How alluring is Uma Thurman? “She’s someone who’s so sensual and seductive,” filmmaker Chris Columbus says, “that you’ll look into her eyes and forget that she has 75 snakes on her head.”
Columbus should know since, as the director of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” he chose the statuesque actress for the role of Medusa, the cursed mythological creature with serpent tresses. The memorable Medusa is coming back in a big way with Thurman’s performance in “Percy,” which hits U.S. theaters on Feb. 12, and the character’s prominent appearances in “Clash of the Titans,” which opens domestically on March 26.
Columbus, who directed the first two “Harry Potter” films as well as “Home Alone,” said the sinister appeal of Medusa was one of the key reasons he took on the “Percy” project, which is based on the bestselling Rick Riordan novels.
“To be able to use the CGI snakes in conjunction with a real actress was the first thing that was exciting to me,” Columbus said. “As a kid growing up, she was the most frightening creature. I remember watching an old Hammer picture called ‘The Gorgon,’ and the original [1981 film] ‘Clash of the Titans.’ They never got Medusa right. For me, she’s not just hideous. Medusa’s history is tragic at best.”
According to the Roman poet Ovid, Medusa was a beautiful, virginal priestess who was raped by Poseidon, the god of the seas, in Athena’s temple. Athena, outraged that her temple was defiled, punished Medusa by transforming her beautiful, long hair into snakes and her face into a horror that transforms men to stone when they lock eyes with her.
It’s a jolting backstory for a character that many moviegoers know merely as a monster. Columbus approached Thurman — known for “Pulp Fiction,” the “Kill Bill” films, “Dangerous Liaisons” and “Batman & Robin”— right away in hopes that she would bring a layered performance to the complicated creature. “I told her: ‘You’re my first choice.’ I explained to her that the more pedestrian way to go is just to make her this hideous monster. With Uma, you get an extra added layer of intense sensuality and toughness.”
— Rachel Abramowitz
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PHOTOS: (top) Uma Thurman, seen in 2007, plays Medusa in the upcoming “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.” Credit: Robert Caplin / For The Times. (middle) Medusa from the 1981 film “Clash of the Titans.”