It’s true that I have a special place in my heart reserved for actors known for their roles in Tarantino’s films, but Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction are far from being the only reasons I find Uma Thurman to be a unique and talented actress. A model and an actress, Thurman’s acting skills as well as natural beauty won her acting roles in some of the best films of the 21st century. Here are some of the reasons that make her great.
Born in 1970, Uma’s father was a professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies and her mother was a European noblewoman who became a successful model in New York. Uma’s unique upbringing is evident even in her name, which in Sanskrit means ‘splendid light’. It may just be that the special exposure to alternative life-philosophies is the source of Thurman’s somewhat alternative acting style. Wherever it came from, her rare beauty was discovered at a young age and at 15 she was already doing her first modeling job. She soon turned to acting and at 18 she did 4 films in one year, one of which is an Oscar winner (Dangerous Liaisons).
After her performance alongside Robert De Niro in Mad Dog and Glory (1993) Thurman was casted as Mia Wallace, the curious wife of the gangster Marsellus Wallace in the successful (and my personal favorite Tarantino) film, Pulp Fiction (1994). Thurman’s unforgettable dark and enticing expressions and her extraordinary performance in the dancing scene with John Travolta seem perfectly natural to her. It’s no wonder that she became one of Tarantino’s favorite actresses, later starring in his martial arts film, Kill Bill (2003), as the serene yet deadly beauty, Beatrix “Black Mamba” Kiddo (a role written specifically for her).
Between Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill Thurman had several leading roles in moderately successful films, including Beautiful Girls (1996), The Truth About Cats & Dogs (1996), and Gattaca (1997), which is also where she met Ethan Hawke, her future husband. Her first child was born in 1998, after which she did some more laid-back roles in television films. Focusing more on motherhood did not stop Thurman from winning a Golden globe award for her role as Debby Miller in Hysterical Blindness (2002), which she also co-produced. Kill Bill was Thurman’s come-back to the big screen, and several years after she also revived her modeling career.
Thurman is one of the more controversial actresses, drawing as many compliments as criticisms from her critics. Personally, I love her all the more for it. What seems as a cold and uninvolved acting style by some is just what I see as her greatest strength and complexity. She has a kind of tranquil air about her that, if combined with a sophisticated script, testifies to a multilayered character. Sometimes you need an actress that can emphasize the depth of a character precisely by under-acting it, and Thurman does that perfectly. Over the years she had some flops but also great successes. If you ask me, this is a spectacular actress who simply didn’t quite manage to find her true niche in the world of film.