Interview: Maya Hawke (‘Stranger Things’) talks falafel, her new album, and hula hooping
As the newest main cast member of Stranger Things, Maya Hawke showed up in Season 3 and will continue her role as Robin in Season 4. She has a full-length album coming out on June 19, and is working more and more on bigger projects in the film industry. I hopped on a Zoom call to chat with her about TV, music, food, and her life during quarantine.
Michael: How’s it going?
Maya Hawke: Good, how are you?
I’m doing okay. I’m surviving. Thanks so much for the time. I appreciate it. Let’s jump right in. Did you grow up on sets and being around this entire world?
Not in the way of growing up in a professional way. I didn’t grow up as a red carpet toy. But I definitely grew up in the environment and being backstage at plays and dressing rooms. I had Christmas Eves in dressing rooms, backstage at Lincoln Center, and after-school activities and tutoring sessions in trailers. I definitely had that angle in my growing up and that experience of the industry in that sort of personal human way.
Do you remember your first audition?
Yeah, it was for a Sofia Coppola Little Mermaid, which never happened, but that was my first audition.
How was that experience?
It was unbelievable. I got the part basically. And there’s all sort of information about it. I loved her movies from Somewhere and Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation and her films really spoke to me as a young woman. And to be seen by her was really gratifying and gave me the confidence to decide to enter this business.
How did you kind of make the leap to do this full-time, as your career?
Between that experience and just doing school plays in high school, and I felt like, “Wow this was the thing I loved the most in the world. What am I going to do about that? How am I going to turn that into the thing I can do everyday in life?” Between having that experience of love and passion in combination with the positive experience in the industry, which I frankly didn’t know was possible. I was like, “Okay I love the art part and it looks like I can do the audition thing, so let’s try it.”
How did your entire Stranger Things audition process go?
It was pretty seamless and organic. Actually, it was really sort of a wonderful example of what great agents can do. I had a general meeting with Carmen Cuba, who’s the casting director for Stranger Things, and I had another general meeting with Shawn Levy, who’s the director and producer of the show. Those meetings were way before I knew there might be a part in Stranger Things. And then there was a broader call out for a character that would fit my general age, weight, height, or whatever. And then I got to go in and audition for Robin and we had already met and we had a rapport going into that room and that space. I got a call back and did a screen test and Shawn was there! And it was an example of what great agents can do. I’ve been in love with that show and it has style and it has heart. I just gave the audition process my all and I didn’t get to read the whole character description or know what she was going to do. But I felt like I heard her voice in my head, which sometimes happens when you read a character. I don’t know but I feel this person inside of my body. I feel her somewhere.
How was it coming into a show that had already been going incredibly strong with a cast that had already been together?
Very intimidating. I just was very scared. I loved the show because of the Duffers’ writing, because of the style, because of the characters, because of the acting. It was never the zeitgeisty thing that appealed to me. I found that very intimidating and scary. The way that fans might hate a new character or not want one. All of that stuff was just intimidating and it was scary. It ended up going pretty well, but that aspect was really intimidating.
How does it feel to come in and be older than some of the initial main cast?
Well I’m in a funny zone because I’m actually younger than a lot of the characters who are my age in the show. I’m 21 and Natalia and Joe and Charlie are all in their mid-to-late 20s. But I’m older than the teenagers, who are 15 and 16 and 17. I’m in a little bit of a funny limbo. But everyone is so welcoming and fun and warm on that show. And there’s such a collaborative family energy to make it every way. I think family is the right word. It’s very familial, always full of people from different age groups and backgrounds and that’s what you do to come together and make something beautiful.
Do you have any really specific memories that you look back at when you say those words, talking about family and making something that really matters?
Definitely for me it was the way I felt supported by Joe and the Duffer Brothers and given the time to invest in that bathroom scene. To have the set be quiet. To get as many takes as I wanted. To have the luxury to dig into that scene, both the luxury to be given it period and then the luxury to have the space to give it the energy I wanted to give it. That was a real moment of feeling supported in a familial and collaborative way. And then the other moment that came to my head was actually from the new season we started filming a couple weeks before this all happened. On the cast read through dinner day, we did a first read through and then we had a dinner and I got the worst food poisoning I’ve ever had, and just had to go home. The way in which people noticed I wasn’t feeling myself, the way which even before I knew I was sick because I was so pumped full of adrenaline and nerves. I was like, “I’m fine, I’m fine!” People told me they didn’t think I was fine. They rallied around and helped take care of me. Not just the cast, but the crew being like let’s figure out how to get you a doctor and all these ways that we’re in this together. One of our weak moments or weak days is everyone’s. There’s a real collaborative energy in that way, too.
That’s such a positive story, wow. How does it feel to be on this current hiatus?
I miss the cast. I miss my friends. I miss going to work. But these are all high-class problems. I’m trying to…I think if you have the luxury to have time to worry, which most people don’t. Most people are spending all day cooking meals, cleaning meals up, doing Zoom school, stuck in small spaces with groups of people, maybe abusive people, maybe not. I am in a very comfortable coronavirus quarantine situation. I’m in nature. I have good relationships with my family. I’m trying not to spend too much time worrying and missing things and trying to focus on connecting. I’ve been kind of working and running for the last 5 years just nonstop and trying to move and work. I’m taking a second to be like, “Wait I’ve done a little growing up in the last 5 years. Who is this person that I am? What is this body I live in?” I’m trying to be grateful and be present.
I can even hear the birds from your side of the screen. Feels like I haven’t been in nature in a long time. I’m out here in California after leaving New York.
Oh, I also live in New York. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Southern California in Ventura.
So you didn’t go to school in New York?
No, I went to school in California and moved out here when I graduated a couple years ago.
Yeah it’s very strange to be away from New York sort of as it struggles.
Yeah, but I think it’s definitely nice to slow down as you’re saying.
Yeah I’m not sure if it’s nice or not but it’s definitely important to find the beauty in it. If you just refuse to get off the treadmill and pretending like everything is normal, you’re doing yourself a disservice. It’s not about what you can produce but who you are.
Not the best segway but speaking of producing, I wanted to ask you about music and that part of your life. That other pathway. Can you tell me a little bit about how that got started and if it’s something you’ve always been interested in?
I mean I’ve always loved music. It’s a tool for communication. You can often hear words and stories better through song than you can through language, in the same way you can hear stories better when multiple people are telling them rather than just one. That’s why we have plays. You can see the truth better when you hear multiple people’s points of view. I sometimes hear songs with music and lyrics come together as multiple points of view, in the same way that multiple characters in a scene are multiple points of view. So I’ve always loved music for that reason as a communication tool. Really excited to put this album into the world. It’s a funny time because I want to support the album and be there for it and do everything that I can to help it exist. But I also don’t want to draw attention to myself. I feel very domestic and small in a really nice way. And to be like, “No, look at me! I do things.” feels totally wrong to me right now. But I also want to support the record. And it’s meant so much to me for artists I love like Phoebe Bridgers and Fiona Apple put out music during this time period. If one person can feel half of what I feel listening to those records, listening to mine, it would be all I could ever ask.
How long has this record been in the works?
I think about two and a half years, now.
What are the specifics of it? How many songs?
12 songs. It’s 12 songs and one is coming out soon. A couple singles so far. The whole album drops June 19th. It’s pop-folk I guess if it fell into a genre. Pretty lyrically driven, with incredible melodies I collaborated on with my friend Jesse Harris, who produced the record and co-wrote a lot of the songs with me. It was just a passion and joy project. You know I think as an actor and in the way that this career is shaped, a lot of it is waiting for someone to give you permission to do the thing that you love. That’s why I think so many actors are multi-disciplinary because you want to have an art form that you don’t need permission to do. And that’s why I got back into music when I started working professionally because I wanted to have something to do that I didn’t need permission to do. I never set out to make an album or become a pop star. I have no desire to do that. I just wanted to have something creative to devote my energy to, while I was auditioning. I didn’t need to ask permission to do it. That’s how this record started and eventually I just had enough songs that I felt proud enough about and I felt like, “Why not?” You know?
And what about performing? Do you want to go on a tour at some point?
I would love to eventually. I mean performing live is my greatest passion. I’m dying to do a play. I’m dying to go on tour. I’m really playing this whole thing by ear. I have Stranger Things next season to finish when we’re allowed to go back to work. It would be a while until I’m able to go back on a proper tour but someday I’d love to. I’ve done some shows and some little tours and it was the most fun I’ve had in my entire life.
What are other things that you’re into? TV? Movies? Food?
I love young adult fantasy fiction right now. Like The Golden Compass, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Inkheart. That world of demon defeating is something I’m really passionate about, as you might guess based on my career choices. I love classic literature. I love the Brontë Sisters and Jane Austen and F Scott Fitzgerald and J.D. Salinger and I’m a fiction dork in that way. Toni Morrison. Marilyn Robinson. I love those things. I love music. Mostly I like all the things you’d expect me to like. I like storytelling. I like art. I don’t have a lot of quirky, unexpected, surprise things you wouldn’t expect me to like. I like to hula hoop! I’m a pretty good hula hooper. I love trapeze. I like the circus arts, if that is at all surprising or quippy or interesting. I like Egyptian and Roman history. I like polytheism. I don’t know, just mixing it up.
Have you been consuming a lot of content during this time? Or have you been trying to stay away from screens?
Not as much as you’d think, content-wise. I’m consuming more people in a non-cannibalistic way. I’m really enjoying putting time in with my family, and checking back in with those relationships I’ve stepped back from in the last few years as I’ve focused on my relationship with myself. Now with my new self, diving back into those family dynamics, as I’m sure you are too. And I’m like, “Cool. How am I different in this situation now? How is it different from when I was 16? How has it changed?”
My mom is an unbelievable cook. She’s been making this falafel. Homemade falafel. It’s insane. It was ramps season which I’m sure you’ve heard. Everyone was picking up and buying ramps up the wazoo for a minute there. And my mom made this amazing, shrimp, ramp lemon pasta that blew my mind. So those are my two favorite meals so far in quarantine. What about you?
Been eating a lot of Mexican food. 4-5 days a week. So many burritos.
Yum. That’s a good way to live.
Let’s say you wake up tomorrow and you’re so excited to go to work in a post-quarantine world. What would that show be or that thing be?
My first professional play. Off-Broadway in New York.
Do you know what kind of character you’d want to be playing?
I never think about things like that. I’d probably want it to be a new play. And I’d want it to be well-written. Good dialogue. And I would want it to be a character that actively participated in the unfolding of their own destiny. And maybe made some big mistakes.
The third season of Stranger Things is currently streaming exclusively on Netflix.