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`Prime' time for Uma



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NEW YORK - Uma Thurman has lived a lot since she last graced a romantic comedy: The 35-year-old beauty has had two children, been in some hits and misses at the multiplex, starred in the two-fisted comeback "Kill Bill" and seen her marriage to actor Ethan Hawke crumble.

But in two new films, the New York-based actress is embracing both the sexy and silly sides of love.

Thurman - whose last date movie was 1996's "The Truth About Cats & Dogs" - stars in "Prime," which opened Friday. The comedy-drama from writer-director Ben Younger is about a recently divorced woman in her mid-30s who takes up with a guy 13 years her junior (Bryan Greenberg). And, unknown to both of them, his mother (Meryl Streep) is her shrink.

In December, she gets back in touch with her va-va-voomness in the movie version of Broadway's "The Producers," as uber-vixen secretary Ulla, who drives Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom (Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick) to fits of distraction.

"Doing a romance now is a whole different thing," says Thurman as she curls up on a couch - or rather, curls up as much as a woman who's 6 feet tall can. "And I think having a long absence from an aspect of your work and then returning to it in a new way can be powerful."

"I felt very emotionally full and sensitive to the meaning of the subject matter here."

The subject matter of "Prime" is more about making a relationship work than the gooey falling-in-love stuff most romantic comedies traffic in. And that, certainly, is familiar to Thurman: Two years ago, her marriage to Hawke - whom she met making 1997's sci-fi drama "Gattaca" - dissolved after the actor was linked to a woman he met on the set of a film. The couple reportedly worked at making things right, but ultimately split up (both remain very involved in the raising of their children, ages 7 and 3).

Thurman, who was previously married to actor Gary Oldman from 1990-92 and is now dating hotelier Andre Balazs, thinks that in real life, she may not be the easiest person to get involved with.

"First of all, I'm a single mother with two children - I'm not easy lifting!" she says. "That's not a small thing, or a shallow thing - it's a lot. It's not gonna be fun for most people."

"I did feel like she was working things through cinematically, though we never talked about that specifically," says Younger. "But no matter where it comes from, this performance is extremely nuanced and subtle."

Thurman was born and raised in Massachusetts by her father, a Buddhist scholar, and her mother, a psychotherapist. Pursuing acting, she first gained attention with a stunningly erotic turn in 1988's "Dangerous Liaisons."

That led to more literary sexiness in 1990's "Henry & June" - the film that pioneered the NC-17 rating - but Thurman, just barely 20 at the time, was smart enough to see a pattern emerging.

"Dangerous Liaisons" and "Henry & June," she says now, "were the classiest way you could do it, and it still wasn't OK. I got into acting so young, and those movies have very adult themes ... doing those highbrow movies still resulted in other teenagers going, Wow, you're naked, woo!' And that freaked me out. I was 18, 19 years old. I thought,These are classy,' and yet there was still a reaction that I wasn't anticipating."

In 1994, director Quentin Tarantino made her a pop-culture icon with her role in "Pulp Fiction." He later gave her another cinematic valentine with the two-part "Kill Bill" saga.

Yet the attention given to "Kill Bill" and Thurman's character, the Bride - recently voted the top action movie heroine by an online poll - "doesn't even feel like it's associated with me," she says. "It was something so inherently bold, I don't feel connected to it."

Not so with Ulla in "The Producers," a part that has helped Thurman reconcile with her inner sexpot.

"Ulla - to me, she's the ideal," she says. "Even in her cliche sexuality, there's no negative feelings about sex in that character. Ulla is about sex being natural. She has a kind of divine wisdom."

"Uma has a real sense of fearlessness," says "Producers" director Susan Stroman. "She was never afraid of flipping off a desk, or sliding across a sofa, or being thrown in the air. There was no fear in her eyes, just a twinkle."

Ulla's the embodiment of self-acceptance," says Thurman, "so I could take any edge off of it, and just let it ride!"

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(c) 2005, New York Daily News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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