The daughter of a psychologist and a college professor, Thurman was raised in Amherst, Massachusetts and Woodstock, New York. She attended a preparatory school in New England, where at fifteen she was discovered by two New York agents. At sixteen she transferred to a Professional Children's School in New York City in order to pursue an acting career.
Thurman's entrance onto the mainstream film scene began with Johnny Be Good, opposite Anthony Michael Hall. But it was her role as the goddess Venus in Terry Gilliam's 1988 fantasy The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen which brought her international acclaim. This striking and versatile actress went on to receive critical acclaim for her portrayal of a virginal 18th Century convent girl, Cecile de Volanges, seduced by John Malkovich in Stephen Frears' Dangerous Liaisons. The following year she starred opposite Fred Ward and Maria de Medeiros in Philip Kaufman's Henry And June playing the neurotic and erotic bisexual spouse of Henry Miller. She then played Daphne McBain; one of a trio of Dabney Coleman's spoiled children in the comedy Where The Heart Is, directed by John Boorman.
In 1991, Thurman starred opposite Richard Gere and Kim Bassinger as Diana, a conniving therapy patient in Phil Joanou's thriller Final Analysis. She then reunited with Malkovich in the thriller Jennifer 8, playing Andy Garcia's blind girlfriend, Helena. In Mad Dog And Glory, she played a barmaid who becomes an indentured servant to Robert De Niro for saving Bill Murray's life. Her most eccentric movie to date is Gus Van Sant's film, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, in which she played Sissy Hankshaw, a big-thumbed, bisexual hippie hitchhiker.
In 1995, Thurman received an Academy Award nomination for Quentin Tarantino's critically lauded Pulp Fiction, in which she played Mia Wallace, a sexy and comedic mobster's wife. Later that year, she was seen in the period romance A Month By The Lake, with Vanessa Redgrave and the contemporary romance Beautiful Girls directed by Ted Demme. Thurman next appeared in The Truth About Cats And Dogs, Barman & Robin, Gattaca, opposite Ethan Hawke, Les Miserables with Liam Neeson and The Avengers.
Thurman was most recently seen in Woody Allen's new film Sweet And Lowdown opposite Sean Penn and Samantha Morton. Prior to The Golden Bowl she has also completed a period drama, Vatel opposite Gerard Depardieu and Tim Roth.