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LOS ANGELES - Although Uma Thurman received an Oscar nomination for her role in "Pulp Fiction," doing the Batusi with John Travolta didn't prepare her for her first all-singing, all-dancing turn in Mel Brooks' "The Producers" movie musical.
Tony-winning director Susan Stroman, however, was thrilled when Universal Pictures suggested the 6-foot actress for the part of leggy Swedish secretary Ulla to scheming Broadway producers Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) and Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick).
"When I first met her at a restaurant downtown, she came in and she was dressed all in white. She had high heels on, so she was about 6-foot-4," recalls Stroman. "Then she sat down and said to me,
Do you think it's OK that I'm so much taller than Matthew and Nathan?' And I saidYes, it is.' And of course, it adds to the comedy, but also, she's really Swedish. She has a very famous Swedish grandmother named Brigitte. There's a statue of her in Sweden. So I thought, `I've hit the jackpot here.'"
In the film, Max and Leo have just hired the perfect director for their surefire flop "Springtime for Hitler" when Ulla arrives early to audition for a part in the musical. She wows them with her many assets and signs on as their secretary until the show is ready. While Max seeks financing for the play, Ulla and Leo give in to their increasingly warm feelings for each other in the Rogers/Astaire-style dance number "That Face."
Broderick, who reprises his role as Leo from the Broadway musical, had to get used to playing the familiar part but romancing someone else other than Cady Huffman, who won a Tony in 2001 for playing Ulla.
"It was an adjustment to even think that it was gonna be somebody else. For a while it was Nicole (Kidman) ... and then they just went right to Uma, and she said yes, like instantly," says Broderick. "I love Uma Thurman and I think she's terrific in the movie. It was a real pleasure to learn those dances with her. We spent weeks together. She's a joy, she's so original, a unique person, talented."
Curiously enough, it was Thurman's experience doing the fight choreography in the "Kill Bill" films that helped her with the dancing boot camp she attended to prepare for her four musical numbers.
"I was lucky actually that Uma had done those martial arts movies. And because she had already been through rehearsal periods and learning body movement, she took to the dancing quite naturally," says Stroman, who also won a Tony for choreographing "Producers" on Broadway. "Actually, when I asked her to slide across a desk or flip behind the couch, she had a light in her eyes. She was never afraid, and that's half the battle, too."
Despite her inexperience, Thurman gamely did all the singing and dancing without the benefit of a stunt/dance double.
"She learned it all, she does it all. Yes, Uma does a split. We had two people on each side of her. Everybody's doing everything," says Stroman. "They're really singing on the set. We recorded their vocals with the orchestra before we shot, but then we had them sing live on the set, so that when I got to editing, I had my choice. I could use their recorded vocal or their live vocal."
For Thurman, the singing - especially her solo "If You Got It, Flaunt It" - was especially daunting for her, but she's happy with the results.
"I wasn't really scared of dancing - that's not so hard for me. But when it came to the singing, our musical director, Patrick Brady, helped me find a voice - which isn't a recording artist voice," explains Thurman. "But the good news is that they're not having someone else sing for me. So it couldn't be too bad."
(c) 2005, Zap2it.com. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.