In Hollywood, the name “Uma Thurman” is as synonymous with kick-butt thrillers as the blonde bombshell herself. Distinguished by her tall frame and unique choice of roles, Thurman is also remembered for her iconic roles in Quentin Tarantino films like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill.
On her own terms, Thurman has a peculiar backstory that goes beyond the Hollywood tropes to include Buddhist monks, legendary supermodels, and deadly stunts that became all too real. Sharpen a blade to these 42 edgy facts about Uma Thurman.
1. Beauty and Brains are in Her Blood
Uma Thurman was born on April 29, 1970 to a professor of Buddhist studies and his high-fashion model wife. She was the second of her parents four children and also has a half-sister from her father’s first marriage.
2. Jet-Set from an Early Age
As you can tell by her name—and father’s scholarly interests—Thurman was raised as a Buddhist and even grew up for two years in Almora, an Indo-Himalayan municipality. For the rest of her childhood, however, the actress would mostly be raised in Amherst, Massachusetts.
3. Following My Mother’s Catwalk
Thurman’s mother is the former model Nena von Schlebrügge, who joined the Ford Modelling Agency when she was just 17 years old. Thurman would later follow in her mother’s fashionable footsteps by working for the Click Models agency when she was only 15 years old herself.
4. Better Seen Than Heard?
Back in her modeling days, Thurman made the pages of Glamour magazine and also the December 1985 and May 1986 covers of British Vogue. This latter cover was just a year before she transitioned to acting in the mostly forgotten teen thriller, Kiss Daddy Goodnight (1987).
5. No Compliment Like a Song
In 2015, American rock band Fall Out Boy released their hit song titled, “Uma Thurman.” The lyrics reference and celebrate the actress’s successes in Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill. Thurman holds a positive attitude towards the song, stating, “It’s very, like unbelievably polite and gracious of them. So sweet. I’m so happy for their big success.”
6. The School of the Stars
Thurman chose Hollywood over school. She discovered her love of acting in the eighth grade, where her performance as Abigail in The Crucible drew the attention of talent scouts. Offered her a chance to be a pro, Thurman took it. She would later drop out of high school to follow her thespian ambitions.
7. Young Enough to Make an Impression
One of Thurman’s teenage roles was opposite John Malkovich and Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons. Playing an inexperienced girl seduced by an older, manipulative lothario (played by Malkovich), Thurman made an early impression on the tenured actors. To quote Malkovich, “There is 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.”
8. Cutting Her Way to the Top
To snag her breakout role as Mia Wallace in Quentin Tarantino’s neo-noir comedy, Pulp Fiction (1994), Thurman beat out the likes of actresses like Holly Hunter, Meg Ryan, Alfre Woodard, and Meg Tilly. Tarantino initially favored these actresses, but Thurman won him over after just a single meeting.
9. Taking You With Me
Thurman’s performance in Pulp Fiction nabbed her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress and launched her career as a movie star. It also tied her star heavily to Quentin Tarantino’s (for better or worse…).
10. Inspiration from the Heavens
For years, Uma Thurman was considered by Quinten Tarantino himself to be the director’s muse. He once described Thurman to Time magazine as “up there with Garbo and Dietrich in goddess territory.”
11. Best of the West
Thurman infamously embodied Poison Ivy in Batman & Robin (1997), a movie regarded as one of the worst films of all-time. Of course, Thurman’s career reputation was fairly unscathed; her performance as the green supervillain was compared to the legendary beats of Mae West, and “[L]ike Mae West, she mixes true femininity with the winking womanliness of a drag queen.”
12. One Regret to Rule Them All
In what she calls “one of the worst decisions [she] ever made,” Thurman turned down the role of Éowyn in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Of course, she had a fairly good excuse: at the time, Thurman was avoiding demanding, big-budget roles so soon after giving birth to her daughter.
13. What’s a Group Project Without Some Blood?
Quentin Tarantino wrote the role of Beatrix “The Bride” Kiddo, from the Kill Bill movies (2003-2004), specifically for Thurman. Moreover, Thurman has a joint writing credit in the character’s creation. As his muse, Thurman conceived the character with Tarantino as they filmed Pulp Fiction. Their basic premise? The sole image of a blood-covered bride.
14. Who Doesn’t Like a Gal with a Gun?
In co-developing the role of Beatrix Kiddo, Thurman was inspired by “two of the only women I’ve ever seen be truly women [while] holding weapon.” She was referring to Pam Grier’s character from the Coffy franchise and Gena Rowlands’ Gloria Swenson from the film Gloria.
15. Pushed to the Mother of All Limits
Kill Bill (2003-04) was hard on Thurman’s body. Not only was production delayed for a few months to due to her pregnancy, she also trained herself in swordsmanship, martial arts, and the Japanese language for three months.
16. A Need for Swede
In 2018, Thurman began to seek citizenship in the country of Sweden. With assistance from the Swedish Minister for Justice, she is hoping to move there, based on her Swedish ancestry.
17. Not Lost in Translation
Uma Thurman was named after the Hindi goddess of beauty and light, “Uma.” Her middle name, “Karuna,” was derived from the Sanskrit word for kindness or compassion.
18. A Blessing from the Neighbors
The Dalai Lama made frequent visits to Thurman’s childhood home in India. Thurman’s father, Professor Robert Thurman, is the first American to be ordained as a Buddhist Monk by the 14th Dalai Lama himself.
19. The Mother of All Cuts
Thurman filmed scenes for Oliver Stone’s drug drama Savages…only for all of them to be cut in the final draft. The older actress played the multiple divorcee mother to Blake Lively’s character, O. When the studio demanded a shorter version of the movie, Thurman’s entire arc was unfortunately left on the cutting room floor.
20. The Pen Is Mightier Than the Sword, Hopefully
In 2006, Thurman was knighted by the government of France, but don’t ring Thurman up for any quests. She was inducted into the “Order of Arts and Letters.”
21. She Was Almost Almost Famous
In another misstep regarding Thurman’s history of choosing roles, she famously turned down the leading part of Penny Lane in Almost Famous (2000). The role went to Kate Hudson, who went on to be nominated by Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars for her work in the film.
22. A Project of Love?
Did you know that Thurman’s ex-husband, Ethan Hawke, was a novelist? In 2002, Hawke dedicated his second novel, Ash Wednesday, to “Karuna,” in reference to Thurman’s middle name.
23. Lights, Camera, Divorce Court
Thurman met her first husband, English actor Gary Oldman, on the set of their film State of Grace (1990). They married in 1990, but the match only lasted two years before they divorced.
24. Speculative Fiction, Real Families
Thurman also met her second husband at work: she and Ethan Hawke began dating while filming the science fiction thriller, Gattaca (1997). The actors went on to have two children: Maya (b. 1998) and Levon (b. 2002).
25. Good “Help” is Hard to Find?
Did Thurman’s second marriage fall apart because of Ethan Hawke’s affair with their nanny? Not according to him, although Hawke’s infidelities are heavily cited as the cause of their divorce in 2005. For the record, Hawke went on to marry said nanny, Ryan Shawhughes, in 2008. To quote Hawke, “my [first] marriage disintegrated due to many pressures, none of which were remotely connected to Ryan.” Hawke and Shawhughes are still married to this day.
26. C’est La Vie
From 2007 to 2014, Thurman embarked on an on-and-off again relationship with French financier, Arpad Busson. The couple were engaged (and then un-engaged…) twice, once in 2009 and then in 2014. Since 2017, Thurman has held primary physical custody of their daughter (b. 2012).
27. Over the Moon About This Nickname
Thurman’s youngest daughter has six first names: Rosalind Arusha Arkadin Altalune Florence Thurman-Busson was born in 2012. For the sake of brevity, the girl goes by “Luna.”
28. Unwanted Attention
From 2004 to 2011, Thurman was terrorized by a stalker. It got to the point where she had to physically testify at his harassment trial in 2008. Despite his conviction—and sentencing to three years of probation—he was arrested again for violating the restraining order in 2010.
29. Don’t Keep the Bride Waiting…
In 2017, Thurman drew social media attention for her notoriously foreboding anger about disgraced Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein. When asked to comment on the scandal (as Weinstein was involved in many of Tarantino’s films), Thurman replied with “no comment” and added she was too angry to talk about the case right now. Weeks later, she made an Instagram post which featured her iconic opening revenge monologue from Kill Bill Vol. 2. The post ended with “Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! (Except you Harvey, and all your wicked conspirators – I’m glad it’s going slowly – you don’t deserve a bullet) -stay tuned.”
30. So Much for the Sanctity of Muses
In a 2018 interview with The New York Times, Thurman alleged she had been assaulted Harvey Weinstein in 1994 at the Savoy Hotel. Thurman’s friend and collaborator, director Quinten Tarantino, admitted that knew of Weinstein’s reputation and that he, Tarantino, should have done “more than [he] did.”
31. The Heights You’ll Reach
Standing at six feet tall, it’s not surprising that Thurman was one of the largest girls in her class growing up. By the age of 13, she was already 5’10”. Her foot sized also maxed out to a size 11.
32. 20 Reasons Why
In 1995, Thurman ranked #20 on Empire magazine’s list of 100 Sexiest Stars in Film History. The top-fifth ain’t bad, Uma!
33. Mixing Arts and Family
Uma Thurman’s oldest daughter, Maya, was named after her mother’s character in The Duke of Groove (1996).
34. A Truly Noble Lineage
Thurman descends from German nobility. Her paternal grandfather was a German monarchist and peer who was jailed by Nazis in World War II for shielding his Jewish friends. Her grandparents were even married while he was in custody.
35. The Family That Bears All For the Camera
Uma Thurman is a third-generation model. In addition to her mother being a fashion model for Ford, Thurman’s maternal grandmother did artistic modeling for the nude sculptures of Axel Ebbe.
36. Too Good for This Hemisphere
Want to wear the shades of Lancôme lipstick named after Uma Thurman as part of her spokeswoman deal with the cosmetics company? I hope you’re ready to buy a plane ticket: the signature shade was only sold in Asia.
37. No Need to Get Henry About It
Thurman is an animal activist. She even joined the Rhino Rescue Project in 2015 to help relocate the endangered genus of black rhino. During her trip, she developed a kinship with the animals and called her described her encounters with them as “spiritual, surreal.”
38. Not Everyone Appreciates A Special Face
Despite her modeling success as a young girl, Thurman suffered from poor self-image and body dysmorphia for most of her youth. That might have had something to do with the fact that one of her friend’s mothers suggested that she undergo a rhinoplasty—at 10 years old.
39. Six Feet Under Some Serious Stress
Thurman is incredibly claustrophobic. This phobia made a particularly horrific experience out of filming the scene in Kill Bill Vol 2. where her character is buried alive.
40. A Psychedelic Path Not Taken
Thurman’s mother was once married to the infamous psychedelic drug scholar, Timothy Leary. A proponent for LSD use in psychiatry. President Richard Nixon once called Leary “the most dangerous man in America.” Well, Thurman’s mother found him not so dangerous. They were married for less than a year in 1964, two years before she wed Thurman’s father.
41. Actors Are People Too
Thurman suffered permanent injury to her neck and knees while shooting a stunt for Kill Bill. Director Quentin Tarantino insisted that Thurman do her own driving stunts, despite the actress’s fears. In Thurman’s retelling, Tarantino became so enraged that she gave in and did the stunt herself—resulting in a crash that caused a concussion, a bruised head, damaged knees, and an injury that had Thurman in a neck brace.
Although she has forgiven the director, Thurman has described the experience as “dehumanization to the point of death.”
42. Such a Thing as Too Hands-On
Tarantino apologized for endangering Thurman into the Kill Bill driving stunt…however, he would defend his directorial decision to be the one to strangle Thurman with a chain during her fight scene with Chiaki Kuriyama. He also was the one to spit on Thurman’s face in her scene with Michael Madsen. Other stunt and effects experts, however, have argued it was entirely unnecessary for the director to directly stage the violence against Thurman.