“I would have pursued a career as an artist, even if I had been adopted,” stated Maya Hawke.

“I would have pursued a career as an artist, even if I had been adopted,” stated Maya Hawke.


Aya Hawke lacks a designated workspace, but she has found a suitable spot three blocks away from her home. On a pleasant winter day in New York’s West Village, the performer and musician is situated in the corner of a cozy eatery with a trendy menu and a rustic charm. The establishment exudes an air of effortless cool, but Hawke strikes me as more of a collector of thrift store finds rather than a person who indulges in lavish luxuries; her hair is braided and she wears delicate necklaces that she mindlessly fiddles with while conversing. She mentions that her loose-fitting navy sweater was hand-knitted by her mother. “I’m not one for extravagance,” she remarks, tugging at her top. “You’re getting the unadorned version of me.”

Hawke’s success as an actor has been characterized by carefully chosen roles, confident performances, and a preference for the type of artistic filmmakers favored by her parents, Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke. It has become almost a joke to exclaim “Oh, Maya Hawke is in this?” thanks to her brief yet memorable appearances as a speedy follower of Charles Manson in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, a quirky dance instructor in Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City, and as Leonard Bernstein’s daughter in Bradley Cooper’s Maestro. And then there is her significant breakthrough role in the immensely popular Stranger Things on Netflix.

Stranger Things

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Today, Hawke is excited to discuss a topic that is very dear to her: her career as an indie folk musician, known for her clever and emotional songwriting. Her previous albums, Blush and Moss, were well-received and heavily influenced by artists like Fiona Apple, Leonard Cohen, and Bright Eyes. Her newest album, Chaos Angel, is set to be released in May and is her strongest work yet. It features intricate storytelling layered over a mix of electronic elements, powerful guitars, and intense reverb. With a smile, she shares that this is the first time she has not grown tired of her own music during the time between recording and releasing an album.

Today, Hawke, 25, has had thoughts about angels. She spent the morning in New York City streets wearing feathered wings for a photoshoot inspired by a previous shot taken by the late Peter Lindbergh. She expresses her admiration for the photo, pulling it up on her phone. Interestingly, her very first professional photoshoot was with Lindbergh. She explains that her mother was also working with him and she needed a headshot for her auditions for the 2014 Sofia Coppola Little Mermaid film. Her mother allowed her to join the photoshoot and have a picture taken with Lindbergh.

Rephrasing: Receiving a complimentary photoshoot from a renowned fashion photographer is something that many of us can only dream of. However, Hawke seems unfazed by her privilege and is comfortable with her unique lifestyle and its perks. When I mention her parents, she casually responds, “They’re just my family.” (Not all children of famous parents share this nonchalant attitude, as seen when Dear Evan Hansen actor Ben Platt’s team ended an interview after being mentioned in a magazine cover last year.)

During a recent appearance on the Today show, Ethan Hawke was asked about nepotism and his response was that it has been a part of human history. He also mentioned the saying, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, which is an old expression. Maya, on the other hand, has a diplomatic perspective on the debate. She admits that it can be frustrating when it becomes the main focus, but she remains hopeful that one day it won’t be. She deals with this issue by acknowledging that she has not yet earned the right for it to not be a significant factor.

Hawke is the lead in Wildcat, a movie about the life of writer Flannery O’Connor, directed by her father. She reveals that she had been mentally working on the film for five to ten years. While the reviews have been varied, she does not seem inclined to hide or dismiss the film. In fact, she discusses its handling of racism in O’Connor’s writing in depth, and even apologizes for her complex and erratic response.

“I have a deep passion for this work and I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to do it,” she expresses. “I have the power to believe in my ability to be an artist, despite being adopted. However, I am also grateful for the environment I was raised in, the New York City theatre community, where I was exposed to plays and had the chance to sit backstage. It was through this experience that I learned about renowned directors and discovered my desire to become one.”

She explains that her childhood was heavily influenced by poetry and discussions about the purpose of creating art. Recently, her father called her and engaged in philosophical conversations about art and life. They discussed how to handle receiving positive attention for work that is not your personal favorite, while your favorite pieces may not receive as much recognition. She ponders, “How do you resist the temptation to chase after popularity and instead stay true to your own artistic vision?”

A strong sense of individualism can be heard throughout Chaos Angel, where the classic folk rock of the 1970s is blended with contemporary elements – including a vocodered sea shanty, playful brass accents, and unexpected beat changes that give the impression of being submerged underwater. The album was produced by Christian Lee Hutson, known for his work with Phoebe Bridgers and also Hawke’s boyfriend. When asked if they started dating while working on the record, she clarifies that it wasn’t exactly the case. She finds it strange that in modern pop culture, people feel the need to publicly discuss their relationship after only two weeks of dating. It seems a bit excessive.

Chaos Angel has a wide range of sounds that are brought to life by the performer’s ability to take on different personalities. During the recording process, Hawke experimented with various characters, including a “whispery depressive” and a “pop maniac”. One of the tracks, titled “Okay”, delves into the damaging effects of codependency, drawing inspiration from Cassavetes’ film “A Woman Under the Influence”. In other songs, Hawke’s soft and confident voice stands on its own, such as in the opening track “Black Ice” which evokes a sense of yearning reminiscent of cult songwriters like Linda Perhacs and Kath Bloom. Hawke is passionate when talking about her new music. She declares, “I am more excited about releasing this record than anything else in my life.” She believes that as a creative, it’s important to have a specific audience in mind rather than trying to appeal to everyone. Otherwise, the art produced may be mediocre or unimpactful.

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Maya Hawke singing in New York in 2020.View image in fullscreen

Hawke spent her childhood in New York, alternating between her parents’ homes after they separated when she was five years old. Her mother preferred listening to pop music in the car, while her father’s collection consisted of Willie Nelson, Wilco, and Patti Smith. It was not unusual for them to spend evenings writing poetry, painting, and playing guitar together. Despite this, Hawke was still a child growing up in the 2000s. She attended her first concert at the age of nine, which was a Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus performance. Hawke remembers how Cyrus wore a blonde wig for half of the show and then performed without it for the other half.

Art served as a means of escape for Hawke. She explains, “I experienced my own type of academic distress.” Struggling with dyslexia, she frequently changed schools until she landed at Saint Ann’s, a private school in Brooklyn with a focus on the arts. While she enjoyed her time there, she felt apprehensive about applying to Ivy League schools. She did apply to Vassar, a prestigious university, but was deeply affected by its rejection. “It brought up a sense of inadequacy, like I wasn’t intelligent enough,” she shares.

When her younger brother, Levon, was accepted to Brown University, Hawke joined him for one semester. She attended parties, drank alcohol, attended philosophy and Hinduism classes without permission, and felt like she was finally getting to experience a part of her youth that she had missed out on due to her acting career. However, their reckless actions during this time almost resulted in a disaster. One weekend at Thurman’s house in upstate New York, they stumbled upon hot coals that had been carelessly dumped in dry leaves. According to Hawke, “It was dangerously close to our mother’s old wooden farmhouse. It could have easily caught fire and burned down. And to make matters worse, we may or may not have been under the influence of hallucinogenic mushrooms.” This experience inspired the lead single of Chaos Angel, titled “Missing Out,” which features spectral indie rock lyrics such as, “I was left like coals in leaves / And I sparked up in winter’s breeze.”

Her fellow actors on Stranger Things became almost like classmates, and she has developed close friendships with a few of them: she has attended a concert of Charlie Heaton’s band, she is very close with Sadie Sink, and she has seen Finn Wolfhard perform with his band Calpurnia. In the show, she plays the fun and sometimes sarcastic character of Robin Buckley, a gay teenager who balances her job at an ice cream shop with fighting supernatural enemies. She is looking forward to the final season of the show, which she will start filming in a few weeks. While she will be sad to see it end, she is also excited to move on from playing a high schooler and enter into her own adulthood.

As Hawke approaches the next chapter, she is reflecting on the meaning she wants her work to convey. As we finish our meal, she recalls a recent discussion with her father about the pursuit of external validation and questions if it is worth chasing. She is amazed at the ability to have such conversations about the artist’s journey and the inner conflict between good and bad. “I feel fortunate to be able to have these discussions,” she says with a smile.

The album Chaos Angel will be released on Mom+Pop Records on May 31st.

Source: theguardian.com