How Uma Thurman Has Changed Through The Years

Ever since her breakout role in the 1994 cult classic "Pulp Fiction," Uma Thurman has been an icon of the screen. The Massachusetts-born actor got her start as a teenager after being spotted in a school play. She quickly rose to fame with roles in films like "Dangerous Liaisons" and "Robin Hood." Then, with "Pulp Fiction," she became an international star. She went on to land roles in successes like "Gattaca," Les Miserables," "The Avengers," "Kill Bill," "Prime," "The Producers" and more. 

In addition to her film work, Thurman has also appeared on Broadway in the 2017 production of "The Parisian Woman" and in the popular Apple TV+ series "Suspicion." Outside of her work, Thurman is a mother of three children, one of whom (Maya Hawke) has become a successful actor in her own right.

Thurman's career and personal life has been filled with ups and downs. It's safe to say that things have changed a lot for her throughout the years. Read on to learn a little more about the fascinating journey that took her all the way from Boston bohemia to Hollywood stardom. 

Uma Thurman grew up an independently minded tomboy in a bohemian family

Uma Thurman was born on April 29, 1970. Her father, Robert Thurman, is one of the world's leading scholars of Buddhism (via Good Life Project). As one of his students told Vogue, his work had a clear influence on his household. "I remember the family as appropriately bohemian and free-spirited," the student said. "We used to call her father 'Guru Bob.'"

While the family was certainly bohemian, they also championed education. "One is the product of one's childhood, and I feel that is a great thing for me because I have a lot of equipment mentally and emotionally and culturally," Thurman said. "I was given the right education. And I also got to see the world and become familiar with great books from a very young age — you know, everything from, like, Pippi Longstocking to Dickens."

As a child, Thurman was a self-proclaimed tomboy with a real sense of independence. In fact, as her mother told Vogue, at the age of three, she once took money from her mother's purse and left the house to go shopping all by herself. 

Uma Thurman was discovered as a teenager while acting in a school play

As a child, Uma Thurman was bullied for her appearance and height. "When I was 10, someone told me I had an ugly smile, so I spent the whole of my younger years feeling embarrassed and never smiling with my mouth open," she once said in an interview (via Eastern Mirror). According to Empire, she even developed body dysmorphia after being teased for her looks.

However awkward she might have felt in real life, on stage, Thurman's self-consciousness fell away. In eighth grade, she developed a passion for acting, when she began appearing in school plays. Her first role, she told Vogue, was the infamous Wicked Witch of the West in a production of "The Wizard of Oz." A few years later, a 15-year-old Thurman starred in a school production of "The Crucible." "That was the first big thing because when I was in high school, sophomores never, ever, ever got the leading role!" she told of the production. Two acting agents happened to attend the performance and just one year later, Thurman had moved to New York to pursue a professional acting career.

Uma Thurman's career took off in the '80s with Dangerous Liaisons, but she refused to become a starlet

Throughout the '80s, the young Uma Thurman landed a few impressive roles on screen in projects such as "Kiss Daddy Goodnight" alongside Steve Buscemi, "Johnny Be Good" with Robert Downey Jr. and Terry Gilliam's "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen." In 1988, she played the innocent young Cecile in the lauded "Dangerous Liaisons" alongside Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer. Although her performance was praised by critics, many members of the public and press soon turned the 18 year old into a screen sex symbol. Her one brief topless scene, Thurman recalled to Vogue "made a very strong impression on people."

As a newcomer to Hollywood, the experience wasn't easy for Thurman. "I was shocked," she said of the response. After the film's release, Thurman was touted as Hollywood's next big star. "I thought my young career as an actress was moving along at a sort of slow and graceful pace and that I was starting to do the kind of work that I liked," she said. "But I guess there had been no one in the pan lately, and there was a vacancy next to the eggs and potatoes, so it was me." Instead of riding on the success of "Dangerous Liaisons," Thurman "withdrew."  "I didn't go and turn that into a star vehicle, studio-commercial film and triple my salary and play the hot secretary to the frustrated middle-aged businessman, you know what I mean?" she explained. 

Uma Thurman had a brief marriage to Gary Oldman

Shortly after her success in "Dangerous Liaisons," Uma Thurman tied the knot with fellow actor Gary Oldman. The pair had met when Thurman was a teenager — rumor has it, they were introduced by Sean Penn — and had begun dating while Oldman filmed the 1989 film "State of Grace." Oldman left his wife for Thurman and they wed shortly after in 1990. In 1992, less than two years after marrying, the pair split. Thurman later confessed to Vanity Fair that their marriage had been "a mistake." "We met when I was 18," she said. "He was 12 years older. It was a crazy love affair that ended, as it needed to. He was my first love. I had no prior experience."

In fact, as time went on, Thurman came to feel that her marriage to Oldman wasn't quite a real marriage. "Teenage weddings are among the things that don't count," she once said (via AnOther).

Uma Thurman became a cult film icon with Pulp Fiction

In 1994, Uma Thurman landed another role that would come to define her career. As Mia, the mysterious femme fatale in Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction," she became an international star and timeless cult icon. After all, who doesn't remember that dancing scene Thurman has with John Travolta?

At first, Thurman was unsure about taking the role. "I wasn't sure I wanted to be in the movie," she later told Vanity Fair. She was nervous about the rape scenes. "We had very memorable, long discussions about male rape versus female rape," she recalled. "No one could believe I even hesitated in any way. Neither can I, in hindsight."

The role led to Thurman's first and, as of 2023, only Oscar nomination. As Glamour noted, it also led to a series of high-profile roles and A-lister success. These days, Thurman refers to the ongoing cult obsession with the film as the "power from 'Pulp'" (via The New York Times).

Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke became a celebrity It-couple in the '90s before splitting in 2003

Throughout the '90s, Uma Thurman was known for her Blockbuster roles, but also for her high profile relationship with actor Ethan Hawke. The pair first met on the set of the 1997 sci-fi film "Gattaca." They married in 1998 and had two children. However, just five years later, they separated as rumors of infidelity spread in the press. Their divorce was finalized in 2003.

As Hawke later told Elle, the relationship was doomed from the start, partly because they were so young and so successful. "The world felt out of control. And I wanted to stop it from spinning so fast," he said. "I thought marriage would decrease my variables or something. I was absolutely wrong," adding, "I had no business taking vows that would last more than two weeks."

As for Thurman, the failed relationship was "excruciating." While the couple tried to work together to co-parent, it wasn't initially easy. "We don't have a lot of personal chats about how we're doing there's a lot of unfinished damage and baggage and stuff that's still in the way," she told Oprah Winfrey in 2005 (via People).

Uma Thurman became a mother of two children

Uma Thurman had two children, Levon and Maya, with Ethan Hawke. She later had another daughter, Luna, with Arpad Busson. When Thurman became a mother, everything changed. "You know how parents rattle on to you about, 'Oh, you won't believe your life will never be the same,' and da, da, da and you think, 'Why can't these people just get over it? All they're doing is yakking on about their kids. It's such a bore,'" she told People. "And then you have kids and you just want to do all the same things."

Even though Thurman loved being a mother, it did have her reconsidering the balance between work and home life. "You feel much more conflicted," she said. "Sort of like, 'What's worthy enough to interrupt my kid's life to take them on the road with me while I do a movie?'" Thurman ended up slowing down and taking on fewer roles in order to spend more time with her children.

However, as time went on, Thurman enjoyed getting back into her work. "When the children were little I wasn't able to work like I did before," she told Stylist in 2013. "So now, when I do work, it's very much like, 'This is good, this is my time.'"

In 2003, Uma Thurman landed another career defining role in Kill Bill

In 2003, Uma Thurman collaborated with Quentin Tarantino once again with the action-packed, blood-soaked "Kill Bill," in which Thurman played "The Bride," a walking fighting machine out for revenge on her old boss, Bill.

Apparently, Tarantino wrote the film with Thurman in mind. "I came up with the idea of doing a revenge movie, a cool exploitation kind of thing where she [Uma Thurman] would play an assassin, but not just any assassin, one of the deadliest women in the world," he said in a behind-the-scenes interview. As Thurman explained, she and Tarantino came up with the plot and characterization together.

The pair ended up turning the film into two parts, "Volume 1" and "Volume 2." As Thurman later said in an interview, it was a lot of work, but in the end, she was thrilled with the final product. As she put it, "I think I have a sense of seeing so much work folded up so beautifully and neatly into a short film, and I feel really gratified by that" (via Times of India).

Throughout the 2000s, Uma Thurman's career lost some of its momentum

After her huge success in the 1990s with cult classics like "Pulp Fiction," "Kill Bill" and "Gattaca," Uma Thurman's career seemed to slow down in the 2000s. While she continued acting, she had fewer big hits in these years. You may remember seeing her in "The Producers" in 2005 or in Lars Von Trier's art house "Nymphomaniac" series. She also appeared in a few less critically acclaimed Blockbusters like "The Con is On" and "War with Grandpa" (via IMDb).

Why the sudden decline in her star power? Well, it could have been down to a number of reasons. For one thing, Thurman's personal life seemed to be becoming more complex. TMZ reported that her ex-boyfriend Arpad Busson had threatened to take custody of their daughter if she continued acting. And, as Looper noted, she was at the helm of a few major box office flops.

Uma Thurman made her Broadway debut in 2017 and continued acting on stage

After Uma Thurman's film career began to slow in the 2000s, she turned her attention to new mediums — namely, theater. In 2017, Thurman made her Broadway debut in Beau Willimon's "The Parisian Woman." Her last stage role had been back in 1999.

Switching from film to theater wasn't easy — after all, acting on Broadway means performing in eight shows every week. "It's really, really tough," she told "Live Kelly & Ryan" at the time, "but frankly ... for my style of acting, it's a great medium for me ... it's exhilarating." 

It's no great surprise that Thurman sought out more stage work after enjoying Broadway so much. In 2018, she took on a leading role in Henrik Ibsen's "Ghosts" at Williamstown Theater Festival. As Thurman told, she was eager to get right back into stage acting after "The Parisian Woman." "I made a little vow to myself that I would try not to slip back into the darkness and let a year go by without going back on the stage," Thurman said. "I couldn't wait forever, like I did before."

In 2017, Uma Thurman opened up about her experiences of sexual assault and poor treatment in the industry

After a long career in Hollywood, Uma Thurman eventually spoke out about her experience as a woman in the industry during the #MeToo movement of 2017.

As the actor revealed to The New York Times, as a young woman, she was abused by several people in the industry, including infamous producer Harvey Weinstein. First, she claimed, she was raped by an older actor when she was just 16. Then, after making "Pulp Fiction," she became friends with Weinstein. "He used to spend hours talking to me about material and complimenting my mind and validating me," she recalled. "It possibly made me overlook warning signs. This was my champion." However, later on, he tried to force himself on her. "He pushed me down. He tried to shove himself on me," she said. "He tried to expose himself. He did all kinds of unpleasant things." 

Thurman also recalled an incident when she was coerced into driving an unsafe car on the set of "Kill Bill" by director Quentin Tarantino. "Hit 40 miles per hour or your hair won't blow the right way and I'll make you do it again," Tarantino had said. "But that was a deathbox that I was in," added Thurman. The car ended up crashing and Thurman briefly thought she had been paralyzed. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Uma Thurman spent time with her family

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Uma Thurman, like the rest of us, found herself with a lot more time on her hands. The actor ended up spending a lot more time with her daughter, actor Maya Hawke, and her son, Levon Hawke. As Maya told Nylon, she ended up moving in with Thurman during lockdown. "I moved out and got my whole life together and became a person," she said. "And this disease is like, 'Ha ha ha, just kidding! You're a kid, and you live with your parents.'" Thurman even posted a picture on Instagram of her cutting her daughter's hair. "Home hair cuts bring us back home.We are all finding our selves again," she wrote in the caption.

Thurman also got to spend some quality time with her son. As she told Jimmy Fallon on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon," she and Levon ended up binge watching a bunch of TV shows — including "Stranger Things," which would later become a star vehicle for Maya!

Uma Thurman spoke out on the Texas abortion ban in 2021

In recent years, Uma Thurman has become more and more outspoken about her political views. In 2019, for instance, the actor took a public stand against the Texas abortion ban with a personal essay in The Washington Post. As the actor recalled, she had felt "something akin to horror" when the law was passed. ""This law is yet another discriminatory tool against those who are economically disadvantaged, and often, indeed, against their partners," she wrote. 

As she explained, she was "accidentally impregnated by a much older man" when she was a teenager — she decided to have an abortion. As the actor went on to explain, she hoped that revealing her own experience of abortion would draw "the flames of controversy away from vulnerable women on whom this law will have an immediate effect." 

Thurman's daughter, Maya Hawke, also spoke up in support of her mother on "The Tonight Show." ""If she hadn't had it, she wouldn't have become the person that she had become, and I wouldn't exist," said Hawke.

In Suspicion, Uma Thurman proved that her career is still going as strong as ever

In 2022, Uma Thurman turned her attention away from film and theater and starred in Apple TV+'s series "Suspicion." As the actor had previously told Jimmy Fallon on "The Tonight Show," she spent the pandemic exploring the new surge of brilliant TV — clearly, she decided she wanted to get involved, too.

As the actor told "ET Canada," making the transition to TV was an exciting change. "I come from a film background and although I loved going into theater and I really enjoy getting to do all different kinds of things."

While the show itself received mixed reviews, Thurman's performance received critical acclaim. It's clear that the actor has many more thrilling performances in her future. In fact, as of 2023, Thurman is set to appear in four projects, including "The Kill Room," an action film set in the art world that will also star Samuel L. Jackson, Joe Manganiello and her own daughter, Maya Hawke.