“I’d like to classify my life as a romantic comedy. Unfortunately, I feel it’s probably more like a TV reality show.”
Quentin Tarantino might be as excitable as a thrush bird but one cannot blame him for fanboying over Uma Thurman and considering her as his muse. With her blonde hair and distinguished facial features, Uma Thurman is considered one of the most iconic actresses in Hollywood history. From leaving an indelible mark in the fashion industry with her crimson Alberta Ferretti gown on the red carpet to portraying feminist characters that go down in history as some of the greatest female characters on-screen, Thurman has reigned supreme in all our hearts for a long time.
Born to a religious family on April 29, 1970, Thurman grew up rather lonely and insecure. Bullied for her unusual name and facing bizarre heavy criticism with her features, Thurman suffered severely from body dysmorphia and insecurities, so much so that even while she was roped in to star in big-budget feature films, she would be seen in loose, baggy clothing. Thurman has often voiced her opinions regarding body image issues and has spoken up about her struggles. “I spent the first fourteen years of my life convinced that my looks were hideous,” she said. “Adolescence is painful for everyone, I know, but mine was plain weird.”
Having worked initially as a model, following in her mother’s footsteps, Thurman even appeared on covers of the British Vogue. However, she soon discovered her love for acting in eighth grade and soon earned her on-screen debut in Kiss Daddy Goodnight. It was not until she got roped in to play a naive and innocent Cecile in the Oscar-winning Dangerous Liaisons that her calibre was noticed by all. Thurman‘s big break appeared in the form of the character of the iconic Mia Wallace in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, and thus began their endless frenetic saga of successful ventures and Tarantino’s obsession with her feet. Although they had a fallout due to Tarantino’s persuasive callousness while shooting one of her legendary sequences in a car, they later made up.
A doting mother, a vocal feminist and a philanthropist, Thurman has starred in various films that have garnered her acclaim, but lately, she has ceased to take part in too many projects as she perhaps does not find the desire to star in films just for the sake of it. “Desperation is the perfume of the young actor. It’s so satisfying to have gotten rid of it. If you keep smelling it, it can drive you crazy,” she said, “In this business, a lot of people go nuts, go eccentric, even end up dead from it. Not my plan”.
Known for her wonderful acting abilities and the capacity to deliver power-packed performances, she is one of the most celebrated actresses in Hollywood. As the actress turns 51 today, we celebrate her birthday by taking a look at some of her best films.
Uma Thurman’s 10 best movies:
10. The Truth About Cats and Dogs (Michael Lehmann, 1996)
Playing on the conventional and problematic ugly versus beautiful trope, Lehmann’s film sees a veterinarian and radio show host Abby being courted by a photographer named Brian. Since she is very insecure about herself, she pretends to be her comparatively more charming neighbour Noelle. Abby poses as Donna and convinces Noelle to be a part of this deceit. While Noelle, as Abby, goes out with Brian, misunderstandings come to the surface as Brian begins to notice that things are amiss and Noelle suddenly finds herself getting involuntarily attracted to Brian.
Uma Thurman, who played Noelle and has been quite insecure about herself in the past, had a lot to share on the film’s driving theme. “We probably keep going back to that idea because there’s a whole industry that needs to sell a lot of products that wants us to think that the outside is the important part,” Thurman said. “There’s a war going on. The inside’s not as commercial as the outside. People are so affected by how they’re received in the world, and some or all of our first experiences are based on how we’re externally judged. The conflict between the inner and the outer is a constant battle everybody experiences on lots of levels.” Thurman, despite having a smaller role in the film, was paid a lot more than the lead Janeane Garofalo due to her fame. She does a great job as the attractive neighbour to a loud and eccentric Abby played by Garofalo.
“Have you ever noticed how Superman and Clark Kent are never in the same room at the same time?”
9. Dangerous Liaisons (Stephen Frears, 1988)
Period romantic dramas usually abound in perverse seduction, jealousy, rivalry and betrayal and this film is no exception. A jealous Merteuli is heartbroken to know that her ex-lover is getting engaged to a sweet, virginal girl named Cecile who is known for her innocence. In an attempt to sabotage their wedding, she employs a nefarious and infamous playboy, Valmont, promising him sex and support for wooing a married, prudish Tourvel. Meanwhile, Cecile falls in love with her proletarian music teacher and courts him yet gets manipulated by the scheming Merteuli to sleep with Valmont to learn the art of love. After the plans go awry, Valmont meets his fated ending and Mereuli gets exposed.
This film was a testament to some brilliant performances from the ensemble cast which included stars like Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer, Keanu Reeves, Uma Thurman and more. This is the film that garnered Thurman the desired recognition as the key character Cecile who is the quintessential victim of naivete in the film. A young Thurman was described by co-star Malkovich as someone who had “nothing twitchy teenager-ish about her, I haven’t met anyone like her at that age. Her intelligence and poise stand out. But there’s something else. She’s more than a little haunted.” In a film that documents how sex can be used as a powerful tool of manipulation, Cecile’s innocence and kind-heartedness are juxtaposed to Close’s Merteuli’s vicious and raging sexuality and seductiveness which she is not afraid of employing to get whatever she wants.
“Vanity and happiness are incompatible.”
8. Gattaca (Andrew Niccol, 1997)
In a futuristic eugenics-driven world that relies on bio-engineering, genetically engineered children are considered superior to the children conceived in the traditional manner. Vincent Freeman is one such invalid who endures genetic discrimination and lives in the shadow of his valid brother Anton. Driven by his desire to explore space, Vincent dreams of defying the fate encoded in his DNA. He finds an unlikely ally in Jerome who is a genetically superior but paralysed athlete. Vincent assumes the latter’s identity to realise his dreams. However, their meticulous plan is disrupted when Vincent comes under the investigative radar for the unexpected death of the director.
Genetic engineering and the subsequent genetic discrimination are the major themes in the film, followed by its unique take on predestination where it is an offence against God’s will yet in line with Darwin’s evolution theory. The film focuses on pertinent questions regarding the socio-political implications that shall prevail in a society relying on genetic manufacturing. An unexpectedly poignant and poetic sci-fi film, Niccol’s imagination helps examine the effect of the rapid advancement of science in human relationships. Thurman appears alongside Ethan Hawke yet again as his romantic interest Irene Cassini who has a heart condition yet dreams of going to outer space. While playing the romantic lead often causes an actress’ prowess to be undermined and her importance to fizzle out, Thurman’s sheer brilliance on-screen made her shine despite the limited on-screen time allotment.
“You’re the only one that watches all of them. If you’re going to pretend like you don’t care, don’t look up.”
7. Les Miserables (Bille August, 1998)
Adapted from Victor Hugo’s eponymous 1862 novel, the film sees the director weaving the story out of his own imagination, taking the creative liberty and making necessary changes when required. The film begins with the acquittal of Jean Valjean, a thief, who vows to a kind-hearted bishop to be a new man who is honest and just. Even after he makes a living for himself and becomes worthy of respect, he is pursued by an inspector named Javert who wants to nab him at any cost. Valjean is also entrusted by one of his workers, Fantine, who had to take recourse to prostitution to sustain herself, to look after her daughter Cosette. While shouldering his responsibilities and trying to escape the vindictive inspector, Valjean finds himself amidst student rebellions where one of the rebels fall haplessly in love with Cosette.
A strong cast comprising Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush and Uma Thurman, the adaptation continues the wonderful saga of various characters caught in a tumultuous era, spanning decades. Although Fantine was supposed to be blonde (and Thurman is naturally blonde), she appeared as a brunette in this film. Fantine is one of the most prominent and strong female characters in literature and Hugo’s Fantine is spirited, bold and devoted- a doting mother who turns to prostitution to sustain herself and her daughter. Fantine was the quintessential saintly prostitute that was prevalent in the works of Dostoyevsky, Dickens and Tolstoy, but Hugo’s depiction adds a material tenderness to her. Thurman does a spectacular job as the transgressive character who dares to have a child out of wedlock; she dies yet has an overwhelming presence throughout the film and is the epitome of a strong figure of female victimhood.
“But you don’t understand, I’m a whore and Cosette has no father.”
6. Beautiful Girls (Ted Demme, 1996)
What happens when a group of friends most of whom are in dysfunctional relationships and stuck in a stagnant career meet at a reunion? Chaos ensues. In this ensemble flick, Willie Conway is a New York-based jazz artist who returns to his hometown for a high school reunion. While his friend Mo is a happy family man, Paul and Tommy are both at crossroads in their respective lives where they cannot seem to luck out with love. Willie thinks that this reunion shall also help him confront himself about his sales job offer as well as his relationship with his girlfriend Tracy. With Willie’s arrival, the boys have epic fun while learning to settle down in light of various circumstances.
Uma Thurman is usually seen in layered, meaty roles. However, in this flick, she poses as the attractive Andera who comes to the town from Chicago and makes the men swoon over her. Despite the small role in this film, she manages to stand out amidst the talented ensemble. The film is essentially a feel-good one that emphasizes friendship, love and memories as one of the most crucial things in life.
“I’m easy, I know, but a guy who can muster up those four words is a guy I want to stay with.”
5. Tape (Richard Linklater, 2001)
A documentary filmmaker Jon joins his friend Vince who is a drug dealer in a motel room where the duo talks about their high school memories. However, their relationship turns sour when they talk about Vince’s ex-girlfriend Amy whom Jon had allegedly sexually assaulted. After Jon confesses, Vince produces the secret recording of Jon’s confession. Soon they are joined by Amy who seemingly denies harbouring any ill will towards the duo and talks to them amicably heightening the atmospheric anxiety in the film.
The film was based on Stephen Belber’s eponymous play and had a theatrical feel to it. The intense psychological issues have been dexterously portrayed by the actors in question especially Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman. Linklater, who is known for his intricate study of psychology and human emotions, does not disappoint. The film is filled with a close study of trauma and pain as the three friends’ reunion is weighed by the harrowing past trauma.
“People change. They end up having nothing to say to each other even if they were best friends years before.”
4. Nymphomaniac (Lars von Trier, 2013)
Originally supposed to be one single feature-length, the film was split into two due to its running time. A middle-aged and allegedly asexual bachelor named Seligman found a battered Joe in the alley behind his apartment one wintry evening and gave her shelter. While he nursed her back to health, Joe recounts tales of her libidinous lifestyle which tantamounts to a self-diagnosis of nymphomania. An avid reader and highly knowledgeable, Seligman parallels her experiences with whatever he has read, analyzing them as Joe vents her frustration and talks about how she has spiralled into self-destruction due to her constant sexual needs.
This is von Trier’s magnum opus and the last of his Depression trilogy following Antichrist and Melancholia. Infusing intellectualism with sexuality, he presents a masterpiece and explores existentialism, suffering, pain while upending social norms and redefining female sexuality. Uma Thurman plays Mrs H who is one of Joe’s lover’s wife. She has a mental breakdown when she catches them and Joe reportedly remains unaffected. Charlotte Gainsbourg as Joe delivers an outrageous and stupendous performance. Thurman, in her brief role of an anguished wife, leaves an impact with her powerful performance. She is the victim of infidelity yet her verbal lacerations show her moral corruptness, thus dabbling in pervasive themes of morality and sin. Thurman’s character’s victimhood is due to Joe’s carnal pursuits yet one cannot be sympathetic towards Mrs H.
“Would it be alright if I show the children the whoring bed? After all, they also have a stake in this event.”
3. Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (Quentin Tarantino, 2004)
The “deadliest woman in the world”, the Bride is back and is seething with rage. At her wedding rehearsal, the Bride is ambushed by her ex-lover Bill who is also the father of her child. Although she survives and goes into a coma, she returns four years later to seek revenge. Having been trained by the legendary master Pai Mei in martial arts, the Bride has mastered the tricks of the trade and escapes unhurt even after being buried alive. She avenges her master’s death and engages in hand-to-hand combat with various dangerous adversaries before encountering Bill. She appeases her revengeful self and leaves for a better future with her daughter B.B. while Bill is left to die.
Uma Thurman’s electrifying performance in the first film attracted more female viewers and the Bride became a symbol of the vengeful femme fatale who was the epitome of female empowerment. A quintessential Tarantinoesque flick with mindless violence and jarring background scores derived from Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti westerns, the film is a testament to Uma Thurman’s prowess and agility as well as the effortless ability to play any character with effortless ease.
However, there were numerous allegations made by Thurman in 2018 when she spoke of how Tarantino coerced her into shooting a sequence in a damaged car that left her with a permanent shoulder injury and accused the serial sexual offender Harvey Weinstein of trying to cover it up. While it sparked immense outrage in wake of the #MeToo movement, Thurman and Tarantino quickly made up. In 2019, Tarantino even teased the third film as he wanted to make his very own Dollars trilogy like the legendary Sergio Leone. He talked about how they had discussed an “interesting” idea and that “it is definitely in the cards” but did also that it was “at least three years from now”. Given that Tarantino has only one film to direct according to his legendary promise, it is only fitting to see him bring closure to the Bride’s story by gifting her daughter B.B. a period piece as well.
“Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.”
2. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
Tarantino modelled Uma Thurman’s iconic Mia Wallace after Anna Karina in Bande à part (1964). With her blunt black bob, clad in a classic fashionably casual combo of a white button-down and black cigarette pants, Mia is the definition of intriguing. The wife of Marsellus Wallace, Mia is a rather peculiar character in Tarantino’s iconic film and constantly tries to seduce John Travolta’s Vincent Vega while he tries to keep her company while catering to unfinished business. Mia is somewhat mysterious, all the viewers get to know about her are her obsession with rare burgers, flavoured shakes and expensive clothing as well as her love for ‘Red Apple’ cigarettes and cocaine addiction. She shares her experience of being a failure as an actress with Vega before partaking in an iconic twist contest, grooving to Chuck Berry’s ‘You Never Can Tell’.
Thurman is said to have based the iconic dance scene on the character of Duchess from The Aristocats. Thurman as Mia is foxy, enchanting and troublesome. Despite being an irresponsible drug addict, she is articulate and not only adored by the audience but also envied as they want to be Mia Wallace. Thurman had turned down the role at first but relented after relentless persuasion from Tarantino. Thurman’s facile delivery style and in-built coolness seem to add an extra charm to Mia’s verbose self that brought out the coolness on screen. The enigmatic and corny portrayal of Mia Wallace catapulted Thurman into the world of Hollywood A-listers. Mia is considered to be one of the greatest female characters written for a film as her subversive presence as a mobster’s wife breathed in an air of fresh perspective into a predefined role.
“That’s when you know you’ve found somebody really special: you can just shut the fuck up for a minute and comfortably share silence.”
1. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino, 2002)
Borrowing elements from across all genres, Tarantino created a well-crafted, nuanced and intriguing masterpiece while retelling the story of a femme fatale named The Bride, whose indomitable spirit, relentless pursuit of revenge and unwavering determination, made her embark on a quest for vengeance. Having been in a comatose state for four years after her possessive and jealous ex attempted to murder her, the Bride is driven by an insatiable thirst to avenge her unborn child, her now-deceased wedding party as well as the interim four-year gap. Lusting for blood and revenge, the Bride is armed with a sword and a planned hitlist as she gradually overcomes various obstacles to complete her quest of seeking out the titular Bill.
The Bride was the result of a collaborative creation between Thurman and Tarantino. Clad in a yellow jumpsuit and with her signature, blonde hair, Uma Thurman as Beatrix Kiddo whose alias is The Bride goes down in cinematic history as one of the deadliest and complex female characters. Tarantino was absolutely in love with this character. “As far as the first half is concerned, I didn’t want to make her sympathetic,” he commented. “I wanted to make her scary.” The graphic and bloody film is accentuated by Thurman’s ferocity against the evil perpetrators; she symbolises a blood-thirsty mother who wants to seek revenge for her child as well as her lost innocence. Do not mistake her empathy for weakness, instead, look at the fire in her eyes and the extreme and commendable endurance and will she upholds while being tortured at the hands of unscrupulous enemies. Thurman’s ability to switch between emotions is the driving force behind this successful odyssey and she delivers a phenomenal, unforgettable and undoubtedly, one of her best performances.
“Those of you lucky enough to still have their lives, take them with you! However, leave the limbs you’ve lost.”