In the first moments of the highly anticipated third season of Stranger Things, things already look different. For one, half of the scenes take place at the shiny new Starcourt Mall, where teens run off to spend their allowances on ’80s wares, movie tickets, and ice cream cones. But the mall isn’t the only new thing in town. Behind the counter at Scoops Ahoy is Hawkins newcomer Robin, the unaffected cool girl played by Maya Hawke. Her part in Stranger Things is nothing short of a breakout role for the budding 21-year-old actress. But this isn’t your typical Hollywood-starlet-rises-to-fame-out-of-nowhere narrative, because there’s one minor detail about Maya that differentiates her: She’s the daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke.
We may live in an age when having famous parents earns you the world without needing to lift a finger, but Hawke is out to make a name for herself as an actress. Since pulling herself out of Juilliard’s acting program in order to dive headfirst into a full-time career, she’s been trying on all sorts of roles for size—everything from period pieces (her on-screen debut was on BBC’s TV adaptation of Little Women) to Hollywood blockbusters (catch her as a member of the Manson crew in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) to her latest project, Ladyworld, an indie horror film out this month. Hawke is hungry to try it all.
Chatting with her, it’s not hard to see how her parents and their considerable careers rubbed off on Hawke. As we settled into a quiet corner on the set of our Who What Wear shoot in Los Angeles, she was all focus, delivering her replies in earnest but also peppering the conversation with bits of her dry humor. Post-shoot, she re-emerged in a relaxed checkered suit and retro sneakers, admitting that she’s currently embracing a ’70s English teacher aesthetic. (Trust me. It’s working for her.) If being on a Hollywood set is like “one big classroom,” as she told me, then it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that her parents and peers are her teachers, and school is officially in session.
What was it like joining the cast for season three of Stranger Things?
It was super overwhelming, but the minute I got there, everyone was really kind and welcoming and made me feel right at home. I expected it to be really scary, and I was scared, but everyone got rid of my nerves right away. They were so inclusive and collaborative.
Who did you feel closest to out of the cast?
Maybe Priah. I mean the whole Scoop Troop were my homies. They were amazing. So talented, so fun to work with. So they definitely were my closest people on set. And the Duffer Brothers, actually, are the people I really got the most personally close to throughout shooting it.
What was the most significant thing you learned from working on the set of Stranger Things?
I’d never done anything action before. I think I learned how to maneuver that kind of environment and how to sort of keep being yourself and keep acting through, you know, running away from Russians. Like how do you stay in character when you’re under attack? And so that was an interesting learning experience, but also it’s all about hours on set in terms of learning how to be a good film actor. Learning from costume, learning from camera, learning and asking questions. You know, it’s a big classroom if you let it be.
If season four is confirmed, what would you hope for Robin?
I have total faith in the Duffer Brothers, whatever they think is right. I hope she gets to explore the environment of the video store. I think that’s a really rich environment, and I hope that she just gets to keep growing as a person and developing.
Moving onto your upcoming movie, Ladyworld, what drew you to that script initially?
It just sounded really interesting and different. [The director] Amanda Kramer sent the script, which was rich and complicated and had beautiful scenes and ensemble moments. One thing as an actor I love is I love ensemble acting. I love a scene that has like 10 people in it, and we’re all moving through the space. I think that’s where some of the richest dynamics come into play.
She also wrote an amazing letter with the script about what she wanted to do with the movie and what she thought it meant. It was really inspiring to me. In the arts, I want to help people who are really passionate and creative actualize their dream in any way I can. So, you know, I was offered to be in that, and she had a clear passionate dream, and I wanted to make it come true. If she wanted me there, I wanted to be there.
You’ve been in a variety of projects, both TV and film, both indie and more blockbuster. Is there a type of role that excites you most, or are you kind of testing it all out?
I just want to work with people who love what they do. I want to work on projects that are being made for a reason and being made by people who are passionate about them because that’s the only way to make anything good, is if everyone involved with it loves it.
Speaking of blockbuster roles, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood comes out this week—very exciting. What was it like working with Quentin Tarantino?
I’m a tiny moment in the movie. I’m a blink. But I love Quentin and love working with him and his enthusiasm and sycophantic love of movies is totally infectious and exactly what I was talking about, about people who love what they’re making. He loves what he’s making, and he works with the best of the best and has an unbelievable crew that are the experts in what they’re doing. So getting to watch them work and getting to watch him work and being directed by him was so exciting because you just feel his passion.
Your mother has a long history of working with him. Were there any words of advice that she passed down to you before that project?
My mom has been giving me advice on how to act on that set or any set through a process of leading by example and showing me what it means to be a productive collaborator on set, a good worker, kind person, a good listener. I’ve gotten to watch her work my whole life so, you know, it wasn’t like she gave me a couple coins of advice. I got to watch her my whole life, and so I have had wonderful teachers.
What’s your favorite film of your mom’s?
My favorite film of my mom’s since I was a little kid has always been “The Producers” because it’s so fun and funny and joyful and she sings and dances in it, so that’s definitely the movie of hers I’ve seen the most times since I was a little kid and have loved.
In terms of your mom’s style, is there an iconic look she’s worn in any of her films that you would die to own?
=I mean there’s an iconic look of hers that I love and that I aspire to someday recreate, but she didn’t wear it in a movie. She wore it I think to the first time she ever went to the Oscars. It was this beautiful almost blue silk slip and her hair was up and she had red lipstick with this blue shawl, I don’t know, I just thought it was the picture of elegance.=
Are there any pieces that she’s passed down to you?
Oh my god I’m such a thief. And we both are total losers, like we just lose everything and I steal everything from her so I can’t name a particular unique piece. There’s this, um, I do think I stole this I don’t think she gave this to me, there’s this beautiful old embroidered silk jacket with flowers on it that I think she’s had since she was really young that I now wear.
What’s your favorite part about your mom’s style?
She’s the picture of grace and elegance. I’ve always loved the way my mom looked and dressed, I mean she’s my mom, I love her.
Are there any trends in particular that you both wear?
What are some of the current trends that you’re really drawn to right now?
I like things that are comfortable and I like things that make me feel myself. I literally couldn’t tell you.
Is there a particular character that you have played that you really feel embodies you?
It’s too self-aggrandizing to say this because she’s one of the best literary women of all time, but the character I love playing most and who I most aspire to be like is Jo March, which I did in Little Women for the BBC, which was my first job ever. That was the most fun I’ve ever had on a job and the character I most wanted to play for most of my life.
What do you love about her character? What do you see in her?
She’s furiously intelligent and brave and devoted to her family and ambitious in a time when women weren’t supposed to be ambitious and liberated in a time when women weren’t supposed to be liberated, and she’s yet also a devoted friend, a devoted family member, and devoted to herself and to having her voice heard. It’s always been an inspiration for me.
What’s next for Maya Hawke?
I just want to keep finding projects that are as exciting to me as they are to the people who are spearheading them. And experimenting with different genres and different things. It’s so fun to do sci-fi; it’s so fun to do something period; it’s so fun to do a cameo; it’s so fun to be a lead. I mean, having diversity—if you wanted to do the same thing, you would have to pick a different profession, and so this profession is all about change and diversity and discovery, and I just hope to keep getting to pursue that.
Is there an actor whose career you really admire?
It’s overwhelming. Is there an actor whose career I really admire? Of course, there are tons. I mean, Vanessa Redgrave, Julianne Moore, Diane Keaton—my head would explode if I tried to name all the women and men that have inspired me over the years. There are young actors now that I am so in awe of. I am just obsessed with Margot Robbie, obsessed with Saoirse Ronan. The work they’re doing is unbelievable.
Has there been a moment that made you think, “Whoa, things are really happening”?
It didn’t seem like this to the world because the production of Little Women didn’t make a giant splash or anything, but for me, I worked incredibly hard on that project and was really proud of it, and that’s when it felt like things were really happening to me. I was like, “Wow, I did something. I really put myself into it,” and I’m proud of it. And that was when I was like, “Whoa, I’m working. I’m in the world. I’m an actor.” So even though the world has had different kinds of reactions to different things I’ve done since, for me, that was the moment where I was like, I’m a working actress.
Let’s circle back to Stranger Things because I know that the show has this cult following. What was your experience with that? Did you notice the same kind of overnight social media following that some of the other cast members did when the show first came out?
I’m not particularly active on social media or in that world. I have an Instagram account, but I deleted the app when the show came out because I just didn’t want to… I don’t know. I was nervous about how big the show is, and I was worried people wouldn’t like the character. I was just nervous, and so I just decided to kind of hide and not read reviews and not look at anything. I allowed the people I loved to tell me, who were looking around, to tell me the good stuff. I just kind of ducked out of it and allowed the people I love to tell me the things I want to here. It’s too much to try to take in the opinions of everyone in the world.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Ladyworld are in theaters now.