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Free spirited Uma finds her perfect role; Avengers star Uma Thurman talks to Jessica Sully.

As Batman & Robin director Joel Schumacher pointed out, "It's difficult to kick butt in a corset." But slinky six foot blonde beauty Uma Thurman managed it - so successfully that she's poised to kick butt again, this time in skin-tight leather.

Thurman, who played Poison Ivy in the bat movie, has been cast as Mrs Peel in the new Avengers movie, bringing to the big screen the role that Diana Rigg so famously created on 1960s television.

"It's the best woman's role that's come along in 25 years," boasts Avengers producer Jerry Weintraub. "Sure, there will still be a Mr Steed, (played by Ralph Fiennes) but it's the Emma Peel role that will be the stand-out."

In fact, although Hollywood is now trying to hush the fact up, Thurman wasn't the first choice for the film version of the cult 1960s TV series.

Believe it or not, the project has been doing the rounds in Tinseltown for more than ten years, and Thurman was picked for the role after Elizabeth Hurley, Nicole Kidman and Gwyneth Paltrow declined for one reason or another.

"I heard about the project a few years ago," admits Thurman, "so when it came back around, it seemed like it was coming back to me for a reason."

Could the reason be to put the 27-year-old actress's career back on track? Since she ran away from school and appeared in Kiss Daddy Good Night at the ripe old age of 16, Thurman's film career has been like the proverbial roller-coaster ride.

She was praised for her daring bi-sexual role in Henry and June, slaughtered by critics for her performance in the movie bomb Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, nominated for an Oscar for her role in Pulp Fiction and slaughtered again for her "glacial acting" in the sci-fi thriller Gattaca.

And in spite of fame, beauty and having appeared in more than 16 films, Thurman still isn't an A-list movie star. This fact, she claims, doesn't bother her in the least.

"Honestly, I've never wanted to be a film star. I'm not like that, really. I've had a couple of films, but I never did these things to be famous.

"Dangerous Liaisons gave me the sort of hot and fast flush that comes from being young and new on the scene, but I went about trying to kill that off when it arose. That sort of cheap success doesn't represent me in any way.

"The truth is, I've tended to make fairly obscure movies so I haven't really courted commercial success.

"A lot of young actors strive for that attention early in their career, but it can actually be destructive in the long run."

What did circulate early in her career were reports of Thurman's unusual intelligence. Her Dangerous Liaisons co-star John Malkovich referred to Thurman's "horrifyingly great brain" and there's no doubt that the actress (who never went to college) is ext remely well-read.

Finding a script where a woman character has a high IQ is one reason why the role of sexy scientist Emma Peel was particularly attractive to her, Thurman explains.

"Emma is a great character - positive, intelligent, witty; sort of a superwoman. She's a free spirit, and somewhat unconscious of her draw over men."

Thurman can hardly claim to be unconscious of her own draw over men. Her slender figure, big blue eyes, perfect porcelain skin, pouty lips and blonde hair more than qualify her for the role of Hollywood babe, but that's just not her style.

"The truth is, I think this whole thing about beauty can stifle you in so many ways," she says. "As a woman you have to resist it. Am I beautiful? I really try not to think about the way I look."

In spite of her often glamorous film roles, off screen Thurman won't touch glamour with a barge pole. She wears glasses (without which she's happy to admit she's as blind as a bat) with unflattering frames, loose, baggy clothes and no make-up.

Her slightly hippy style of dress and attitude is a direct inheritance from her unconventional parents. Her Swedish-German mother, Nene von Schlebrugge, is a model turned psychotherapist. Her father, Robert Thurman, is the first American ever to be ordai ned as a Buddhist monk. Her mother's first husband was pop-culture guru Timothy Leary.

"Looking back on what happened to me, I'm just glad I didn't have more going on in my teens, because, as it was, it was a little too much. I was a very excitable young woman."

One of the things that this excitable young woman did in her teens was marry troubled and talented English actor Gary Oldman. The two divorced 18 months later, and both have remained close-lipped about the cause of the marital breakdown.

Thurman is now married to actor and writer Ethan Hawke, whom she met when the two were co-stars on Gattaca. She walked down the aisle in May this year, already pregnant and glowingly pretty in a plus-size Vera Wang wedding dress.

With motherhood number one on her mind at the moment, is Thurman going to be thrilled if The Avengers is a hit or devastated if it's a bomb?

Neither, probably. She says cheerfully: "I love my career, but it's a whimsical one. Acting is not a reliable, dependable thing to do.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 14, 1998
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