VOGUE UK – Sunday mornings and teenagers do not, traditionally, mix well. But Maya Hawke isn’t – it quickly transpires as she arrives at a sun-filled studio in north London for her first Vogue shoot – the sort of 19-year-old to complain about an early start or to sit lethargically in the corner, silently observing the world behind lowered, disdainful eyelids. She wants to talk: about literature! Learning! Music! Acting! She has the excitement and boundless energy of a person who has left home for the first time and is getting her first taste of real independence, of responsibility.
We are here to speak about her first “proper” job: playing Jo March in a new BBC One adaptation of Little Women – also starring Emily Watson as Marmee, and Angela Lansbury and Michael Gambon. As first jobs go, it’s not bad. Louisa May Alcott’s famously headstrong, curious and creative protagonist feels as if she could have been written for Hawke, had Little Women not been published 150 years ago. It was also the first book Hawke read cover to cover as a young girl, an achievement made more significant by her dyslexia. “When you’re growing up with a learning disability, it shoots your confidence and belief in what you can accomplish academically, it really damages it,” she tells me over lunch. Then there’s the fact that, like Jo, she has three sisters (as well as a brother) to whom she is very close. “I really love my family,” she says. “The more independence that I get and the more freedom that I have, the more interested I am in being a dedicated and involved family member. My family is really supportive. We fight and we talk and we lie and we tell the truth – not usually in that order – and I really enjoy growing with them and fostering that dynamic.”
It barely needs to be stated that her parents are Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke: those swimming-pool eyes, that caramel complexion and her coltish limbs are proof enough of her heritage. When Hawke speaks, her mother appears in flashes. It must, I think, be impossibly irritating to be 19 and to be endlessly told that you look like your mum, yet when I point out to Hawke that, like hers, one of Thurman’s first modelling jobs was for this very magazine, she is only pleased. “I’m not interested in hiding from the fact that my parents are actors,” she says. “I’m proud of them! It’s very ordinary to pursue a career that your parents do, but when it’s in the public eye it becomes a complicated thing. I am not in denial about the fact that if it weren’t for them I wouldn’t be here today. I’ve thought a lot about how to deal with that, and one way was to not take any opportunity unless I was absolutely positive that I’d earned every scrap of it.”
Indeed, her decision to take the role of Jo March was not an easy one, depending as it did on her quitting her place at Juilliard, where she was meant to be studying for the next three years. “I really struggled with that because I believe in education, that you’re making an investment in your 40-year-old self, in the longevity of your career,” she says. She is “not interested in being a socialite”, and was surprised when paparazzi photographs of her filming Little Women in Ireland surfaced in the summer. Although there was the odd red-carpet appearance, her parents, who separated in 2003 when she was five (they divorced in 2005), “really protected the sanctity of my childhood, really allowed me to be vulnerable and unseen, and I’m very grateful for that.”
Next up is a theatre role back in her home city of New York – “a dream come true” – but it’s an expensive place, so it’s to her parents’ houses that she’ll be returning. “I’ve been going back and forth so long that I don’t really know any other way to live.” Does she watch their movies? “Not religiously. I go to see the new ones. The old ones I don’t always seek out because who do you watch that with – your friends? With them? Alone? I can never figure out the right situation to do that.”
Strictly speaking, this isn’t Hawke’s first time in front of the camera. She has appeared in campaigns for All Saints and Calvin Klein, and while she admits to “stealing from my mom’s closet”, it’s her Little Women co-star Angela Lansbury who is her style icon. “She is 92 years old and full of energy, and she is beautiful,” Hawke says, her eyes sparkling. “Her face is still her face. She dresses awesome, and she has been working as an actress forever – ever since she was doing vaudeville with her mum.” Something tells me Hawke’s life and career might not look dissimilar.