Uma Thurman: Pulp friction

The new episode of Quentin Tarantino's bloodthirsty epic Kill Bill is set to slay audiences. Leslie Felperin meets its fractious star

The 33-year-old star of Kill Bill, parts one and two, looks very like a woman having, if not a nervous breakdown, then a very bad day. She comes sweeping into the hotel room where I am to interview her, and mutters something about having to make a phone call as she strides past us onto the balcony, jabbing buttons on her mobile as she walks. Everyone wants Uma, and her time is limited, since in a couple of days she's due back on the set of Be Cool, the Get Shorty sequel she's making with her Pulp Fiction dancing partner, John Travolta. This means I have to share my interview slot with a woman journalist from Denmark. We wonder who Uma might be talking to. She appears tense. Why do I suddenly feel like a Crazy 88 gang member about to lose a limb?

You'd think she'd be in a better mood, considering she's had some of the best reviews of her career for her performance as The Bride, aka Beatrix Kiddo - she who sets out to kill Bill. With Kill Bill Volume 1, Thurman proved that she could do action. Volume 2, with its broader scale of emotional tones, allows Thurman even more scope. It was never much of a stretch for her doing ethereal beauty - playing, for example, Venus in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, or decorative lovelies in Dangerous Liaisons and Beautiful Girls, or even the underrated Gattaca, where she met Ethan Hawke, her husband since 1998 and father of her two kids. They separated this year over his rumoured infidelities.

The daughter of a Swedish model and a professor of Eastern philosophy, Thurman has been trying to prove for years that she's more than just a pretty face. She's had an interesting run playing various screwed-up beauties (as in Mad Dog and Glory), ironic minxes (most famously in Pulp Fiction), and kick-ass super-vixens (Poison Ivy in Batman & Robin). But her display of maternal tenderness in the last scenes of Kill Bill Volume 2, genuinely heart-rending, marks a career best so far.

By the time she returns to the room, she looks less like a lethal assassin than a harassed working mother having a bitch of a day at the office. It is 4pm and she's already faced 10 rounds of questions about splitting up with Ethan Hawke and dating hotelier Andre Balazs. No wonder she's snappy from the off.

"Did you see the movie yesterday?" she asks us, taking the initiative as she settles those long, antelope limbs into a chair. "Yes," we reply, trying to make smiling, happy, friendly faces.

We try to appeal to her maternal instincts, and suggest that the ending, in which Beatrix is reunited with her four-year-old daughter, makes the film a kind of love story, a family romance. Did she like that about it? "Yeah, I think it takes a tremendous turn where the character is thrown back into life, because if that hadn't happened she might as well have given herself a five-point exploding palm and died," she says, alluding to a deadly kung fu move.

The Danish journalist starts in with slightly insinuating questions, trying to move us onto the subject of the split-up. She asks if love and hate are different sides of the same thing. "Many people think that," says Uma non-commitedly, obviously wise to the ruse. "I'm not so sure, but I think when people affect each other profoundly, it's a very precious thing and it has to be very well cared for."

"Have you ever felt vengeful," the Dane asks. "No, not really. Not physically." But emotionally? "I've felt anger before. Revenge is basically anger dramatised, and I've certainly felt anger."

The terseness of the reply is ominous, so I ask if she got injured much while shooting Kill Bill. "Yeah, lots! All the time." she laughs. "I don't want any more injuries."

Would she do another action movie like this? "You know, you could make one movie with one person and another one with another person, thinking it's going to be similar, and it changes so completely," she says. "Quentin being quite a unique person, I can't imagine even he will go about making a movie again in the same way. But I certainly feel that I had to learn some stuff. It stays in there. It's like learning to dance. Your body starts to tune itself to a certain type of coordination that's stir-up-able, so who knows? I'd like to play another really strong female character, but she doesn't necessarily have to be a boxer."

Thurman has spoken before about having had a poor self-image in the past. I ask if the training for Kill Bill made her more self-confident about her body. "It certainly did, and especially physically. I was never very physically self-confident. I was, you know, awkward. But I did things for this that I didn't think it was possible for me to do. So when you see that it's amazing, because then you think you could do more things that you don't think of as possible."

The Danish journalist has spotted a chink. "Ethan has talked..." she alludes to how Ethan Hawke has discussed the breakup of their marriage on US television. But Thurman's publicist has slipped into the room and blocks the thrust.

The Dane tries again, Uma resists, and the publicist looks ready to stop the interview. Uma looks like she's about to start crying. This little drama, we will later learn, has already been played out with variations several times today, at one point provoking Uma to tears. Bringing up her movie's violence seems the least inflammatory thing to do.

"I don't like realistic violence," Uma says, apparently grateful to change the subject. "In fact, I don't really like violence full stop. The violence is Quentin's thing. I don't groove with him on it. But I think the way he executes his violence is comic, creative, dramatic and playful, and not titillating in that horrifically realistic way. It's clearly a creative expression. If you look at the House of Blue Leaves sequence in Kill Bill Volume 1, the reason he wanted it to be so operatic and absurdist was because, if it had been less ridiculous, it would be more upsetting." In other words it's so over-the-top it doesn't really count as violence, I suggest. Thurman nods emphatically. "I basically think he is an artist, and he paints these insane, wild, ghastly figures sometimes. I don't look at him as, say, a documentarian or even as a standard Hollywood film-maker using violence to make an action movie. He's sort of in another category. For me, violence is a colour he uses in his palette and I've sort of fallen into step with him, and I respect him as an artist, so I don't really look at it the same way as I would, say, a run-of-the-mill action entertainment thing that is giving you violence in a generic fashion. He's so beyond that, in a kind of dream-like, mad, inspired sort of way - at least that's what I've always felt about him. Even on Pulp Fiction it was the same thing. When I read the script first without meeting him and understanding him, I didn't really want to do it because it was really violent. I was like, 'Ew! What's this, and who's the gimp, and - euch!' And then, you know, seeing Reservoir Dogs, then meeting him and getting a sense of the force that was in there on a cinematic level made me dare to go with him, and it turned out really well. So you just have to let it flow."

We hear that she's going to be dancing with John Travolta again, in Be Cool. Is that true? "Yeah, It's just a bar-room dance, but I think it will be fun," she says, tersely.

What makes her relationship with Tarantino so special, I ask tentatively. "I don't know," she says with a shrug. "I think it's part accident, part connection. I don't know why we ended up on such a giant adventure together, but we've made three films together and that's a lot. It's happened before - there are other actress-director relationships like that..." she trails off, letting us fill in the blanks - Marlene Dietrich and Josef von Sternberg, Alfred Hitchcock and Ingrid Bergman - they're all spelled out for us in the press notes and Uma is sick of this question too.

Quentin seems so manic - does he make a good friend? "He's a very good person," she says, fondly. "We came up with the idea of the movie together, the seed idea, the whole construct, the samurai, nah nah nah..." (Gee, Uma, could you sound more bored with this?) "The initial conversation was about a wedding chapel massacre, and about Beatrix Kiddo, an ex-assassin who tried to quit the business and then went on a road to revenge. That was the initial conversation. And Bill. Those were points that were outlined. And even the script, which was dramatically gigantic - it was like 222 pages long - if you were told that it was a 90-minute film you'd think that all of these action sequences would all be very tiny. So a lot of that sort of unfolded, you know? I'd never had any idea that the House of Blue Leaves would be a 25-minute fight sequence."

The Dane has recovered, and now quotes back at Thurman that she once said she felt more empowered after this movie. What is she going to use all this strength for now, she wonders.

"I don't know when I said that - maybe I'll take that back now," Thurman says, like a mischievous child, refusing to help out in any way, eyes flashing hostility like police car siren lights. "Yeah, maybe I'll just take it back. I don't feel all that strong right now. I might feel diminished by the film, actually." I don't think she actually means this last comment - though who knows - but the peevish tone of voice implies that she doesn't want to share her feelings with us in any way, shape or form now.

She's practically getting out of the chair, so to stop her I ask if there's going to be a Kill Bill Volume 3, given that the ending of Volume 2 leaves plenty of scope for a sequel. "There's no plans for Kill Bill three," she says with an annoyed laugh. (Don't read the next bit if you don't want the ending spoiled for you.) "Who cares? I mean, Bill is dead! What are we going to call it? Ghostbust Bill? Exorcise Bill? Bill Is Taking Over People's Bodies?"

And with a curt "thank you", she snaps up out of the chair. The Dane has one last question: "Could you tell us what you're wearing?"

"Clothes," says Uma. "I'm wearing clothes." You see? Movie stars, they really are just like the rest of us.

'Kill Bill Volume 2' is on nationwide release from 23 April

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker