Exclusive interview with Nena von Schlebrügge, Uma Thurman’s mother
03 December, 2018
Exclusive interview with Nena von Schlebrügge, Uma Thurman’s mother
In 1955 photographer from Vogue Norman Parkinson went to Stockholm where he met 14 years old Nena von Schlebrügge.
This meeting became the beginning of modeling career for Nena von Schlebrügge. It is quite easy to see Uma Thurman in Nena’s face – after all, she is a mother of such a talented Hollywood actress.

Nena von Schlebrügge had already been a famous model in the 1960s, when she met Salvador Dali. She became his muse eventually. Nena’s second husband is
Robert Thurman, father of Uma and other 3 children.

Nena von Schlebrügge does not give interviews to anyone, but she accepted an offer from the Georgian newspaper Kviris Palitra and spoke about her life, religion and family.

Let’s start our interview with the question about your modeling career:

How you began modeling? Did you follow your maternal grandmother, as she had served as Axel Ebbe's model for Famntaget ("The Embrace"), a 1930s statue of a nude woman that overlooks the harbor of Smygehuk in Sweden?

I never thought that I would be a photographic model, at that time, at 14 years I felt like the ugly duckling… as it happened one very rainy day my girlfriend and I looked out the school window and saw a family friend under an umbrella outside in the yard , we went down and she told us to come after school to a hotel to meet a famous photographer... so we went there and I remember sitting in a chair and looking up at a very tall man with a mustache , he looked at me and said ,” I’m a photographer at British Vogue “, I said “ what is Blouge? Apparently he fell in love that moment... his name was Norman Parkinson.

You have been photographed by fashion photographers. You’ve been on the top of fashion industry. Could you look back and tell us some details of working with famous photographers or designers?

During my seven year Career, I did exclusively “high fashion photography”, as it was called in those days, so I did not have much to do with designers. I would be booked by a magazine or an advertising client and arrive at a Photographer’s studio with my heavy big bag full of make up, hair pieces, even high heel shoes! In the early sixties, we models had also to be expert in make up and doing our hair for every shot! I would go to sleep with hair curlers, then wrap a silk scarf around my head in the morning on my way to the studio.

Only for special shoots like a Vogue Cover, would the client bring makeup artists and hairdressers.

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The difference between the best photographers and the others in my experience was that the great ones took fewer photos as they could sense what they had just shoot was “the one“. Some other photographers needed to take many photos, which was much more tiresome.

Could tell about friendship with Salvador Dali?

So I was living and working in NYC and feeling very at home here. It was the center of the fashion world then. One Sunday morning I was awoken with a telephone call from Peter Beard, a young adventurer photographer, who begged me to get out of bed and come with him on a location shoot with Salvadore Dali, as the model he had booked had become ill suddenly. I said ok I’ll do it and half an hour later a limousine pulled up outside my door and I stepped in next to Salvadore Dali, I took my dark glasses off and looked at him and said “I’m very nearsighted “whereupon he smiled and said “oh, so you are one of the blind people “, and so began a wonderful friendship . I used to go and visit him at the Saint Regis hotel in midtown Manhattan where he and his wife Gala would spend every winter ,,,after work in the Late afternoon for cocktails , Once he told me he loved NYC , “ the atmosphere here is so thick , you could cut it with a knife ..”he was very fun and charming too , and we had some interesting adventures as well ...different people would come and visit him these afternoons at the Saint Regis.

You are in marriage with Robert Thurman 51 years. Robert Thurman is the first American to be tonsured in Buddhist monks personally by the Dalai Lama, how can I pass the chance of asking about this fact, I think that Robert is often asked about this meeting.

So Bob Thurman and I meet in 1966 at a friend’s place outside NYC ...He was still a monk at the time , dressed in monks clothes and had a very serious demeanor. He had been contemplating on returning to lay life, as in those days there very no Tibetan Monastery‘s in the USA aside from his teachers Mongolian one in New Jersey. He was thinking of returning to Harvard and finish getting his PH D degree in Buddhist Studies and to be of service in this way ., as a lay person . I had been interested in “what is the meaning of life “and such perennial questions since a teenager, so I found conversations with him most enlightening. Answers to my many questions we’re now finally answered through his extensive knowledge of Buddhism.

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Our friends at the time said that they thought we were the most unlikely couple to succeed! The monk and the Model! Two different words, how wrong we proved them to be!

What is the secret of your happy marriage?

As people are so varied and their cultures also, which influences their thinking and customs, there is as with most things not one fit answer. In my life I will mention a few things that have worked for me, I call it “Taking Turns “. It seems that part of human nature is to try to establish dominance, so in a relationship that also happens ,,one partner will have more of a say in what the couple will do and the other one will have to go along . So here comes the idea of “taking turns “. A childhood game actually. Both partners agree to play, it means that they each agree to go along with something that the other one wants to do, and not argue for something different instead. Then the next time when there’s something up, they switch sides and the one , who got their way before agrees to go along with whatever the other one wants to do .This taking turns in decision making , establishes a “ dominance equality “of sorts . Of course I don’t mean unreasonable or demeaning demands ,,but both parties can feel their way to a more fair balance of power and respect in their relationship.

Then I think that if both parties happen to share a common spiritual affinity, that that can be very helpful especially when difficulty arises , it’s then a place to retreat to in trying to up level the situation , a higher perceptive to see the situation from.

Finally it helps to develop patience, and not to take everything so personally, understand that some of the frustrations the other party is exhibiting doesn’t actually have to do with you . It’s their very own problem.

Attisha a famous Tibetan saint, was asked this question and his answer was.” Husband and wife will soon be dead, so while still alive, they should be more kind to each other.

The Tibet House had been founded in 1986 by the Thurmans, Philip Glass, and Richard Gere, at the behest of the Dalai Lama. From 2001 you’ve been the Managing Director of the Tibet House-owned Menla Mountain Retreat. You are also psychotherapist. What kind of need do people expect to get from you, from Menla Mountain Retreat and do the everyday problems changed from past decades? What kind of worries do people have nowadays?

Since my husband was very buzzy with teaching at university and writing books, I stepped in as I had the time after raising four children, to help establish first Tibet House and the fifteen years latter , Menla , Retreat and Spa ...although trained as physiotherapist, this had a lot more to do with management, and creating programs and all the many things needed in running an cultural center , Tibet House, and a Retreat Center, Menla.

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There are so many really difficult and painful situations in the world, that people and communities find then self in, as well as the threat to the animal world and the planets environment, so much worse each decade. It’s helpful to choose to spend ones creative energy on one or just a few of these problems, not to be overwhelmed. It feels really good to be dedicated and to be able to spend ones time in these pursuits is actually a blessing .the reward is in doing, not necessarily in the results which can be frustrating. Knowing that you try your best is sufficient.

This Question is about you amazing family. In your family noble beauty is transmitted from generation to generation. Uma was named after a Hindu goddess and inherited a refined grace from her ancestors. She is Goddess. In Tbilisi, Georgia Uma is the most beloved actress form the whole Hollywood. Her personality, beauty, talent is adorable for us. Please tell us about Uma, in one of her interviews she said that she is half Swedish and she is proud of this. Tell us about her childhood, what kind of child was she? And which movie you and Robert love most of all from her career?

So yes, I’m a Swedish as well as a USA citizen, being raised in Sweden, I grew up with those socialist democratic values, amongst them the equality of men and women .so I guess I passed these on to Uma and her three brothers.

Uma was a most beautiful baby, the day she was born. At an early age she was one of those that seem to know their destiny, so it was no surprise to me she wanted to leave boarding school and go to NYC in pursuit of a modeling and movie carrier. I decided to help her.

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She is also a very kind, compassionate and generous person ,,I think she loves her children the most , a wonderful mother... being a mother has brought a lot of joy in her life . I like all her movies as she’s a talented actress, and now we are so thrilled, that her 20 years old daughter, Maya Ray Hawke Thurman is also having early success in that field , she will appear in the spring as a cast member in the word wild Netflix, “ Stranger Things “,look for her there.

When we get together as a family we’re just like everyone else, we don’t talk much about
Fame and fortune, we watch movies and play games ,,( everyone likes to win ) and Uma is also a great cook and we have a wonderful time together .

I send the best wishes to all Uma fans in Georgia and wish you all a most happy Christmas holiday.

Main photo courtesy: cinebumusa.blogspot.com
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