NEW YORK – The skinny, bespectacled guy tapping away on his Mac at the Essex House doesn't seem the type to incite a feud with Hollywood heavyweight Quentin Tarantino.
But then, that's the Uma Thurman (search) effect.
"She's my muse now!" says Ben Younger, director of Thurman's new movie, "Prime (search)," out this weekend -- a challenge, of course, to the "Kill Bill (search)" creator who's famously obsessed with the star.
Who could blame Younger? At 35, the willowy blonde actress has never looked better. Indeed, she outshines most movie starlets in the youth-obsessed industry's preferred under-30 age bracket.
In the appropriately-titled "Prime," Thurman snags a guy at the low end of that demographic: She plays a recently divorced woman in her late 30s who rebounds -- vigorously -- with a 23-year-old painter.
Unbeknownst to the new couple, the young lad's smothering Jewish mother (Meryl Streep (search)) just happens to also be Thurman's character's therapist.
The script turned out to be an exceptionally good fit for Thurman, who was going through her own struggle to bounce back after her painful split from husband Ethan Hawke (search).
"It's kind of just what the doctor ordered for me," says the actress. "I understood exactly what this character was going through. I know what it's like to wake up a decade later and be single again, be alone again -- thinking you had a plan, and the plan gets derailed."
In Thurman's case, that plan was presumably to stay married to Hawke, whom she met on the set of 1997's "Gattaca" and married in 1998. But five years and two children later, the couple split, finalizing their divorce early this year.
Reports swirled that the marriage ended because of Hawke's cheating -- which, one can only hope, isn't true. As countless fans have asked incredulously, who in their right mind would jilt this woman?
"She's so beautiful, she's like an alien," raves Younger. "And then you get to see how smart she is, and you're like, 'She can't be this great.'"
The daughter of a prominent Columbia professor, Thurman made her first major film appearance in 1988's "Dangerous Liasons" -- where her performance as a wide-eyed ingenue drew praise. Now in her 30s, the actress is on the other end of the spectrum, playing the teacher rather than the student.
Whether she's brandishing a samurai sword (as she did only months after childbirth, for "Kill Bill") or belting out Broadway tunes (as she'll do in the movie version of "The Producers" later this year), Thurman's sex appeal and strength seem to be growing, not diminishing, with age.
Twenty-six-year-old Bryan Greenberg ("One Tree Hill"), who plays Thurman's love interest in the film, was suitably humbled by the prospect of bedding the "Pulp Fiction" poster girl, says Younger.
"Bryan was just nervous enough around her to make the relationship perfect," the director says, noting that Greenberg had the additional pressure of working with the legendary Streep. "But he was almost too young to be debilitatingly nervous. It's like why they send kids off to war when they're only 18 or 20 -- because they just go."
For her part, Thurman wonders why people would find it any more shocking for a woman to be on the older end of a May-December romance than a man.
"[You] wonder why we expect women to be more grown up, to behave better [than men]," she says. "We're disturbed by a woman going out with a younger man because we think maybe she's just doing it for the sex."
Despite her spirited defense of "Tadpole" syndrome, Thurman's never really been much of a player herself. First married to actor Gary Oldman from 1990-1992, she hooked up with Hawke four years later.
Since their separation, she's found love again with New York hotelier Andre Balazs, with whom she owns a home in upstate New York.
That's not to say it's all been smooth sailing.
"What was cut out of the movie [was] like hours of me sobbing, really sobbing, and. ... I don't think the movie really suffers from it," admits Thurman. "I think it's more palatable not to have to see me really cry too much."
Younger says he focused on the lighter side because, in the end, the film's message is a positive one.
"There's this global view now that if you're in a relationship and it doesn't end in marriage or children, then you've failed. And we have a 58 percent divorce rate, so something's not right there," he says.
"I think about the relationships I've had that didn't work out, for whatever reason -- but who says they were supposed to? Maybe they worked out perfectly for the span of time that I was supposed to be in them."
That's a sentiment that certainly should resonate with Thurman, who discussed, on her recent "Oprah" appearance, juggling a high-profile film career and a relatively new relationship with being a single mom.
"Half of America that gets married goes through what I've been through," she observed on the show. "And it's extremely hard. I mean, you're a family -- and then, you're not a family in the same way."
But to see the actress running errands around Manhattan with her two children, as many New Yorkers do on a regular basis, it's apparent that she's getting on quite well on her own.
The only thing that seems to bother her is the assumption that "Prime" is just another schmaltzy romantic comedy for girls. When asked about her favorite "chick flick" at a press conference, she pounced.
"I hate that term -- hate it, hate it, hate it," she said. "That's exactly the kind of remark that's keeping women in film down. We don't need to minimize movies that aren't male-driven. What's a 'dude flick'? Like, 'Rambo'?"
"'Kill Bill,'" the writer retorted.
"No," said the actress. "Girls like 'Kill Bill.'"