The Guardian-Michael Hogan
‘I recently wrote a fan letter to Thandiwe Newton’: Maya Hawke. Photograph: Dani Brubaker/Contour
The Stranger Things star on viral fame, the challenges of dyslexia, and convincing her actor parents she wanted to follow in their footsteps
New York-born Maya Hawke, 23, began her career in modelling before making her screen debut as Jo March in the BBC’s 2017 adaptation of Little Women. She was Linda “Flowerchild” Kasabian in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and plays Robin in Netflix hit Stranger Things. Hawke now stars in Mainstream, directed and written by Gia Coppola. She lives in New York and is the daughter of actors Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke.
Your new film Mainstream is a satire on viral fame. Are people too reliant on their mobile phones nowadays?
I’m sure they are, but it would be hypocritical of me to be judgmental because I love my phone. I love that I can go for a walk, put on headphones, listen to Phoebe Bridgers, feel melancholy and cry. I love that I can take a bath, play an audiobook and learn about neuroscience while I wash my hair. For someone who travels all the time and hates being alone, that connectivity is awesome. I use my phone all the time but I’m sure it’s rotting my brain and separating me from real connections. For my generation it’s hard to know life without it and what we’re missing out on.
How was working with your co-star Andrew Garfield?
The best thing about working with a great actor is when you forget you’re acting and suddenly you’re just in the moment together. It’s like looking into the eyes of a wild animal and responding.
When I made my first record I felt very dilettante-ish about it… my relationship to music deepened during the pandemic
In the film he wears an extraordinary pair of underpants with a strap-on, so it looks like he’s naked …
Those pants are quite a thing, man. He went all out. Balls to the wall, as they say. Literally.
Did your parents approve of your acting career at first?
They were wary of the public life side of acting and the difficulties of that. They also tried to protect me from falling into acting. They wanted to ensure I had a strong enough backbone, my own passion for it and work ethic. They didn’t want to cart me along every red carpet or have me do bit-parts in their movies. Once I was old enough, and it was clear they were my choices, they were very supportive.
What are your favourites of your parents’ films?
It’s funny, I haven’t seen them all. Sometimes you don’t really want to watch your mom getting shot or your dad go through painful emotions, even though you know it’s pretend. So mostly I only watch the happy ones. One of my favourite movies of my mom’s is The Producers [Susan Stroman’s 2005 remake of Mel Brooks’s musical], where she’s dancing around being fabulous. That’s much more fun to see than John Travolta jamming a needle into her heart.
Little Women was your debut role. What did co-stars Emily Watson and Angela Lansbury teach you?
It was so enlightening to watch them both work. Emily Watson was unbelievably kind. She played Marmee and truly was a maternal figure on that set. I remember when one scene wasn’t working, she just held all our hands, looked down at the ground and let out this beautiful sing-scream. It changed the energy in the room, which was a cool trick. Angela Lansbury might have been in her 90s but she was so quick with language, it was jaw-dropping. Little Women was a life-changingly positive experience. I made four lasting friendships and learned so much.
Your Stranger Things character, Robin Buckley, came out as a lesbian in season three. Did that get a good response from viewers?
Recently someone told me they watched that season with their daughter. During that episode they both started crying, then the daughter came out to the mother. I credit the Duffer brothers [Stranger Things creators] for writing such a great character.
How has being dyslexic affected your career? Does it make it harder to read scripts or learn lines?
Learning lines is fine but it makes it hard to look at a pile of scripts with excitement. If I ever reach a certain level of success, I’ll hire someone to read me scripts out loud.
Who would you hire?
I recently wrote a fan letter to Thandiwe Newton because I listened to her audiobook of Jane Eyre and it’s one of the greatest performances I’ve ever heard. Thandiwe Newton will never read my scripts to me, of course, but I love her voice.
You were in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Would you like a bigger part in one of his films some day? There’s talk of you inheriting your mother’s role of the Bride in Kill Bill Vol 3…
There are always rumours about that. Quentin is on his own darn schedule. He’ll do what he wants when he damn well wants. But I’ve known him my whole life and if he ever wanted to work with me again, of course I would love to.
You’re a musician too. Would you like to do more music and less acting, or is the balance right?
I think it’s about right. When I made my first record I felt very dilettante-ish about it – like, this is a great way to express myself and work with friends. During the pandemic, when suddenly we couldn’t act any more, I started focusing on music and my relationship to it deepened. I made something I’m really proud of and am excited to share it soon.
Who are your musical influences?
I’m a huge fan of Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. My four favourite albums of the past year have been Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple, Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers, Folklore by Taylor Swift and Songs by Adrianne Lenker. She’s incredible.
What projects are in the pipeline?
I’m currently in Spain shooting [Wes Anderson’s next film] Asteroid City, which is very exciting. I’m the biggest fan of his work so it’s a dream come true.
Is it true you’re a distant cousin of Tennessee Williams?
My dad says so. I don’t really believe it. But I’d love to do a Tennessee Williams play some day. I haven’t done any theatre since school and it’s top of my list. Please tell the West End to have me and I’ll come.
Mainstream is available on VOD platforms from Monday 8 November