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INT: Uma Thurman

10.06.2003

Interview #1 Uma Thurman
Interview #2 Lucy Liu
Interview #3 Lawrence Bender
Interview #4 Vivica A. Fox
Interview #5 Quentin Tarantino

This Friday, Quentin Tarantino finally emerges from his 6-year exile to serve up KILL BILL, the long-awaited follow-up to 1997’s JACKIE BROWN. Split into two “volumes”, his latest effort is a hodgepodge of many different, often contrasting styles, with the manic director drawing inspiration from the many 1970s genre films that helped shape his unique vision. Miramax, which originally intended to release Kill Bill as a single film, decided to split it in two when Tarantino couldn’t find a way to edit it down to a reasonable length.

The plot centers on a character known only as “The Bride”, an ex-assassin, violently betrayed by her former colleagues. After emerging from a coma, she sets out on the trail of revenge, hunting down her enemies, one by one.

To play the part of the Samurai sword-wielding “Bride”, Tarantino chose pal Uma Thurman, who garnered a Best Supporting Actress nomination when they last collaborated (1994’s PULP FICTION). Last week at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, I got a chance to sit with the radiant blonde, who showed no ill effects from her recent split with husband Ethan Hawke. On the contrary, she possessed a confident glow of a woman seemingly emboldened by newfound independence.

UMA THURMAN

Did you commit to Kill Bill before seeing the final script?

Yeah. In a way, (I committed) the day the project was born, the night that the project was born. We were bantering together, him and I, just back and forth, with him going on about genre filmmaking and revenge films, particularly female revenge films. In genre filmmaking, women were given these kind of roles before they hit mainstream. And he was kind of talking about that. We started talking about this character, and the idea of the blood spattered bride was born right then. It was in a back and forth between us. Right on the spot, he was like, “Yeah, and the guy in charge of it all, his name is Bill and he’s the agent for assassins. And the movie’s called Kill Bill!”

And it was just in a barroom conversation. And he got so excited about it that he went home and wrote eight pages with this character. And Bill. So that was the beginning of the movie. That was in 1992. So he went and did JACKIE BROWN and this and that, and I went and did my life. It was about seven years later that I ran into him and asked him what he was doing, and he was writing a war epic film. And I said, “Oh, whatever happened to those pages that you wrote? Did you lose them?” He was like, “No, no, I didn’t. I still have them.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s good. Anyway, blah blah blah blah blah blah.”

For some reason, he went home and dug them up and we read them. He became infused with enthusiasm to go back to it. It was a few months later then we were in touch again, but mysterious to me, little did I know he was there squirreling away with his little felt tip pens and his little legal pads, writing away. That’s how he writes. And then on my birthday, he wrote to me saying that he wanted to give me the script for my birthday but it was two weeks away from being done.

Not your typical development process.

In this case, it sort of was different because I was always inside and around this movie as it was created, so I never actually had the normal thing, where you see the script, you know or you don’t know the director and you read it and either it hits you or it doesn’t hit you, and you think “I want, I don’t want.” It’s very primal, very simple. In the case of Kill Bill, I spent years with him, hearing chapter after chapter as sections were rewritten and redeveloped.

My character was an assassin and in the very beginning, the earliest idea, she was an assassin and she was going around wasting people in all these fun FEMME NIKITA kind of ways. The Samurai stuff came much later. The Samurai stuff came in the last three years. It was not part of the original thought. It came from his inspirations, Hong Kong film and Japanese cinema and Samurai swords. There is a samurai sword in PULP FICTION, so you can see there is a lineage of his fascination with that.

What was your training like?

I went through three months of training with master Wu Ping and his team. They trained me five days a week for three months, from nine in the morning until five o’clock at night. And we were not to be late and never got to leave early. So, just surviving that was really empowering. I’m the last person that would’ve thought that I would be ever asked to be so tough. So, it was a big reach to kind of go through all that. It was very empowering to make it out alive from the House of Blue Leaves scene with my joints semi-intact.

Any mishaps in the Vivica fight scene?

That scene actually went remarkably quickly. We did that scene when we got back to Los Angeles after I’d been in China for four months. I shot the entire House of Blue Leaves sequence before that, so for me it was just like, “Hey, this is no problem.” That whole section, the Tokyo interior section, was all Beijing.

Does martial arts make you feel sexy?

Sexy? Well, it depends on how much you like involving long, sharp instruments in your romantic activities. I can’t quite say that that would be my weapon of choice in bed.

What was it like learning the Japanese lines?

Months before we started shooting, I had a Japanese tutor come. So before I even had the lines that I was going to say in Japanese, I just took general – sort of colloquial – lessons, just to get a sense of the sound and to be able to feel comfortable acting while I’m memorizing the lines. It was difficult!  For that oath that I took, I had to learn that which was in the old, old style Samurai language. It’s very difficult. (Tarantino) didn’t give me any tasks to give me a walk. He didn’t give me any walks on this one. Everything was pretty tough.

You didn’t cheat?

I had to really not cheat. I had to really, really know it, because particularly when you’re acting in a language that you don’t really understand, that is not familiar to you, you really have to get so comfortable with it that you are very much honest in your performance when you’re using the lines, that you mean what you say. Just because you’re saying it in another language, it doesn’t separate for you.

Your character has a pretty strict code of ethics, especially for a ruthless assassin.

My ethics, my code of ethics here, because there is one, is that- - there is a code. What she does really, it’s sort of a suicide mission. She basically asks each person to choose whichever weapon they feel best in and she challenges them on- - notice in the Vivica scene, it goes by so quickly it’s hard to catch all of it. She says your weapon of choice, we will observe Viper rules of honor. She basically challenges them to duels. And she gives them the advantage. That’s what makes it sort of a kamikaze, almost “will to die” sort of mission on her part. She wants to take them out, but she’s totally willing to give them the upper hand.

The character is very much like a steel rod. She’s a very tough character. What he had me there to do was to bring her humanity to the situation. For the House of Blue Leaves sequence, I was there shooting that one sequence for eight weeks. The normal thing for an actor is: you have scenes, you have dialogue and things that are familiar. You know what to do when you get in a scene with dialogue. But here I was, in this giant scene, with (Tarantino) going mad with the blood and this and that. I just treated it like I was Lillian Gish in a silent film, to keep my sanity.

Was it easier to relate to the character’s feelings of losing a child, after having one of your own?

It’s a pretty scary idea. I think that your performance is, like for a writer they say write what you know, as a performer you find it in yourself, in your heart. You relate to what the character- - you try to live it, try to have it be real for you. It’s painful for me to have to imagine.

Where did you get the emotion?

That’s one of the fun things with Quentin, to emotionally turn on the dime. The opportunities were there all over the character, but it is switching. His movies always switch from one feeling to another very quickly. So, as an actor and also understanding his style really well, feeling the security, the support of a director that you know. He has an incredibly sensitive pulse in his films. It gives you a lot of confidence to try crazy things and do one scene very funny and the next scene very intense, and to believe that the director actually encompasses enough tonal range that that actually would work in one movie, which is really unusual.

Why do you think audiences like girl fights?

I think it’s sort of thrilling. I mean, when I was watching it, it was like “Ooh.” I think, particularly as a female, you’re taught to be defensive your whole life. You’re taught not to be aggressive, you’re taught not to provoke violence because you’re instructed from such a young age that you will be the recipient of it and you will lose. “Don’t start a fight, girl, because you’re going down.” And for me, just having to make contact with these guys training me and having to actually contact a body with a sword, and with Quentin, who’s relentless, yelling “Harder, harder, more, more, more, harder.” I’d say, “Oh geez, I’m not hitting him any harder than that, no. You go put your pads on.”

Because you know, the stunt men always want to be tough and you can feel it. You make the contact and you can feel that you’re hitting skin, you’re hitting a body, not hitting a pad. And I’d get so mad. I’d say, “I can’t do my job if you don’t put those pads on. I don’t care how tough, you’re tough already. Okay? Just get some pads on so I can hit you with abandon.” But just going through that thing of my whole life- - I remember one scene once I had with John Hurt, it was COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES with Gus Van Sant and I had to slap him in the face. You could really see it so I had to actually hit his face and he was going to [turn away], you know how you do it.

And one time, the timing was off and I clocked him right slap in the face, and I burst into tears, because I didn’t want to hurt him. It upset me to make contact. And here, all those instincts, all that stuff was a struggle. I had to get there. I had to be like- - and also, you’ve got to be really precise because I’m swinging those swords and even the stunt sword is still a wooden spike with a tip on it, and you’re swinging it within inches of eyes and things that can’t be protected, and it caused me tremendous anxiety.

How do you deal with rage?

Suppress it!

MORE KILL BILL INTERVIEWS COMING SOON...

Source: JoBlo.com

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