Uma Thurman is already an Oscar-nominated actress and producer, but filming The Con Is On — a scrappy little indie about a pair of sleazy British crooks (Thurman, Tim Roth) scheming a Hollywood heist — gave the 48-year-old actress another unique update to her resume.
“So I could have privacy in order to change… I took two huge pieces of white Styrofoam board and taped them together and made a screen around a couch, just with enough room to stand in,” the budding production assistant (no, not really) tells EW of making things work on the project’s tight budget — which also included providing costumes for her boozy-and-bougie character, Harriet, from her personal collection (costume design credit? Check). “Then I took markers and drew a window like a trailer with a little person peeking out the window [laughs]. I drew a doorway and some flowers on it, too. I wish I had a picture of it. I made myself basically a trailer out of two boxes [that once held] a refrigerator.”
She adds that “none of that was creatively problematic” and didn’t dampen her outlook on the “madcap comedy” she likens to a cross between The Pink Panther and Absolutely Fabulous. Whether the comparisons are apt or not is up to the audience to decide, but Thurman’s clearly having a ball swigging vodka and plotting jewel thievery among a robust ensemble cast (Maggie Q, Parker Posey, Sofia Vergara), tackling the role with a ferocious comedic spirit that suits the film’s bonkers tone. It’s a change of scenery for the woman most commonly associated with the grittier side of cinema (she hasn’t forgotten about those roles, either, with an upcoming part in Lars von Trier’s Cannes-bound serial killer flick The House That Jack Built), but a welcome one that brought the actress’ personal journey right back to square one in the best way possible.
“Even though some people might think it sounds miserable, it reminds me of the beginning of my career, when you start as a scrapper and nobody gives a damn about you… It was a challenge getting the movie done, like a major cause, even though it’s a light screwball comedy. It was a saga to get it to the screen!” she remembers, savoring the tooth-and-nail fight that made the movie happen. “I think that [humor] is how we stuck together!”
The Con Is On is now playing in select theaters and available for rent on digital retailers. Read on for EW’s full interview with Thurman, during which she discusses making the Jim Haslam-directed comedy and sharing the screen with Roth (a fellow Quentin Tarantino staple) for the first time in nearly two decades.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Hey Uma! I’m excited to talk to you about this movie.
UMA THURMAN: I love this little movie, but it’s been such an absolute nightmare to get it out into the world! It’s one of the few, rare times that I’m… trying to do some publicity with some heart! [Laughs].
Why was it such a nightmare?
I love it. It’s a super madcap comedy, kind of like Pink Panther or Absolutely Fabulous. It’s super fun, but in the world of independent cinema… it was a production nightmare because of financing and this and that, so we didn’t quite get it finished. We lost one actor, so we had to wait to try to get the actor back and it took a year… I’ve seen some crazy stuff on the producing side, but I’ve never seen anything like this. They offered me a producing credit and I turned it down, but it’s one of my favorite small movies ever!
My character, Harriet, is such a fun woman to play. She’s just naughty and unscrupulous and I find her extremely amusing. The character herself puts me in such a good mood… I felt what we were doing was so fun, daring, stylish, and playful that I just sort of didn’t care. For a very long time there was no dressing room for me, so I used a spare room on a set where we were shooting, and then that room wasn’t available for me alone because everybody was lost and wondering around. So I could have privacy in order to change… I took two huge pieces of white Styrofoam board and taped them together and made a screen around the couch, just with enough room to stand in. Then I took markers and drew a window like a trailer with a little person peeking out the window [laughs]. I drew a doorway and some flowers on it, too. I wish I had a picture of it. I made myself basically a trailer out of two boxes [that once held] a refrigerator… None of that was creatively problematic, and I think that [humor] is how we stuck together!
So you should be credited as, what, a production assistant or a production designer, too?
They never filmed my cardboard box dressing room, so it’s not technically part of production design, so I can’t! [Laughs] I also used my own entire wardrobe because there was no money for clothing for me. I dressed myself using all the stuff that I’ve saved over the years… even though some people might think it sounds miserable, it reminds me of the beginning of my career, when you start as a scrapper and nobody gives a damn about you. It reminded me exactly of that. It was a challenge getting the movie done, like a major cause, even though it’s a light screwball comedy. It was a saga to get it to the screen.
You and Tim Roth have great chemistry here, and this is the first time you’ve been in a film together in 18 years.
These characters are totally oblivious English people! The way they’re written is as such a comic dynamic duo. She’s constantly screwing him over and abandoning him in Morocco on multiple occasions… this idea that these two people are bound together by their delight in criminal activity, yet he loves her even though she’s constantly betraying him, it’s great fun and the writing is funny… having such great actors attracted to want to play roles in [this film] is really amazing.
You both came up in the film industry with big Quentin Tarantino movies. Did that make it easier to work together here?
He’s an excellent actor and would make anyone bring his or her A-game to working with him… If you look at his character… he wears the same black suit, like his Reservoir Dogs suit, throughout the entire movie. So there are little things that do make references. Quentin is a real movie buff and [adopts] point of view of movies as entertainment, and James Haslam’s directorial point of view also very much sees this movie as entertainment. It’s meant to make people laugh; it’s not taking itself seriously.
In terms of your career, where do you think you go from here? Has this watershed moment Hollywood is going through now changed your perspective on work or the projects you choose?
It changes my perspective on how safe the industry will be for my daughter. And it makes me really happy as a mother — not just for my daughter, but for everyone’s daughters — that there is a dialogue, awareness, and effort to change the mistreatment of women and girls and to change the suppression of their talents and what they have to offer the world. As a woman who’s worked all of her life, since I was 15 years old, my own form of feminism was in my intent and struggle to achieve something. Coming from Massachusetts with no ties or relations to the film business, of course that wasn’t a very safe journey, but it was one that I undertook and I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished and for surviving a lot of things yet remaining open, positive, and constructive… As far as I go, my career has had its ups and downs. I’ve been very family centered through the long parts of the last couple decades… but it’s quite fun for me to enjoy my creative side. It’s making me happy.