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|UMA THURMAN IS HANDSOME, CLEVER AND RICH
Our heroine's just coming into her epic talent when she invites Katy McColl into her home.
I'm sitting at Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke's dining room table with their 3-week-old son in my arms, stroking the downy
hairs on the back of his neck and hoping to God that I'm not letting his scrunched-up head bob around too much and, more
important, that I won't have to give him back.
There are Yale Law Library-style leaded windows on one wall and floor-to-ceiling books on the other. It's like having breakfast
with your professor. Scratch that. Too suggestive. Actually, it's more like early-semester, late-afternoon office hours. When
there's no reason not to kill the half hour before dinner drinking tea and musing coyly on the imponderables while the sun goes
down. Except that Uma, 31, is playful, not self-involved. And she's asking the questions.
"Are you thinking about whether to have children or not?" she says.
"Yes," I reply, "but I'm afraid that I'm too selfish to have a baby."
"Many selfish people have babies. Some of it falls away, and some of it doesn't. But if you're thinking about being too selfish,
you're probably not. I think for the truly selfish people, it doesn't even occur to them that they're selfish. That's what the real
bastards are like [laughs], you know? If you're already worried way in advance of conception that you might not be the
perfect mother, it's a very healthy sign. So feel good about it."
"At what point does the hole in their heads seal up?" I ask, nodding toward her little "mouse," Roan, who was named by their
3-year-old daughter, Maya Ray. "If you ask [Maya Ray] about the name, she'll say [shrugging casually], 'I got it from another
baby,"' says Uma, laughing again. She adds, "I know it's soft now. The human brain takes an extra year to develop from the
point of birth. The only reason that we give birth when we do is because when you're upright, the head wouldn't be able to
descend through the pelvic channel if it was fully formed. Isn't that far-out? I can't think of any other creature that's born
helpless like that. That's born with an unfinished brain."
Gentle reader, it is at this moment that I'd like to address you directly and comment upon what is not necessarily your typical
celebrity interview. The truth is, there are certain things I vowed to myself not to touch on during my time with Uma, not so
much out of deference to her, but because they are so outrageously tedious at this point. The meaning of her Hindu goddess
name, for instance, or the fact that some people consider her husband of four years "hunky," as it were. Uma's sweetly
diplomatic about all of this, but admits that there are "certain factual things that might be boring to go over, boring to draw the
breath to answer." Plus, I will not call her "the thinking man's sex symbol" because this is the stupidest string of words ever
fashioned in the English language. Not only that, but it seems rather untoward, presumptuous and in poor form, if you will, to
come to someone's home to nail down the specifics of exactly how awkward they were in junior high.
Especially since Uma is not awkward and so blessedly beyond her teenage years. She's making movies, starring in Ethan's
brilliant directorial debut, Chelsea Walls, about the bohemian Chelsea Hotel, where artists -- late, great and as yet undiscovered
-- have flocked. With an offbeat yet solid ensemble cast (including Tuesday Weld and Vincent D'Onofrio), Uma plays a
sprightly but romantically ill-situated poet who points her toes a lot. She glows when she speaks about the film. "It means a
whole lot to Ethan. His little movie is coming out, and he's very excited. I think he's going to find himself as a director."
She's appropriating new filmmaking responsibilities for herself as well, producing her own movie, Hysterical Blindness, an
incredibly incredible vignette with Juliette Lewis about two Jersey girls looking for love in arguably the worst place, a corner
dive bar. Uma's character is rejected by a one-night stand who acts like they're going to see each other again but really couldn't
give a shit. It's so true to life, has such verisimilitude, that I kept clutching the girl next to me at the screening and crying, "No,
no, it's too painful."
"That search for love was a search I related to. The sort of humiliating self-hatred," says Uma, who first saw the play it's
based on with Ethan at a "tiny off-, off-, off-, off-Broadway theater."
"I think I have been that girl in many ways. So insecure and so full of longing, so going about it the wrong way. Juliette's
character is so naturally comfortable with her own sexuality, and the one who is so uncomfortable with herself repels men,
and it has nothing to do with looks. The real thing to compete with someone over, which you can't compete with them over, is
a sense of ease. Because people who are ill at ease are unattractive, even though at first they might look good and somebody
will come over to them. But within 30 seconds it's over [laughs]. It's done."
This is not a problem she's seemed to have had with her husband, a man she's still learning to shop for. "He's got a very
particular style, and I'm just learning the nuances. It's very hard," she says. In fact, Uma's ease, in conjunction with her laugh
-- which comes easily and often -- is what makes me like her so. Sitting in her dining room quite neatly illustrates the
intersection between her work (making movies) and her life's work (this family), because the tape recorder is rolling while she
nurses her son. "I knew when I was about 27, the year I met Ethan, that I'd really had enough of just doing what I was doing,
and I wanted to create a center to my life, actually. I don't think I had a center to my life. He was the right person, and it was
the right time for me. I think I've always tried to do things a little bit before I was going to really want to. I think that I've
always had this uncanny ability to seem like I was just floundering in the water, but actually be anticipating, ahead of time a
little bit, my plan in life. Even shocking to me, actually, because I think I didn't give myself credit for as much predestination
as I actually had. But I've always wanted to have children."
This must be the kind of higher purpose that keeps her from being weird about the inevitability of aging, which is tough to do
in a place like Hollywood, where nobody even knows what real breasts look like anymore. "You can't stay a certain age, so it's
silly to try. I feel much more like I'm growing into myself. I've always been younger than my vibe, a little off-type. Perfect for
the right thing, duh, but not just your average size 8 or whatever. I always felt like my 30s would be sort of where I'd kick
into feeling the most at home. It's my decade of choice. I don't yet feel that I need to try to be 25 in a movie. There are things
for people to buy a little time here and there, but the most unfortunate thing anyone can do is try to cheat time."
I tell Uma, having read pretty much everything that's ever been written about her, that I see an inherent paradox in interviewing
a movie star who's not really interested in being a movie star.
"It comes through?" she asks. "I think I'm interested in being a subject, in a way, but it's hard to be the subject of a stranger,
you know. Though it is part of one's job. I've always found the interview process a little bit embarrassing. I don't want to
become more paranoid. I would care more about the exchange with someone, and then seeing it contorted into something
really weird. That's what makes me paranoid. And I don't like feeling like the piece is already written and they're just plugging
in quotes. When someone does that, I might become difficult. Who wants to help hand someone the nails to build your coffin?
So, unless you're infatuated with yourself and your own myth that you're building, and just absolutely amused by that -- which
I think is actually fine -- um, then what are you really doing being in interviews? Of course it's hurtful if someone says
something unpleasant about you+for everybody. I don't know who's really immune."
"So you're not a misanthrope?" I ask her.
"I think misanthropy is horrible! Oh my God! It's sick! Are you a misanthrope, Katy? That wouldn't be a good criteria for
being a journalist. Maybe it would, actually [in serious narrator voice]: 'A misanthropic interview [laughs]. You know what
you're getting. Let's see if you're worth anything."'
Maybe the only way to go, I tell Uma, is to acknowledge that we've found ourselves in a meta-interview, an uninterview of
sorts where we can be totally self-conscious of the fact that we don't usually (okay, never) hang out. And she's game. I even
try to coax some of her rules to live by, since she's always being held up as the poster child of Zen etherealness.
"I am so not the ethereal Zen girl. I've always been called ethereal because I'm blond and tall. I'm strictly certain that is the
only reason. I'm extremely earthy, so I don't agree with ethereal [laughs]. And the Zen thing, I guess that's just 'cause my
father is a Buddhist scholar. They get it wrong and say Zen when he's actually, you know, a Tibetan Buddhist expert. Which
has nothing to do with Zen."
She seems to think that producing a body of dicta on the spot is too much pressure for a woman who has been up all night
and whose most tantalizing fantasy involves sleeping. But then, in an extended moment of what has been our hour and a half
of brilliance, she offers a couple of Tao of Pooh-type sentiments: There are no rules to live by, of course. And don't smoke.
"I'm off the wicked sticks, but it's still a struggle. I think about them constantly. If I think of any other [rules], I'll call you."
She walks me to the elevator in an unfailingly elegant hostess move. "You know, if you added rum to that banana-coconut lip
balm you keep applying, you'd have yourself a daiquiri," Uma says. And I will, I tell her, as soon as I start writing her story.
"She's really sweet," says the elevator operator eagerly. I'd said the same thing to Uma not five minutes before, and she,
laughing again, looked at me mischievously and said, "Don't tell anybody."