It was the futuristic flick Gattaca that changed Uma's future. She married her leading man, Ethan Hawke, and had two children, Maya, now seven, and Levon, three and a half. As a working mother, Uma kicked some serious butt in the critically acclaimed Kill Bill movies—but by the time the rigorous filming was over, so was her marriage. The couple's painful breakup catapulted her to the center of a tabloid nightmare.
Even though things in Uma's life are looking up, the pain from her divorce is evident. Mid-sentence, her eyes fill with tears and her voice falters. "Oh, gosh," Uma says with surprise, "I don't talk about [the divorce] very much. I'm surprised actually, because I've been so cool for so long."
After five years of marriage, Ethan and Uma's divorce became final in August. Even though the two were separated for two years, their split is still raw and painful for Uma.
Uma says that despite her efforts to move forward, she's found it difficult to recover from the divorce. "You can move on," she says, "and you can be lucky and you can seize the moment and you can take one step after another, but … you bear two children with somebody—that's not a small thing—and then you can hardly talk to them. And you need to [talk to them], and your children need you to. So you work on it. He's made an effort and I try to make an effort and, you know, we just keep trying."
"When you have two children," Uma says, "I think that that's such a priority to protect them and to never lose sight of the fact that even if you're in a fight or even if things are going badly, it's in their best interests that everybody comes out okay. So there's no 'winning.' … He's their dad and so he's got to be a great guy and he's got to succeed in life and he's got to feel good about himself and, you know, I hope that he winds up there".
Uma says that even though both she and Ethan are putting forth an effort, they still have trouble communicating. "I don't know how he feels at the moment. We don't have a lot of personal chats about how we're doing. … It's very difficult [to communicate] because there's so much hurt feelings. … You try to talk and you reach out and then, like, you bump into these little things where it's clear that there's a lot of unfinished damage and baggage and stuff that's still in the way."
"There was some stuff like that at the end," Uma says. "We were having a difficult time and you know how the axe comes down and how people behave and how people express their unhappiness. Our marriage failed. I should take full responsibility for the failure of my own marriage."
"We were going through a really bad time," Uma says. "My son was 18 months old. I hadn't really worked very much between my children, which had given us a lot of stability. I had a child and went back into an incredibly demanding job. I think that put a huge amount of pressure on our marriage. … Anyway, it's hard to say. Blaming anybody doesn't make you feel better."
Uma: Of course. I'm riddled by them. And I'm not wrong—there are a lot of "if onlys" that are probably really true. … I think to be honest with yourself, you have to accept that.
Oprah: Are you ready to forgive yourself for the "if onlys?"
Uma: I'm not sure yet if that's the right move.
Oprah: Would you want to reconcile [with Ethan]?
Uma: I couldn't answer that question. I don't even know. I want to recognize him again. I want to see the guy that I married. I want to trust him and I want to feel good and comfortable again.
Oprah: I heard a definition many years ago: "Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different." Isn't that a great definition? It just means that when you know better, you do better. If you had known better at that time you would have done better.
Uma: I do believe I did my best in the moment. … Don't you wish your best was better?
Though the divorce has been extremely difficult for all involved, Uma and her family are finding a new path for their lives. "I think the number one thing that keeps you from doing better than your best is fear," Uma says. " When you go through it, … you get through your fear a little bit, too, because it's happened. And that makes you stronger."
"I think you're one of those people who will turn your pain into great power," says Oprah. "Strength over time is power."