Who did Uma Thurman think she was to say no to Ismail Merchant and James Ivory — the filmmaking team behind such cinematic classics as A Room with a View and Howard's End? Well, fellow thesp Natasha Richardson was curious about that herself after learning that her good buddy turned down the lead in the Merchant Ivory adaptation of Henry James's novel The Golden Bowl.

As Thurman recalls, the duo were commiserating about the lack of compelling movie roles when Richardson reminded her, "'Wait a second, Uma, weren't you offered The Golden Bowl? Well, shut up!'"

Thanks in part to Richardson's ribbing, Thurman signed on despite reservations about her character — an American expatriate who has an affair with her son-in-law (Jeremy Northam). "I just didn't quite understand [her] initially," the Oscar-nominated actress tells TV Guide Online. "And as I thought about it more... I suddenly realized that her behavior, in her own way, is a mirror reflection of Scarlett O'Hara. And actually, [The Golden Bowl] is very similar to Gone with the Wind in the Ashley/Scarlett kind of dynamic. And I figured that out and then understood everything the character did. It's that love excuse, as I like to think of it."

Although Thurman found her role "really satisfying," caring for her infant daughter [with husband Ethan Hawke] during filming was a challenge. "[Maya] was really young, and I was trying hard to be a full-time mother and be able to play that part," she sighs. "And [co-star] Kate Beckinsale was actually in the same boat. We both had babies in our trailers."

Still, the Pulp Fiction beauty admits that despite the rigors of balancing family and career, she wouldn't have it any other way. Heck, she's not even depressed about having just turned the big 31. "It's sort of great," she admits of being thirtysomething. "I was always considered to be too old to be young when I was younger, anyway. I had trouble being cast as a young woman.

"I feel like I'm coming into probably the best period of my life," she adds with a smile. "Certainly, so far... I've never been happier."