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The two sides of Maya Hawke
Illustration by Shannon Czerpak, University of the Arts

And she’s not stopping there.

Maya Hawke is a legacy celebrity.

Born in 1998 to divorced parents Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, the 24-year-old found herself under a spotlight long before her own career began. Thurman became a household name after her starring role in the 1994 film “Pulp Fiction,” and Ethan Hawke, who holds nearly 100 acting credits on IMDb, renewed his popularity once more with his recent feature role in Marvel limited series “Moon Knight.” Together, Maya Hawke’s parents create quite the cinematic expectation for the young performer.

But does Hawke live up to her legacy? With two powerhouse parents, the task seems like an impossible one. Yet, the young celebrity takes it in stride. Attending both the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London and The Julliard School in New York City before turning 18, Hawke wasted no time following in her parents’ footsteps.

Hawke’s Brief Stint in Modeling

Like her mother, Hawke began her career in modeling. During her first year at Julliard, she starred in the spring/summer 2017 campaign for All Saints, a British fashion retailer based out of London. While attending acting classes in the Big Apple, Hawke took weekend trips to her hometown of Woodstock, New York, to shoot the collection in, to use the words of creative director Wil Beedle, “the environment that inspired it.”

Though this was Hawke’s first professional gig, she understood better than most the importance of creating a good image early in her career. Barely beyond her childhood, she could have easily coasted on the fame of her name for years. But Hawke didn’t want to be known for her parents’ success. She didn’t want to be a carbon copy of her mother, and she didn’t want to be compared to her father. Like any child, Hawke wanted to be her own person.

Determined to lead a career independent of her parents, Hawke took an active role on the All Saints set. While other new models would have been content to mindlessly follow the direction of the photographer, Hawke wanted to be a part of the process. Working alongside the creative team, the first-time model painted a picture of the spring/summer collection using the New York countryside as her canvas. She let her ideas flow free, and people took notice.

Beedle went on to say, “Anyone who spends any time with Maya will tell you that she’s smart, cool and possesses an infectious enthusiasm for new ideas, the creative process, and life in general.” Only a few months into her career, Hawke already earned the praise of one of the most important voices at All Saints. At just 18 years old, Hawke made a striking first impression that would launch her career in front of the camera, both in fashion and film. And she did it all without her parents’ help.

Taking on the Silver Screen

With a professional endorsement under her belt, the legacy celebrity began to find fame independent of her parents’ success. Hawke’s new legacy — the one she’s making for herself — started in 2017 with her first appearance on the silver screen.

A few months after the All Saints campaign, Hawke made her cinematic debut as Jo March in PBS Masterpiece’s “Little Women.” With so many memorable performances of the notoriously independent March sister already out there, Hawke had her work cut out for her in creating a distinct character. Yet, the young actress again prevailed. Alongside names like Kathryn Newton (Amy March) and Emily Watson (Marmee), Hawke helped bring to life the struggle of four young women growing up amid the chaos of the American Civil War.

The three-episode miniseries may not hold a candle to other famous “Little Women” adaptations, but it successfully launched Hawke’s career all the same. After the series aired on BBC and later became available to stream on Amazon Prime Video, the industry started paying attention to the young actress with the famous last name.

Hawke Transforms “Stranger Things”

While Hawke is no stranger to the things of television, her role in the knockout Netflix series “Stranger Things” reshaped the trajectory of her career.

Entering the Duffer brothers’ franchise in its third season, Hawke and her character Robin Buckley quickly became fan favorites. Unlike other ‘80s stock characters who pepper the show’s scenes, audiences can connect with Robin from a modern perspective. She is an “alternative girl,” breaking the stereotype of other put-together female leads. Presented as a foil character to little-miss-perfect Nancy Wheeler, Robin is queer and awkward and never says the right thing. Popular fan theories speculate that Robin is also neurodivergent — or, more specifically, on the autistic spectrum — adding another layer of audience accessibility to her character.

But Hawke revealed that Robin wasn’t always meant to be that way. In an interview with NME, the actress said her character was originally written to embody the gothic ‘80s punk prototype, but said, “That wasn’t the actress they hired.” Hawke explained, “I’m an Energiser bunny smile addict, especially when I’m nervous. So the character also shifted and became more like me as we were filming.” Though the Robin that she presented may not have been what the Duffer brothers had pictured, Hawke created a character that resonated with viewers in a way nobody could have predicted. Especially, in a retro show with so many apparent barriers to diversity, Robin’s neurodivergence is nothing short of necessary.

Tumbling Into the Music Industry

But Hawke has accumulated more than just acting credits in her lifelong career. When she is not filming Emmy award-winning TV shows, Hawke is a successful singer.

When the pandemic put her career on pause in 2020, Hawke spent her quarantine reconnecting with her childhood passion for poetry and music to deal with the unraveling world around her. The artist had dabbled in music before, going as far as to release a few singles on Spotify in 2019, but songwriting was more of a passion project than another branch of her career. But, like much else, the pandemic changed that.

During a time of uncertainty, music helped Hawke dive into emotions she couldn’t otherwise express. After releasing her debut album, “Blush,” Hawke said, “I am a person who really struggles with embarrassment and shame, but it’s a weird thing to talk about.” So, instead of talking about it, she started to sing about it. One by one, songs sprang from different unnamable emotions, and “Blush” started to take root. For Hawke, music became a way to understand herself.

The album helped more than just Hawke through the first few months of the pandemic. Audiences immediately connected with “Blush,” finding sentiment and sympathy in its songs. In a time where days slipped past one after another without so much as brushing your shoulder, “Blush” made lonely listeners feel seen.

Breaking Away from Her Name

Though Hawke may not have intended to launch a career in music, she has developed her platform all the same. Since releasing “Blush” two years ago, the singer has released two singles along with a handful of made-at-home music videos. Starring in her own films, Hawke combines her various storytelling talents to create multi-dimensional movies for her songs. While both intimate and thought-provoking, her productions have been strictly PG — until now.

At the end of July, Hawke released a music video to accompany her 2022 single, “Thèrèse.” A video truly not safe for work, this X-rated movie is a clear departure from Hawke’s previous productions. Telling the haunting story of a young girl breaking under the pressure of growing up too fast, the music video features erotic encounters and plenty of nudity to illustrate the song’s heartbreaking lyrics. Though some viewers find the visuals indecent, no one can deny the evocative beauty of the film.

Hawke’s most recent music video proves that, for better or worse, the young performer is not the product of her parents. Though her family connections may have opened doors early in her career, Hawke has earned her own place in the film industry. In pursuing music as well, the performer builds a career independent of her family, taking risks in a storytelling genre untried by her parents. No longer does her family name define her. Maya Hawke may be a legacy actress, but she is also much more than that.

Writer Profile

Aunna Beranek

Columbia College Chicago
English, Minor in Creative Writing (Fiction Concentration)

An aspiring writer and editor trying to figure out how to build a career out of crying in the dark over fictional characters.

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