Up-and-coming actress Maya Hawke isn’t content to coast on her last name

By
Photography Chris Colls

Published December 13, 2017

It’s tempting to assume that the young actress playing the bold, brave character of Jo March in BBC’s new adaptation of Little Women booked the job on the strength of her last name. Maya Hawke’s parents are, of course, Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke. That’s not a bad gene pool when it comes to both looks and acting talent. But as it happens, Hawke had to fight for the coveted role. Initially, the 19-year-old thespian, then in her first year at Juilliard, was invited to audition for a less prominent part in the cast. “I was begging them to let me read for Jo,” she says. “It wasn’t that I wanted to be the star; it was just that I identified so much with Jo’s energy, her curiosity, her, you know, misfit-ness.”

Meeting Hawke, it’s apparent why the character struck such a chord. A few days before her photo shoot, for which she was dressed head to toe in Louis Vuitton’s 2018 resort collection, she arrived at a café on New York’s Lower East Side wearing something far less glamorous but no less conspicuous: a long to-do list written on her left arm. She talked breathlessly about all the things she’d like to achieve, grand plans you couldn’t fit on a bicep, no matter how small you wrote: “work with Wim Wenders,” “be in a Caryl Churchill play,” “hide out in Texas for a while and write,” “learn from brilliant people what it means to make art.” Like Jo, Hawke doesn’t just want a big career; she wants a big life. “One thing I’ve learned from my parents,” she says, “and from observing all the artists I’ve been lucky enough to grow up around, is that you’ve got to be brave. The work is never done, there’s always another choice to make, another risk to take.”

Little Women looks poised to become Hawke’s breakthrough project. It’s already changed the course of her life. Shortly after landing the part, she discovered that her shooting schedule overlapped with her classes at Juilliard. It was an either-or situation: if she joined the cast, she’d have to drop out of school. “It was sort of like, ‘What would Jo do?’ ” she says. “It’s really easy as an actor just starting out to get into the mind-set that you only get one break. But my parents have shown me that’s not true. Ultimately, I realized: the whole world can be your school. And if that’s the case, why not start right now?”