LILLE, France — People were lined up around the block for hours at Lille’s Le Nouveau Siècle theater on Tuesday night, hoping to get into a keynote speech given by Uma Thurman.
She was joined on stage by French journalist Olivier Joyard, where the two discussed highlights from the actress’ blockbuster career as well as her new Netflix Original Series “Chambers,” which bowed later that evening in the festival’s main International Competition.
“When Terry Gilliam cast me in his movie (“The Adventures of Baron Munchausen”), albeit in an ingénue role,” she recalled, “I think that was the pivot that made me realize it was real, that I would dedicate my life to the dramatic arts and work like an animal until I got good at it.”
“Flying to Chichen Izta at 17 and seeing it transformed by his imagination, a true auteur, I realized I wasn’t just cheating out of school, but this was a real art form, and I could be part of it,” she added.
It wasn’t long before Thurman’s turn as Mia Wallace in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” came up, and even she had to admit that some of her scenes will go down as “pure cinema.”
Two such scenes were screened for the audience, her character’s first, where the viewer sees nothing more than her lips and fingers as she navigates a confused Travolta through her stylish L.A. home, and the classic ‘50s diner dance scene, again with Travolta. The two colorful passages were immediately juxtaposed with one of Thurman, buried alive, as The Bride in “Kill Bill: Vol. 1.”
“I think it is always about dancing or fighting for your life,” she said. The words were literal when Joyard used them to describe the scenes, but a bit more philosophical as she repeated them. “I got 12 shades of PTSD watching that. Those were epic experiences.”
Between the two, dancing and fighting, Thurman admitted that dancing was the far more frightening prospect as a young actress. She said that as a child she idolized Doris Day and imagined herself as a song and dance actress, but that her early-age growth spurt and discomfort with her body made that tough.
“I was more afraid of the dancing than almost anything because it was exactly to my total insecurity,” she recalled. “Being big and awkward and still quite young then. But once I started dancing I didn’t wanna stop, so it was a dream come true.”
In the “Kill Bill” films, Thurman’s dialogue is limited, and she admitted missing the “Juicy Tarantino dialogue,” but dispelled the myth that it is always preferable to act with others rather than alone.
“It’s like love. There is nothing better than being with the right person, but you’re better off alone than being with the wrong person,” she mused, evoking a laugh from the audience.
When the conversation inevitably turned to the changing roles of women in Hollywood, Thurman expressed a measured, yet optimistic take.
“I think it’s a long-overdue correction,” she started. “I’m so happy, especially because I have a 20 year old who has given her life to theater, film and TV… I’m glad to see better opportunities for women.”
Beyond just opportunity however, Thurman seemed excited for the quality of work and the environments in which it is being done. She was thrilled that women can now work on a set occupied by many other women, in front and behind the camera..
“Your daughter is in a less lonely world than you were?” Joyard asked.
“I really do hope so,” she replied in her most automatic answer of the evening as a wry smile cracked the corners of her lips.
Eventually the conversation moved on to TV – it was hosted by Series Mania after all – and started with Thurman’s viewing habits.
“When I was younger all we wanted to do was watch TV,” she remembered. “Then I stopped for a while, but in the last maybe 10 years or so I’ve found myself drawn back to it and loved a lot of the work I’ve seen on TV.”
Thurman is now producing and acting in the Netflix Original “Chambers,” which screened later in the evening. The series is a fantastic tale of a teenaged girl who suffers a heart attack, but is saved when a donor heart comes from another young woman who died in an accident. Thurman plays the mother of the deceased girl.
“I think there is a lot of personality in the show that is atypical,” she said, explaining her attraction to the series. “There is a lot of female energy in it, and a lot of heart at the same time as it’s finding its path to entertainment.”
“I feel like a godparent of the show and the characters,” she added. “There are wonderful young people in the show who I think are special talents too.”
“Chambers” can be streamed worldwide on April 26, and if the audience reactions from Lille, admittedly from die-hard Uma fans, are anything to judge by, it should be a hit for Netflix.