Uma Thurman Puts Motherhood First
Longtime friends, actress Uma Thurman and designer Zac Posen seem to be traveling parallel paths through New York. They’ve collaborated on memorable red-carpet looks such as the ruched navy mermaid gown Thurman wore to the CFDA Fashion Awards—“appropriate for somebody who had played Venus,” says Posen; or the white disco-esque frock she donned to accompany the designer to the Young Patrons of Lincoln Center gala.
During an intimate conversation at the Chelsea offices of Room to Grow (an organization aimed at enriching the first three years of babies born into poverty), Thurman discussed the troubling statistics that have motivated her to support the organization since its inception in 1998: 55 percent of babies born each day in the city are born into poverty and nearly one in three children in New York live in poverty. She’ll also be attending Room to Grow’s annual gala fundraiser at the Mandarin Oriental on January 31.
Here, the actress also opens up about her new roles in the romantic comedy Playing for Keeps, in theaters December 7 and the Lars von Trier independent film Nymphomanic, to be released next Spring, a s well a s the beautiful new baby in her life, Luna, with boyfriend Arpad Busson. And once again in perfect harmony, Posen confessed that he too hoped a family was close on his horizon….
ZAC POSEN: How did you first get involved with Room to Grow?
UMA THURMAN: Julie Burns, who is the founder of the organization, and I lived in the same brownstone on West 13th Street. We were a pretty similar age, and I was having my first child. She kept coming in with bags of baby items, but she was thin as a rail and definitely not pregnant. I was growing bigger and bigger, so I had to ask her what she was doing. She said, “I’m starting this organization, and I’d like to talk to you about it.” She had been a social worker and a therapist in New York, working with children coming from disadvantaged backgrounds and abused children. And as she scanned the services available, she discovered that there was not an organization that met the needs of babies. By the time children who aren’t given any extra support hit kindergarten, they are 18 developmental months behind their peers. When Julie discovered this, it sparked her idea to found Room to Grow, and I’ve been involved with it since then.
ZP: Your generosity of spirit and time has always astounded me, and I wonder how you find the balance for yourself between being a mother and giving time to Room to Grow and acting.
UT: The question of balance has always been kind of a funny one to me because I don’t think there is any balance. I feel like I’ve never done enough. I do think I’m pretty good at home, but trying to balance my energies outside the home? It’s a challenge; there’s so much more I want to do and can do. I was starting to do a lot more as my children are so independent, but now I have a new baby [Luna]. It’s wonderful, and I’m in a different place in my life, so I have a feeling it’s going to be a little different. When I was younger and became a mother, I didn’t think I could do anything else; I was completely overwhelmed. I felt guilty and afraid about working, guilty and afraid about not working. It’s very overwhelming for a younger person, which is why it’s awesome to get to have another baby when you’re grown up.
ZP: What types of acting projects have you been working on?
UT: Because I just had a baby this year, I haven’t quite gotten up and running yet, but I did a role in a movie called Playing for Keeps, which is a comedy. I just had a really fun time. I also went over to Germany and did a big scene, which is a monologue, with Lars von Trier for his film Nymphomaniac. I’m not the nymphomaniac, but it’s going to be totally scandalous. I’ve been on maternity leave for a while, so it’s all about the future. I’m reading scripts, and I changed my agents—I’m hitting refresh in my career.
ZP: Those are usually the best times, when the best work comes out.
UT: I’ve had a few periods like that in my incredibly long career because, like you, I started working at a very young age. I’m looking at things and actually today will go and meet with a theater department, and we’ll see what comes of it. I’m in a seed-sowing moment, so I have some projects coming out, but really I’m sort of starting over.
ZP: I thought it was refreshing to see you in Smash on television, a medium that I hadn’t seen you on before. I think for some people, they were very surprised to see you. The Producers obviously had been a foray into that….
UT: I loved doing The Producers. Actually I think it was one of my favorite roles ever.
ZP: You were terrific in it. It was an interesting choice because you have that natural theatricality.
UT: I’ve always been quite theatrical, I admit. I’m trying to tone it down on the personal side so I can keep it in the work arena. Other than when I’m with my children, I am at my happiest when I’m acting.
ZP: And now it’s been announced that you’re doing Kill Bill: Vol. 3.
UT: It gets announced all the time, but I don’t have a script. Quentin [Tarantino] knows; everybody knows; we’re hoping that we get to make the third installment. I saw Kill Bill yesterday, and I haven’t seen it in, I don’t know, seven, eight years, and I was surprised at how well it’s held up. I shouldn’t be surprised, of course, but I’m so self-critical, it takes about 10 years for me to be able to like something I’ve done.
ZP: How do you pick the directors you work with?
UT: Usually by the work that they’ve done before—sometimes it can be lucky and sometimes it can be unlucky. And often I do like writer-directors—ideally, not first time ones, although I’ve done that as well—because that is what an auteur is. It’s special to work with someone who has written and is directing his or her own work.
ZP: What have your favorite costume moments been in your films?
UT: I’ve played a lot of interesting or odd characters— even in movies that maybe didn’t work out perfectly. I loved working on Sissy Hankshaw in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, which I did with Gus Van Sant; she only had one outfit really: this leather jumpsuit, but I could zip off the legs or arms. I like the idea of the motility of it. The Pulp Fiction costume is another one that I really enjoyed working on because, for me, I need to feel like I dressed myself. An actor has to feel that they are that character and they put those clothes on that day.
ZP: Do you feel that way about fashion and red carpet?
UT: More and more so, yes. I love glamour; it’s true. It has a very specific place in my life. It’s kind of like a lover that you only get to see a few times a year because, when I go for it, I go for it.
ZP: What are your favorite places in New York?
UT: I love spiraling up the Guggenheim; it’s just so beautiful. The American Museum of Natural History is my other favorite. I actually went there when I was in labor with my second child. They tell you to walk, and where are you going to walk on January 14? I went to the Natural History Museum and walked around the Rose Center for Earth and Space spiral for hours.
We go behind the scenes with Henrik Lundqvist for his Gotham magazine cover shoot.