It has been more than five years since the actress, dressed in that blazing-yellow jumpsuit, claimed her place as Hollywood’s fiercest heroine, in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies. Whether you loved, loathed or just didn’t get them, nobody could deny Thurman’s performance was a tour de force. “Uma managed to pull off being an action star better than most men,” says Chris Columbus, who directed her in Percy Jackson. “Put her up against Indiana Jones, James Bond, even Spider-Man, and she will kick their ass.”
The two-part opus raked in more than $300 million worldwide, upping Thurman’s subsequent asking price to a reported $12.5 million per film. Unfortunately, the movies she has made since—among them the 2005 film version of The Producers, the action comedy My Super Ex-Girlfriend and the Columbine-tinged drama The Life Before Her Eyes—haven’t approached that level of success. Although critics were almost uniformly kind to Thurman, the movies received lukewarm reviews and generated very little box-office heat. The last project her fans were able to catch her in was the television special A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa. “I was just dying to work with Miss Piggy,” she quips.
To be fair, Thurman has had a few personal issues to deal with in recent years. In 2005, after seven years of marriage, she and Ethan Hawke divorced, and Thurman soon found herself at the center of a humiliating domestic soap opera when the tabloids detailed Hawke’s alleged infidelity with a 22-year-old Canadian model while shooting a movie in Montreal. On the heels of their breakup came Thurman’s stalker ordeal. Jack Jordan, a schizophrenic, sent Thurman a series of threatening notes between 2005 and 2007 and later camped out in his car on the street near her town house. (He was sentenced to three years’ probation and ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment.) Then, last year, Hawke set tongues wagging again when he married his pregnant girlfriend, Ryan Shawhughes, Maya and Levon’s former nanny.
Not surprisingly, Thurman doesn’t relish talking about any of these events, offering a terse “I don’t really want to get into that” (or some version thereof) when any of the topics come up. “As someone once said, no new damage, that’s all you can do. Be positive and move forward,” she offers. “You kind of owe it to your children to not leave a lot of mess. They didn’t ask for it, and they don’t need to hear about it.”
Dieckmann, with whom Thurman became close while working on Motherhood (their children are about the same age, and the two live just a few blocks apart), says the actress tries to live her life “as normally as humanly possible” given her circumstances. “I look at Uma and I see someone who was thrust into the limelight as an object of desire when she was 18,” she says, referencing the famous scene in Thurman’s first major film, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, in which she emerges nude from a giant seashell. “That’s really young to get attention in that way.” Any aloofness Thurman may project, Dieckmann says, is a “coping mechanism.” Adds the director, “She does not take a lot of people into her inner circle, but the people she does take in she would lay down in front of a train for. She’s just selective about where she directs her energies.”