She was named for Uma, the Hindu goddess of light and beauty. At the age of 14 she made her professional stage debut, playing Abigail in a local production of The Crucible. At 15, she dropped out of Northfield-Mt. Hermon to concentrate on modeling auditions (though the school still touts an unflattering photo of the teen Thurman among its "famous alumni"). At 16, she was a professional model, and made her film debut as a thieving teen seductress in the trashy Kiss Daddy Goodnight with Steve Buscemi. At 17, she played the girlfriend of high school football hero Anthony Michael Hall in Johnny Be Good, and at 18, in her third film, she became a star playing the young Venus in Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.
Her best films include Pulp Fiction, where she danced with John Travolta and had a hypodermic needle stabbed into her heart, Gattaca, the underrated cautionary science fiction with Ethan Hawke and Gore Vidal, and the Kill Bill films, where Thurman battled Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, Vivica Fox, and hundreds of ninjas to find vengeance against David Carradine. Embarrassments include the abysmal big-screen dismantling of The Avengers with Ralph Fiennes, the destruction of the 'Batman' franchise in Batman & Robin with George Clooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the ruin of Tom Robbins's Even Cowgirls Get the Blues with Pat Morita and Angie Dickinson.
At 20, Thurman married 32-year-old Gary Oldman and at 22 divorced him. Neither of them have spoken publicly of their marriage or divorce, beyond a wistful comment Oldman let slip on a talk show some years later: "You try living with an angel." Thurman was later married to Hawke, her co-star in Gattaca, but their marriage ended after his reported dalliances an unknown actress. Since then she has dated hotel magnate Andre Balazs.
Uma's father, Robert Thurman, was expelled from Phillips Exeter Academy when he tried, without success, to enlist for Fidel Castro's Cuban revolution. Unable to fight, he instead became the first Westerner ordained as a Tibetan monk. He has written and translated numerous books on Buddhism, has often entertained the Dalai Lama, and taught Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University.
Her mother, Nena von Schlebrugge, was a Mexican-born Swedish supermodel of the 1960s who later became a New York psychotherapist. She was friends with Salvador Dali, who introduced her to drug guru Timothy Leary, whom she married on camera in a bizarre documentary, You're Nobody Until Somebody Loves You. Less than two years later, though, Schlebrugge left Leary for Robert Thurman, and the jilted Leary became Uma Thurman's godfather.
Thurman's grandfather, Baron Karl von Schlebrugge, was briefly jailed by Nazis when he refused to betray his business partners, who were Jewish. Her grandmother was a noted beauty immortalized in a nude statue that stands in the Swedish port town of Trelleborg, looking very much like Uma Thurman. On the other side of the family tree, her paternal grandmother was Elizabeth Farrar, a Broadway actress, and Thurman's uncle played cello with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
Last Updated on Monday, 31 August 2009 23:16