Personal detailsName: Uma Thurman
Born: 29 April 1970 (Age: 44)
Where: Boston, Massachusettes, USA
Awards: Won 1 Golden Globe, Nominated for 1 Oscar and 2 BAFTAs
All about this star
It's been a strange trip for Uma Thurman. Hailing from a highly intellectual background, she might have expected to lead an academic life. Instead, much to her bewilderment and horror, she was seized upon by Hollywood and thrust into the limelight as the latest teen sex symbol - a status that betrayed both her past and her desired future. And so began a decade-long journey to prove herself to be more than just a pretty girl who struck lucky - a journey that would eventually bring wealth, awards and worldwide respect.
That background was not simply intellectual, it was also hugely exotic. Her maternal grandmother, Brigit Holmquist, was a great Swedish beauty who, in 1930s Berlin, met and married the monocled Westphalian Baron Karl von Schlebrugge. After the baron had been briefly jailed by the Nazis for refusing to denounce his Jewish business partners, the couple would take off for Sweden, then Mexico and China. Such were Brigit's looks that a nude statue of her would be erected in the port town of Trelleborg, and her daughter Nena would also turn out a stunner. Spotted in a Stockholm playground by society photographer Norman Parkinson when she was just 16, she was taken to London to model for Vogue, then off to New York where she became a top fashionista. Caught up in the high-brow swinging set, she would find a father figure in psychedelic guru Timothy Leary and marry him in 1964.
Meanwhile, Robert Thurman, son of New York stage actress Elizabeth Farrar, was on a pathway all his own. Coming from a well-to-do WASP family, he'd gone to Harvard to study the classics but, at 19, had married Houston oil heiress Christophe de Menil, 7 years his senior. It didn't last, and Robert took off with some mates to ride across India on motorbikes. It was here that his life would change radically, for he'd meet the Dalai Lama and, after a protracted period of study, would become the first American to be made a Tibetan monk. He would henceforth be known as Tenzin - even his children would call him that.
Back in the US, Thurman was invited to lecture at the Hitchcock estate in Millbrook, New York, where, at the time, Leary and his acolytes were enjoying a frenetic course of acid experimentation. It was here that Robert met Nena, already attempting to extricate herself from a poorly conceived marriage. In 1966, when her divorce came through, Robert would renounce his robes and the couple would wed. Children would come soon. First Ganden (later a computer whizz), then Uma, then Dechen (an actor and director) and finally Mipam. All the names were culled from Buddhist theology.
Uma was born Uma Karuna Thurman on the 29th of April, 1970, in Boston. At age 1 and again at 11 she'd be taken to India, for around two years in total. The rest of her youth she'd spend in Amherst, Massachusetts and Woodstock, New York where Robert, the country's foremost Tibetan Buddhist scholar would hold various religious professorships. This campus life certainly invaded the home with the family discussing philosophy at the dinner table and all the kids being required to bring their own ideas to the party. Their house was often visited by Tibetan refugees, holy men and students, even the Dalai Lama himself. From the beginning, Uma's mind was forced to improve.
In many ways hers was an odd upbringing. Both Robert and Nena frowned upon Americana and did not encourage their children to engage in ordinary pursuits. This did not make life easier for the young Uma. Changing schools far more often than is usual, she already felt forever the new kid. Beyond this, her wacky name and wacky parents saw her teased mercilessly (she'd try calling herself Kelly or Linda to avoid this), and her soon-to-be-feted looks were initially a problem, too. Far taller than the rest, her features were all huge - eyes, ears, hands, feet (she'd grow to 6', with Size 11 feet) - bringing more taunts. Not particularly bright or athletic, with no social life, she felt like a freaky-looking oddball, a feeling that increased whenever she looked at her statuesque mother (and increased further when, at age 10, one of her mother's friends suggested she get a nose job).
Because of all this, Uma grew up an outsider. Indeed, given her mum's overt Eurocentricity, she did not even feel like an American. Thus displaced, she was incredibly angry, far beyond the teen norm. She might well have also been rebelling against her father's monk-like calm - she certainly went through a cheerleader period that annoyed her parents no end. She sought out extra-curricular activities that might ease her tension, bring her into contact with others in a way that she might feel was normal. Nothing worked - apart from acting. Being someone else was much, much better. From her first elementary school play she was hooked, taking acting lessons and appearing onstage wherever possible. Poetry also appealed, a big favourite being ee cummings.
As her confidence grew, so did her ambitions. At 14, she was sent to Northfield Mount Hermon School, half an hour from Amherst. However, having been treated as an adult by her parents since she was a small child, she now found school unutterably tedious. Much like Winona Ryder, god-daughter of Nena's first husband Timothy Leary, she'd decided at a very young age that acting was for her. That summer, she and a friend took off for New York City, seeking acting classes and modelling jobs.