Uma Thurman

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Despite being named after the Hindu goddess of beauty, Uma Thurman has never been very confident about her appearance. The statuesque beauty insists she was something of an ugly duckling as a child, and she still harbours doubts about having turned into a swan.

"I was a little too tall, odd, funny looking," she says. "I was just really weird as a kid." But the movie industry, not to mention cosmetics giant Lancôme, which employs her as a model, has no such reservations about the 6ft actress.

Quentin Tarantino's collaborations with the woman he calls "my Marlene Dietrich" have also played a pivotal role in her career. Parts in Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill have earned her a reputation as cinema's ultimate femme fatale, but in reality Uma is more flower child than lethal weapon.

The star was born on April 29, 1970, in Boston. Her father, Robert Thurman, was an expert in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies at Colombia University, and the first Westerner to become a Buddhist monk. Her mum Nena, a model-turned psychotherapist, had previously been married to hippie guru Timothy Leary.

It was while she was at a boarding school in Massachusetts that the awkward youngster fell in love with theatre. After appearing in a number of school plays, she won a part in an independent production of The Crucible. One night two New York talent scouts were in the audience, and before her parents knew it the aspiring thesp had packed her bags and jumped on a bus for Broadway.

"Uma always seemed to know what she wanted to do from the day she was born," reflects her mum. "Her sense of destiny was very much in place. She took acting classes and was in lots of plays. I tried to keep her back as long as I could, but when she started to show signs of the family restlessness, I really didn't feel I could say no, because I had done the same thing myself."

Three years later, at the age of 18, Uma landed her first leading role, in the teen comedy Johnny Be Good. Nineteen eighty eight would prove a big year for the young actress, with her appearing in two more films which catapulted her firmly onto the A-list.

While she made quite an impression on male movie fans with her portrayal of Venus in The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen, it was her role as Cécile in the sexually-charged Dangerous Liaisons that garnered the plaudits of movie critics.

Not long afterwards she met the British character actor Gary Oldman, who became her husband in October 1990. Their marriage came to an end after just two years, however, and Uma immersed herself in her movie career.

After turning in memorable performances in such movies as Final Analysis, Batman And Robin and Pulp Fiction, she won the lead role in the underrated thriller Gattaca, in which she co-starred with another renowned performer, Ethan Hawke.

The pair fell in love and, on May 1, 1998, they walked down the aisle. In the years that followed they had two children and earned a reputation as one of the movie industry's most celebrated couples. The relationship hit hard times, however, when media reports emerged saying Ethan had been unfaithful, and the couple filed for divorce in early 2004.

Having inherited her parents' philosophical attitude to life, the actress refuses to feel bitter about the split. "It's not fun but, like any great change or trauma or shock or loss, you know you have to look at things as an opportunity for growth and a chance to reinvent yourself in some fashion," she says. "Sometimes the good memories might make you sad but they're still precious."

What seems clear is that Uma has learned from all the ups and downs of a life rich in experience. And she is relieved to have reached a place where she no longer feels under pressure to prove herself. "Desperation is the perfume of the young actor," she says. "It's so satisfying to have gotten rid of it. If you keep smelling it, it can drive you crazy."
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