having discovered her passion for acting and never particularly interested in academia, she found school to be tedious and dull.
She wanted to get out of the school system as soon as possible, and so, that summer, she and a school friend decided to set off to New York City to study acting professionally and try to get work in the modeling business, too. It was a big decision, but it paid off.
Spotted by Talent Scouts
Not long after her New York adventure, Uma got her big break. She appeared in a performance of The Crucible, playing the part of Abigail. Some talent scouts from New York were in attendance for the show and were instantly impressed with Uma’s skills.
The scouts told Uma exactly what she wanted to hear, confirming that she had the talent to make it in the acting world and offering her a chance to go back to New York City and start seeking out real roles. So, at the age of 15, she dropped out of Northfield and went back to the Big Apple.
Pursuing Her Dream in the Big City
So, a teenage Uma Thurman went to New York and started trying out for some local auditions. Meanwhile, her mother gave her a helping hand and introduced her to some modeling agencies and connections she knew from her successful career as a fashion model.
It didn’t take long for Uma to get noticed. She signed up with the Click Models agency and appeared on the cover of British Vogue twice and modeling for Glamour. It was clear that she could have continued modeling and had a lot of success, but acting was what she wanted to do.
Her Debut Film Role
Uma’s persistence paid off. She got offered a starring role in a film at just 16, appearing as Laura in Kiss Daddy Goodnight, a 1987 neo-noir thriller movie. It was a huge opportunity for young Uma, and she was determined to make the most of it.
In the film, she played a young model who cruises bars, picks up men, and then drugs and robs them. It wasn’t a hugely successful or big-budget film in any way, but it got Uma on the map and helped her establish the foundations of what would become a very successful movie career.
Offers Started to Arrive
Uma’s work in Kiss Daddy Goodnight did not go unnoticed. In the following year, she was cast in no less than three movies: Johnny Be Good, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and Dangerous Liaisons. The first two of those movies saw Thurman in relatively minor roles.
However, Dangerous Liaisons helped to make her a star. The Oscar-winning picture also featured Glenn Close and John Malkovich. It also helped Uma gain global recognition from moviegoers and critics, with famed critic Roger Ebert singling out Uma for praise and saying that she was “well-cast” in quite a demanding role.
Reluctantly Becoming a Sex Symbol
1988 was a huge year for Uma Thurman, thanks to those three film roles that helped put her right in the public eye. And while she welcomed the praise and attention for her acting talents, she wasn’t quite as happy about the fact that the media were beginning to portray her as something of a sex symbol.
Uma had always been uncomfortable about her appearance and could hardly believe or understand that she was suddenly being called “Hot” by magazines like Rolling Stone and labeled as a “sex symbol” by tabloid newspapers. It only made her more insecure, and she actually started wearing baggy clothes and living in London for a while to avoid the paparazzi.
A Whirlwind Romance Begins
As she became more famous, Uma began encountering various celebrities, artists, directors, and stars. She began dating one of them, the director Phil Joanou, who had just released the concert movie U2: Rattle and Hum and had begun work on his next project, State of Grace, with Gary Oldman in a leading role.
Uma visited the set one day and met Oldman, with sparks flying between the pair right away. Even Joanou saw that there was chemistry between Uma and Gary, so he stepped aside and began their story.
She Was Married at 20
Uma met Gary Oldman in 1990, and the pair were married by the end of the year. She was 20 years old at the time, while the English actor was 32, so there was quite a big age difference between the pair, but that didn’t seem to bother them at the time.
Uma was captivated by Gary’s acting ability and charisma. She had always wanted to be a true artist, and Oldman had already established himself as a major star in films and on stage. Their relationship was said to be intense and passionate, and it heralded the beginning of an exciting time for Uma.
Choosing Her Projects Wisely
Wanting to shed the “sex symbol” label that had been bestowed upon her, Uma chose her next film projects with care and consideration. She was getting a lot of offers at the time, so she had the freedom to pick and choose the roles she wanted.
She deliberately chose a couple of classy, arty films for 1990, namely Where The Heart Is and Henry & June. The former was a romantic comedy that turned out to be a box office bomb, while the latter was a bio-drama that was actually the first film to receive an NC-17 rating.
Struggling to Hit the Heights
Henry & June received reasonable reviews, with particular praise for Uma’s performance in the role of June. However, the movie wasn’t a big commercial hit. Her next movie was Robin Hood, starring Patrick Bergin in the title role. It came out in the same year, 1991, as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner, turned out to be by far the most successful retelling of the Robin Hood tale and made hundreds of millions of dollars. Meanwhile, Robin Hood with Uma Thurman and Patrick Bergin struggled to recoup its budget. At that point, it was clear that Uma wasn’t quite hitting the heights that had been expected of her after Dangerous Liaisons.
The Marriage Breaks Down
Things went from bad to worse for Uma in 1992, as she and Gary Oldman announced that they were getting divorced. They had only been married for two years, but it was clear to see that the relationship hadn’t worked out the way that they had initially imagined.
Both Gary and Uma have remained secretive about their marriage in the years since their split. Still, Uma once commented, “Teenage weddings are in the category of things that don’t count,” and there were some rumors and reports that the couple had done a lot of heavy drinking and perhaps lived life a little too intensely.
Starting to Bounce Back
The early 90s had proven to be a tumultuous time for Uma Thurman. Still, after her split with Gary Oldman, it seemed that she was ready for a fresh start, taking on a couple of starring roles in a couple of 1992 thrillers: Final Analysis and Jennifer 8.
She also appeared in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and Mad Dog and Glory in 1993. These films had varying levels of success, and Uma even got a Golden Raspberry nomination for Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, but it was clear to see that there was still much more to come from the young star.
Her Greatest Role Yet
After the Golden Raspberry nomination, some people feared that Uma’s initial talent and promise could go to waste. Still, she had chosen her roles carefully and had a lot of drive and determination to succeed. She wasn’t ready to simply fade into obscurity.
And one man was standing by, ready and waiting to unleash all of Uma’s potential truly. That man was Quentin Tarantino, who wanted Thurman for the role of Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction immediately after meeting her. The film was a smashing success and turned out to be one of Thurman’s most iconic roles.
An Icon of the 90s
Pulp Fiction grossed over $210 million worldwide and received universal acclaim from cinema lovers and critics alike. Particular praise was reserved for Uma Thurman, who captivated audiences across the world in all of her scenes as Mia Wallace, as well as appearing front and center on most of the movie’s posters and trailers.
With that role, Uma forged an integral piece of popular culture. It became an icon of the 90s, with Mia consistently ranking as one of the decade’s most memorable female film characters. What’s more, she received Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for the performance.
Establishing a Trend
After enjoying so much success with the big hit that was Pulp Fiction, Uma could have used her fame and appeal at the time to accept all kinds of roles in big-budget productions. But instead of exploiting the situation, she chose to spend a few years avoiding high-profile films and pursuing smaller, more artistic pictures instead
She appeared in movies like A Month by the Lake and Beautiful Girls, enjoying moderate success in the process and showcasing her talents in increasingly diverse roles. In doing so, she established a trend that would continue throughout her career: one or two big-budget pictures every few years, with smaller movies in between.
Back to the Big Time
After spending some time pursuing those smaller films and avoiding the limelight for a while, Uma was ready to make a superstar of herself all over again in 1997 with Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, starring George Clooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In the movie, Uma played the villainous Poison Ivy, donning a comic book style outfit and red hair for the role and delivering one of the movie’s more memorable performances, too. Historically, the film has been one of the worst superhero movies ever made, but it still generated big payouts for its leading actors.
A Dramatic Change in Circumstances
After doing her regularly scheduled big-budget movie, Uma quickly returned to roles and projects she personally found to be more artistic and intriguing. And one of those projects was about to change the course of her life forevermore.
In 1997, she made Gattaca with Ethan Hawke. Admirative of Hawke’s acting, writing, and directing abilities, as well as his charisma and sensitive soul, Thurman was quickly drawn to her co-star, and the pair married the following May, with Thurman giving birth to the couple’s first child, Maya, later that year.
A Brief Hiatus and a Bad Decision
After giving birth, Thurman took some time off from acting for a while. During that hiatus, she made what she later called “one of the worst decisions ever made” when she rejected the role of Eowyn in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films.
The LotR films went on to be huge commercial and critical successes. However, Uma simply carried on as she had done so many times before, appearing in movies like Les Miserables as Fantine and the Woody Allen movie, Sweet and Lowdown, among other projects in the early 2000s.
Reuniting with Tarantino
In 2003, Uma Thurman reunited with the man who helped make her such a big star of the 90s, Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino, who called Thurman his “muse,” cast her as the lead role of Beatrix “The Bride” Kiddo in the two-part martial arts series Kill Bill.
At the time, Tarantino was calling Thurman his “muse” and saying that he hoped to direct her in many more films for the rest of his life. He also admitted that he’d written the role of The Bride specifically for Uma and had no intentions of letting anyone else play that part.
Her Most Demanding Role
Filming Kill Bill took its toll on Uma Thurman in more ways than one. It was a very demanding role, both physically and mentally, leaving the star tired and drained, and she also gave birth to a son, Levon, during production.
She had to learn some Japanese for the role and undergo extensive training in martial arts and sword fighting, with the film shooting over nine months and involving sets in five different countries. And one on-set incident nearly ended her life.
The Kill Bill Stunt Accident
During the filming of Kill Bill, Quentin Tarantino had demanded that Thurman perform her own driving stunts. She didn’t want to, but the director insisted, trying to calm her down by saying that all she had to do was drive a car in a straight line and reach 40 miles per hour.
In reality, the road wasn’t straight, and the cat wasn’t safe, either, as the driving seat hadn’t been screwed down properly. So, when Uma attempted the stunt, she ended up crashing into a tree, doing massive damage to her legs, torso, and head.
A Ruined Relationship with the Director
After recovering at the hospital, Uma was understandably furious when she next saw Tarantino. She and the director “had an enormous fight,” with Thurman accusing Tarantino of trying to kill her. The director, who had always been a vocal admirer of Thurman, was hurt that she would even suggest such a thing.
The pair finished the movie, and Kill Bill became a huge success, making Thurman an iconic part of the early 2000s and winning plaudits from far and wide. Still, her relationship with Tarantino was damaged beyond repair. She did eventually forgive him but hasn’t worked with him since.
Personal Problems and Pushing Onward
2003 was a very dramatic year for Uma. She experienced the highs and lows that life has to offer. Kill Bill gave her huge success, but at a serious personal cost. And her problems were made worse when her relationship with her husband, Ethan Hawke, began to break down.
The pair decided to separate and made their divorce official in 2005. But Uma soldiered on once more. She was in high demand at the time, reportedly worth over $12 million per film, and she appeared in movies like Be Cool, Prime, and My Super Ex-Girlfriend in the years that followed.
Ups and Downs in the 2000s
The remainder of the 2000s and the beginning of 2010s brought ups and downs for Uma. She didn’t make too many movies at the time, and most were poorly received from either commercial or critical standpoints or both. She also experienced change on a personal level, with a new relationship.
She met French financier, Arpad Busson, in 2007. The pair got engaged in 2008 but canceled the wedding in 2009. They would continue to have an on-and-off relationship and have a daughter, Luna, in 2012, who has more recently been at the center of a dramatic custody battle between Uma and Arpad.
Making the Move to TV
In the early 2010s, Uma appeared in several movies considered flops, like Bel Ami, Playing for Keeps, and Movie 43. So, in 2012, she decided to try something new with a move into TV, appearing in the drama, Smash.
She received plenty of critical acclaim for her performance in Smash and getting an Emmy nomination. She also received positive reviews for her performance in the two-part erotic drama, Nymphomaniac and on NBC’s miniseries, The Slap.
Making Her Broadway Debut
As well as experimenting with some small-screen projects, Uma has also tried her hand at live stage performances in recent times. She made her Broadway debut in 2017 in the leading role of Chloe in The Parisian Woman by Beau Willimon.
The play ran for 141 performances in total from late 2017 through to March of 2018. Critics gave mixed responses, but the box office returns were impressive, and theater fans were widely complimentary towards Thurman’s acting. She won a Broadway.com Audience Award for her time in the play.
Her Most Recent Projects
Back in the 90s and 2000s, Uma kept up with her trend of producing one or two big-budget, high profile blockbusters every few years and was one of the most in-demand stars of the time. But these days, she’s definitely less in the spotlight.
So what has she been up to? Well, she’s still working, but in smaller projects that she picks and chooses. She was in indie heist comedy, The Con Is On in 2015 and reuniting with Lars von Trier for The House That Jack Built in 2018. She’s also been seen on the Netflix show Chambers.
Part of the Me Too Movement
In 2017, at the height of the Me Too movement, in which various women in the entertainment industry shared their stories of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse, Uma Thurman was one of the most high-profile stars to join up with the hashtag.
She made an Instagram post, revealing that disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein had sexually harassed her. In a later interview, she detailed that Weinstein had assaulted her in 1994 at a hotel and revealed that she had been assaulted by an older actor when she was only 16.
A Mother and an Activist
As well as bravely sharing her story to empower women through Me Too, Uma Thurman has been involved with various other causes and movements in recent times. She is a supporter of the Democratic Party, donating money to campaigns of politicians like Hilary Clinton and John Kerry and speaking in favor of gun control laws.
She has also been outspoken about human rights abuses in China, LGBT civil rights, animal rights, and more while also keeping up with her filming work and being a mother to three children. Indeed, in one 2009 interview, she admitted that she was taking on fewer acting projects to enjoy life and raise her children well.
An Inspirational and Iconic Actress
Uma Thurman may not be in the spotlight as frequently these days as she once was, but that doesn’t take anything away from her exceptional career and unparalleled legacy. A successful model, an amazing actress, a loving mother, and a trendsetting woman, she has been an icon of the entertainment world for many years.
Her most famous roles as Mia and The Bride will always get the most attention, but she’s done a lot of other amazing work as well in the film, on TV, and in theater, too. She also continues to be one of the most fashionable and fabulous stars around and surely still has more to show us all in the years ahead.