Serial Thriller

By Daniel Fierman
Updated December 26, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

Uma Thurman is one of our Entertainers of the Year

Reinvention. As Hollywood traits go, it’s damn underrated. Because in this industry, reliability is the thing. The dazzle of Cruise, the lovability of Hanks, the sexy-cool brilliance of Kidman. That’s the stuff of paychecks and plaudits. Going off to gut bad guys like mackerel and bathe yourself in gore and viscera? A respected actress would have to be crazy to do that, especially one who has been more art house than slaughterhouse.

Except when you’re Uma Thurman. Except when it works. And taking the role of the Bride in Quentin Tarantino’s two-part splatter-a-go-go Kill Bill worked just beautifully, thank you, catapulting Thurman to career-defining raves and into the arms of John Woo, for whom she played Ben Affleck’s girl in Paycheck. Not that the revenge flick wasn’t a helluva risk or a helluva pain in the ass.

”It wasn’t a job, it was an ordeal,” says Thurman of Bill, which spanned 155 days of shooting. ”There was a mountain to climb and then another and then another and then another and then another. It was like a sick joke — we’d get to the top of one hill just to see 10 more.” This, as it turns out, was no accident. ”I definitely enjoy presenting Uma as cool and as glamorous as ever,” explains Tarantino, ”but I love f — -ing with her, too.”

Thurman spent months not only as Tarantino’s punching bag but as a tabloid target as well. Her messy split from husband Ethan Hawke broke just as she was making the talk-show rounds to promote Kill Bill, yet Thurman handled the family discord with quiet class.

Now the 33-year-old mother of two is no longer just eye candy or a Serious Actress — though she is both, surely. It turns out she is also a heartbreaking American babe who can dispatch a hundred ninjas with a sharp-edged weapon. ”At one point I was scared, and actually passed on the movie,” recalls Thurman, who’s currently prepping for a reunion with Pulp Fiction costar John Travolta in the Get Shorty sequel Be Cool. ”Quentin talked me out of it. It was the greatest decision of my life.”