She went through a very public divorce and slipped into a yellow jumpsuit to "Kill Bill," a hallmark role that saw her beaten, shot and buried alive. It was 2003, and Uma Thurman needed a laugh.
Five years later she arrives at a Manhattan teahouse to discuss her fifth comedy in six films -- no accident, she says -- and it isn't until she giggles loudly that her fellow patrons turn to notice her, prompting whispers and a few camera-phone clicks.
"Since 'Kill Bill,' I've been intensely enjoying, in my work, the lighter side," says Thurman, now 37 and in her third decade in show business. Comedy, she says, has been fun. "And I think when people finally started to let me do it, I just was so pent up about it for so long, I just needed to gnash my teeth a lot on every single amusing piece that came my way."
"The Accidental Husband," a story about a radio love doctor who, on the cusp of marriage, discovers she's already somehow wedded to a man she's never met, actually caught her eye some 10 years ago, at a time when she enjoyed a new sort of cult-heroine status thanks to her scene-stealing turn as the boogieing, overdosing Mia Wallace in 1994's "Pulp Fiction." Life was good, she says, but "I couldn't get a job in romantic comedy and I was always frustrated by that."
So she took the initiative and signed on for "Accidental" as both lead and producer to help get it made. With Colin Firth ("Bridget Jones's Diary") as the fiance and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (of "Grey's Anatomy" acclaim) as the surprise hubby, the film opens Aug. 22.
The project stalled, however, due in part to Thurman's own romantic life. She'd fallen for Ethan Hawke on the set of "Gattaca" and the couple soon married and welcomed their first child, a dramatic life change that left her struggling to find a balance between home and career. The marriage, Thurman's second (her first was to Gary Oldman), lasted six years before ending in a divorce that the media still hounds her about.
"I would like to classify my life as a romantic comedy," she muses when asked how things have cinematically played out. "Unfortunately, I feel like that might be a far cry from the truth. Certainly a reality-TV show. New genre."
As for comedy, she says, "I don't know how I'm hanging on in that genre. I'm certainly not a comedian. I don't classify myself as a funny lady; I just enjoy doing it." Which is why she eventually dusted off the old script and enlisted the help of a longtime friend, actor-director Griffin Dunne, who agreed to direct.
"Her sense of humor in real life is very dry and knowing," says Dunne, disagreeing with the actress' own take on her comedic chops, "and it's kind of a sophisticated, '30s-New York kind of wit. But one thing she was quite committed to doing was the physical comedy. She really likes bumping into things and getting sloppy drunk, so this was something she could sink her sloppy teeth into."
"Maybe my relentless enthusiasm finally pays off," Thurman says of the new film, and then adds of her acting career: "You know, people used to think of me as kind of a cynical kid. I was pretty optimistic, actually. Hope really does carry you quite a distance.
"And if you're looking down, you fall over."