“I find it really unappealing when people take their professional-ness in one area and allow that to bleed over to a new area that they’re just beginning at,” Maya Hawke says rather defiantly. The rising actor, who is the child of two famous actors, has now turned her head to music – and is intent on doing it her way.
“I’m trying to treat this whole music thing organically,” she continues. “I don’t have a plan.” That’s not to say that Hawke, daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, isn’t serious about music. The 21-year-old spent the past two years writing a collection of songs with the help of Jesse Harris, a Grammy Award-winning producer and family friend. She recently released two daydreamy singles, To Love a Boy, and Stay Open, and a full-length album is due out before Christmas.
But she’s not aiming for any lofty career goals: she just likes writing songs and singing. And Hawke is a naturally gifted singer, with a breathy, bluesy voice in the vein of a Rachael Yamagata that pairs well with jazz and folk melodies. (She leaves instrumentals to Harris.) As a young child, Hawke was drawn to music because she struggled with reading and writing. “I had a lot of thoughts and ideas and I wanted to express myself,” she says. “So I took to putting my thoughts and ideas to music, because then I could remember them.” She devoured mixtapes of Elvis and Hank Williams and Joni Mitchell made by her music-obsessed father.
Eventually, Hawke abandoned songwriting and guitar lessons for acting. She went to Juilliard, and then left after one year for her first professional acting job, filming the BBC miniseries Little Women in Ireland. Incidentally, it was there that she rediscovered her love of music, after her mother gifted her a guitar. “I wrote a song about staying at this hotel and filming this thing that I loved,” she says. “I made some of my best friends on that show and we all played music and danced together, and it inspired me to get back to music.”
It’s since been a creatively fulfilling two years for Hawke: her breakthrough performance as Jo March in Little Women, roles in this summer’s third season of Stranger Things and Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. She will next be seen in Human Capital, alongside Liev Schreiber and Marisa Tomei. While on set, she found time to write candidly about the process of self-discovery. “I would write on the backs of sides [an actor’s specific set of lines from a script] in the morning,” she says. “When I listen to my songs, I can find in them things that I’ve learned, mistakes that I’ve made, ways in which I’ve changed or developed or moved in my experience. They’re about coming closer to a version of the adult I want to be.”
Hawke recently performed songs from her upcoming album in Bushwick, at the newly opened venue, The Sultan Room. She wore a sheer white gown and, in lieu of intersong audience-banter, made animal noises. Midway through the hour-long set, Hawke expertly sang a rendition of Why Try to Change Me Now, written by Cy Coleman and made famous by Frank Sinatra. It has been covered by many artists since the 1950s, including Bob Dylan and Fiona Apple. The song is about the stubbornness of a dreamer, who refuses to wake from her reveries and be some sort of conventional person. Because who the hell would want to do that?