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Fall Sneaks | BRIEF ENCOUNTER: UMA THURMAN

A role to die for

The 'Kill Bill' star ruminates on the physical demands of a Tarantino film.

September 07, 2003|John Clark

Uma Thurman, tall, blond, tan, dressed in jeans, sandals and gold lame, strides into a midtown Manhattan hotel suite trailed by the voices of children and Japanese reporters. She's breathless from the responsibilities of motherhood (she has two children by husband Ethan Hawke) and promoting her newest film, Quentin Tarantino's long-awaited "Kill Bill," in which she plays a former assassin who wreaks vengeance on colleagues who wouldn't let her retire in one piece. Thurman, who until now probably was nobody's idea of an action star -- she is perhaps best known as the ingenue in "Dangerous Liaisons" and the mobster's moll in Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" -- settles into a couch and laughingly describes the enormous scope of the project and the pulpy plot that has been a closely guarded secret. "Kill Bill" also stars David Carradine, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen and Lucy Liu. "Kill Bill: Volume 1" opens Oct. 10 and "Volume 2" on Feb. 20.

Are you fan of this kind of stuff, or are you doing this because of Tarantino?

I did it because of him. I did it because he understood me as an actress [in "Pulp Fiction"]. The idea for this movie started back then [on the set]. The basic premise was I wanted to play this girl who was an assassin, and we talked about revenge films and spun out this little idea of this character who is a former assassin who's trying to quit to get married and is wiped out in the church by the bad guys. In this half-hour of conversation he invented the character of Bill, the pimp of assassins, and named it "Kill Bill." And then he wrote eight pages of it, and then he let it go. No big deal. Three and half years ago I ran into him and asked him about those pages. And then he started thinking about it again and got so enthusiastic that he started writing it in secret. He was going to deliver me a finished script on my birthday, but it wasn't done.

I understand he delayed [the production] because you were pregnant.

When I was pregnant the script wasn't finished, and a lot of things had happened. It was supposed to happen sooner, and it didn't happen, and then I was pregnant. He did delay it.

He was quoted as saying that each person you go after you're entering a different genre.

Yeah. Each sequence is influenced by a different genre. And each character she takes on in their style. She challenges them to fight her in their strength. Pretty much sword fighting and hand-to-hand combat the whole way through.

Wasn't it physically debilitating?

It was brutal. I get buried alive. I walk through the desert. I take on 80 men. I get shot in the head. I get shot in the chest. I get stabbed with drugs.I get shot in the leg. You name it. I can only feel safe in joking about it now because filming is concluded, but he didn't drown me and he didn't have me burned alive. Those are the two things he skipped.

Did it surprise you that the film is being released in two parts?

I wasn't surprised. We shot twice the length anticipated. What I was surprised about shooting was how this could all go into one short movie. It seemed improbable to me. I knew there were two movies' worth of footage out of a 156-day schedule.

Was the script that long or did things keep being embellished?

Everything got embellished. The script was very long. And then it changed and changed. He was alive inside the shoot. Everything was important, so many things were reinvented as they happened, because he's really spontaneous and he wants spontaneous excitement in the moment. So from one day to the next you wouldn't know what was going to happen.

Was there some point in which Harvey [Weinstein, head of Miramax] was concerned about the length or what he was doing over there [in China, where they shot for four months]?

Probably. Harvey basically gives him carte blanche. If he has concerns, they don't manifest themselves in demands. He supports him. He loves him.

So there wasn't any sense that this was getting out of control?

I think that with somebody like Quentin, despite the embellishing, the out-of-controlness, the budget didn't double, because they had it set up really well. The whole budget was something like $50 million.

Was this different than how he shot "Pulp Fiction"?

Very. We really rehearsed that very carefully. This movie is really physical, visceral. It's not the routine of seeing the scenes and the connecting material and an isolated action sequence here and there. It's about dirt and blood and sweat and struggle and choking.

So we're not being treated to endless monologues full of pop cultural references?

Not at all. There is a reference or two. But we're not being treated to that much dialogue. There's one action sequence that we spent eight weeks doing as the sort of the crescendo of the first movie. Every day I was just physically working, and since I'm not an athlete and I'm not a fighter, I just sort of treated it like a silent film. I try to find something in every moment that I'm playing.

You didn't have any discussions on the set about spinning this off into something else?

Nope nope nope nope nope.

-- John Clark

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