PHOTOGRAPHY BY SALLY MONTANA
To say that acting runs in Maya Hawke’s blood is not hyperbole. The daughter of Oscar-nominated actors Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke has spent time on sets throughout her life. Although her parents mostly kept her away from the spotlight, as a kid in New York, she jumped at the chance to perform in school plays, from Oliver Twist to Twelfth Night. Still, she admits to being suspicious of the ease with which she took to the stage. “I kind of felt that [acting] wasn’t something that you were allowed to devote your life to because it felt too good,” the 19-year-old says. This hesitancy didn’t stop her from enrolling at Juilliard; however, just a year later, she dropped out in order to take the role of Jo March in a BBC adaptation of Little Women, which was filming in Ireland. “There was something about having the opportunity to play a character who had inspired me so much that I couldn’t say no to,” she says.
With its run in the U.K. finished, Little Women premieres stateside on PBS’s Masterpiece this month. The story, which follows four sisters coming of age in Civil War–era Massachusetts, holds a deep personal significance for Hawke. She struggled with dyslexia in grade school, and Louisa May Alcott’s novel was one of the first books she read entirely on her own. In the role of plucky Jo, the family’s oldest sister and de facto leader, Hawke tackles one of the most beloved heroines in American literature, a character that’s been portrayed on-screen by Winona Ryder and Katharine Hepburn. “That character really inspired me to be brave and to be true to yourself and to follow your gut,” Hawke says. For her own performance, she adds, “I wanted to highlight her fallibility. One thing I’d felt about some of the other versions was that she was such an unattainable being.”
Little Women superfans can look forward to seeing Hawke on-screen with a fellow Jo March emeritus soon: She’s joining Ryder for the third season of the Netflix hit Stranger Things, which is shooting in Atlanta this spring. Hawke is also slated to appear in the forthcoming psychodrama Ladyworld and to star in the indie drama Charlotte XVI, which begins filming this fall. Her ambitions are boundless: “I want to do classical stage, I want to do Shakespeare, I want to play Juliet, I want to do new plays. I can’t wait to do science fiction; I want to be in a western.” When asked whether her parents have been advising her about the business, Hawke smiles wryly. “My parents didn’t start giving me advice when I got my first job; it’s not like, ‘Oh, all right, now you have a job,” she says, pantomiming dusting off her hands, “so I’m going to tell you how it is. They’ve been telling me how it is since I was born.”