NEW YORK — Uma Thurman is bopping around a downtown Asian-fusion restaurant in this city she calls home, having just enthusiastically ordered some of the fried specialties ("I never met a dumpling I didn't like"), her 6-foot-frame and luminous skin incongruous among the normal-sized and average-complected people around her.
Thurman has a demonstrative personality that some would call actress-y, though it seems less like a put-on than simply the grand way she chooses to go through life. The laugh is loud; the voice is confident.
It is an attitude that, at least internally, is newly earned.
FOR THE RECORD:
Uma Thurman film: In the March 19 Calendar section, an article about actress Uma Thurman said that the opening day of the film "Nymphomaniac: Vol 2" would be April 18. The film is opening April 4.—
"Everything got to me so much before," she said. "I was just like a hairless cat in a snowstorm half the time. I was so thin-skinned. Anything negative people said I would latch onto."
Thurman is making a comeback of sorts in Lars von Trier's explicit-yet-talkie sex-addiction drama "Nymphomaniac: Vol. I," which opens Friday. Unlike her landmark roles in several Quentin Tarantino movies, Thurman's imposing presence is scaled down here, as she plays a puffy-eyed cheating victim who has turned up to confront her husband and his mistress (Stacy Martin) at the mistress' home.
With three children in tow, she lets loose in the scene an eight-minute monologue that would make anyone who's ever been jilted stand up and cheer, providing a jolt both acidly comic and emotionally enlivening.
"Would it be all right if I showed the children the whoring bed?" she says with lacerating wit. Then, to the kids, "You should try to memorize this moment: It will stand you in good stead later in therapy," before saying of the mistress to no one in particular, "I have a hard time picturing her enjoying loneliness." At the end, she emits a desperate Shakespearean scream and makes her exit.
It's Thurman's only scene, but a striking one, not only because it shifts the movie's moral trajectory from dour nihilism to soulful consequence but also because Thurman's character brings in a complex vitality from literally out of nowhere.
The same might be said of the latest phase of the actress' career.
After sitting on the sidelines for nearly three years following the birth of her third child in 2012, Thurman — who boasts an enjoyably diverse if not exactly consistently successful resume — is making a surprise return with the scene-stealing piece in the first part of the Von Trier epic.
And unlike in earlier phases, when she says she was racked by self-doubt, Thurman says she is approaching this chapter differently.
"I'm finally getting so much more calm than I used to be," said the actress, 43. "I don't think I ever allowed myself to look forward to things. There was always anticipatory anxiety, and unfortunately, that had too much say in my reaction. But everything feels different now."
Von Trier's call
"Nymphomaniac: Vol. I" tells in flashback the coming-of-age tale of a sexually compulsive woman named Joe (Martin and Charlotte Gainsbourg play the character as younger and older woman, respectively) as she narrates her story to the academic Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), who's prone to analogizing her exploits to patterns in fly fishing and Bach sonatas. (Vol. II opens April 18.)
Thurman received a call from Von Trier just weeks after she had given birth to her child, with French significant other Arpad Busson. Most actors — even someone who made an early mark as a nude Venus, as Thurman did in Terry Gilliam's 1988 hit "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" — might worry what lasciviousness the provocateur had up his sleeve. Thurman was less concerned.