Uma Thurman Pays It Forward

You're thinking, Wow, Uma Thurman is looking great these days -- what's she been up to? Well, she's been working her butt off: The waify former model transformed herself into a martial arts master to play a sexy assassin in the epic Kill Bill (parts 1 and 2) -- reteaming with friend and colleague Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), then immediately switched gears for legendary Hong Kong helmer John Woo to star opposite Ben Affleck in the sci-fi thriller Paycheck -- an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel in which an iniquitous technology company erases the memory of its engineers -- and her character's boyfriend (Affleck), who then has to find his way back to her and his past.

Thurman also recently separated from husband, actor Ethan Hawke (father of her two children, Maya and Levon), but she's nothing if not totally together with her life and career. talked to Uma about her philosophy of life, slap kicks and stop points, being covered in blood, working with brilliant directors and balancing work and motherhood. And you can bet what she had to say was full of the insight of a woman who has finally come into her own.

You play a biologist for a technology company in the future. How techno-savvy are you?
My Miele washing machine overwhelms me, with its options and sophistication. I'm sort of a borderline Luddite. I don't even like to use the Cuisinart; I like to hand-chop my vegetables. So, for me, it's all over my head -- PalmPilots -- don't ask me. I can manage the cell phone and the email -- that's about as far as I've gotten.

If you could, would you want to know what your future had in store for you?
I think life is intense enough as it unfolds. So I quite like getting to have one day at a time. I wouldn't mind getting a few clues, if anyone had any great insight or advice for me.

Would you ever want to "erase" any part of your memory?
The temptation, of course, is to think, yes. But, really, the situations that worked out well deliver you one thing. And the situations that didn't taught you something really crucial. And they're a fabric. Every single director that's ever believed in me, ever given me a chance, every studio head, whatever the process of decisions are, each one of those people are giving me a pearl for my chain. And sometimes, the pearl has a big black eye. And sometimes maybe it was one that is a different kind of lesson. But you can't just unstring your life and pick the good moments because you wouldn't be who you are. It would be much less rich.

You shot Paycheck immediately following Kill Bill. How do you compare the two experiences?
In Paycheck, I got to play the girl. I had a really nice time. Ben did all the heavy lifting. I got to watch John Woo work, Ben hit people. I wasn't covered in blood. John Woo had been a big inspiration to Quentin, and he actually got a print and rented a screening room and took me and sat down and showed me John Woo's The Killer. And he talked me through this moment, that moment. That's why I have long hair in Kill Bill, because he loved the way John Woo would make a woman's hair fly in slo-mo. And so in a way the intense gauntlet of work and of lifetime struggle and defining life of work that Kill Bill was -- when John Woo called me, it just sort of seemed meant to be. I probably wasn't in good enough condition to carry a movie at that moment, but to go work with him, it was almost like a healing. That's why it was fun.

You've worked a lot with Tarantino. What do you think of John Woo's style?
I was all "Woo-ed" out on this one. I think John's filmmaking style is masterful. I think that he's one of those directors that you talk about his movies as "cinema." Win, lose or draw, you can take a movie of his that maybe someone didn't like or something, and you sit and you watch it, and it's breathtaking to me. I've spent my whole life watching filmmakers work, and it's a passion. So I like to be in that kind of hand. It feels really good.

You trained to become a fighting machine for Kill Bill. Did John Woo want to bring any of that to your character in Paycheck?
I thought the way John handled the action was superb. Of course I play a biologist, and I'm the girl and so as the stunt people are figuring stuff out and the hi-yas are coming out, I'm saying "John, man -- the hi-yas -- I'm a biologist." So the few things I do in the action are kind of street, self-defense. But what I really did enjoy was I felt so like entitled to comment on the action. And none of them knew what I'd just been through, really [training for Kill Bill]. So I kind of liked to brag, you know. "Would you like a slap kick or should I do a stop point?" I had the stunt lingo and could deal with pretty much anything they were trying to throw me. I never thought that I would have that kind of self-confidence in a field that women are pretty much excluded from, so it was kind of neat.

Did you know Ben before you got together for this movie?
I had met Ben before. I had actually sat with him before with a group of actors and friends on election night, the last election. And I was totally struck then by his humor and his intelligence. And we're both from Massachusetts. And he really just reminded me of the kind of people I went to high school with. He seemed very easy and familiar and fun and gracious, like somebody from home. He was great to work with. I haven't had a lot of parts where you work with a leading man and it's kind of playful. I haven't done a lot of straight-up romantic things' there are usually some other thing at play. So that was really fun for me. Especially after Kill Bill, since I had to do them all in -- I didn't keep a costar around very long. So it was quite nice to be interacting with somebody who's not choking me, at an acting level. And I found the off-camera, on-camera playfulness and ease that we had with each other really was a joy.

What do you think about the media blitz that surrounds Ben and J.Lo -- and celebrities in general?
I take it on. I've gotten so much out of my career, out of my life; it's given me so much. Who said there's going to be no cost? You get to do what you love to do, live a great life, travel, experience new things, blow your own mind, and what -- you should be thanked for it? Sometimes it's difficult. But that attitude helps me deal with it better. We shot Paycheck in Vancouver. I used to tease Ben -- he's a heartthrob, the guy's a heartthrob. And he takes it with a tremendous amount of humor. And there by the grace of God go we -- good for him. He has such a nice attitude about it. And he's so gracious with the crew, to me, the screaming teenagers full of joy across the street. He's a good example, he really is. He's done well.

Kill Bill is a seminal film for Tarantino fans. What did you take from it?
Surfing the universe with a director like Quentin, a freestyle creativity like his? To get to see someone get to work in film so creatively and so freely and have the courage of their own convictions and do what they like? It's not something you see every day. Nor do you see it much in the world. Not many people get to do what they like. I like to applaud somebody who has the courage to do that. And I think Kill Bill came out great. I have no complaints. It's a rough piece of material in its own intense way and it's not your everyday thing. And those kind of extraordinary things, those odd things, those things that might break ground in unusual ways, they're really risky. So I think it went fantastically. I have to still finish some work on [Kill Bill] 2.

What was the best thing about 2003?
I can say, really, about this last year, that I was never a physically self-confident person. I was much more comfortable in a scene seated at a chair. I felt awkward. What martial arts trainers did for me -- I was their Lindsay Wagner -- I showed up, I was basically a mess and they basically opened me up and reconnected all those wires that nobody ever got right in the first place. They told me how to be coordinated. It was really, really hard work .I didn't know if I'd get there. I couldn't believe what they helped me do. And that sits in my body now in a whole different way. And as a woman, they gave me something huge, they made me strong. They helped me make myself strong. They changed me. They showed me something really amazing.

How do you deal with the low points?
Sometimes even the most disappointing thing, or something that really wasn't good when it was going on is the thing that delivers you to take some positive action for yourself that you never would have done if you'd had an easy day. It was The Avengers that brought my daughter into the world. I came home from that movie and was like, Pulling up stakes, here we go. I'm rethinking. I'm going to do something else. I'm having a baby. It was fine when the film came out. It wasn't like, Oh no body's going to hire me anymore so I'm going to go live in a teepee, but it was a reaction to -- I don't know what my decisions are meaning to me right now. I felt like I had gotten to a spot where I wasn't sure what I was acting for. Was I running from myself, from location to location, was I growing up, was I hurting myself? I really needed to address my life. I wanted something different. And that movie gave me that, so hey, maybe it saved my life.

Did you ever consider giving up acting?
I considered a lot of things. Especially after I had my daughter -- I was like, How am I going to do this? This is a huge responsibility. I felt completely changed. So it took me a long time to reassemble myself as a woman and feel like I was still a woman, still an actress, still vital like that. It took awhile.

Well, you're certainly back now -- and with two children -- how do you achieve the balance between work and motherhood?
With great effort. It's been the reason I haven't really felt entitled to work freely. Before, you know. you worked because you love to work, you worked because you need to get out of the house, you worked because you need to live. And you live inside your work in a way you don't live anywhere else. And then everything changes, and you feel much more conflicted. And I think I really struggle with that conflict. What's worthy enough to interrupt this day or this life here, or take this kid on the road? And then you just look at everything with this insane amount of scrutiny, and you're just conflicted. It just put a lot of pressure on those decisions. I was making decisions through a very complicated screen. I overthink things. I try to do the right thing. I just try to do my best, any working mother will tell you.

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