'Mainstream' and 'Stranger Things' Actress Maya Hawke Opens Up About Making Her Own Way in Hollywood

The actress and musician tells PEOPLE she never really considered doing anything other than something the arts: "The happiest place in the world for me was on set or on stage."

Despite growing up as the daughter of Oscar nominees Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, Maya Hawke didn't always think she'd go into acting.

"There was no moment," the 22-year-old tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "I was always just doing school plays and acting camp over the summer. I guess it clicked for me that I wanted to do it professionally was when I realized that there were no school plays for adults. The happiest place in the world for me was on set or on stage."

After leaving The Juilliard School to play Jo March in BBC's 2017 adaptation of Little Women, Hawke broke big as gay teen Robin in Stranger Things season 3. She'll return for the upcoming fourth season of the Netflix series — though she can share "absolutely nothing" about the new installment. First Hawke leads Gia Coppola dramedy Mainstream with Andrew Garfield.

Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

"I feel so lucky to get to participate," Hawke says. "I love this business. I love movies. I love art. I love it so much. I would have done lights on Mainstream. I would have done catering."

The former model understands that her parents' names gave her a hand with getting started in show business. "I'm very grateful for the fact that they made it so easy for me to do the thing that I love," Hawke says. "I think I'll get a couple chances on their name and then if I suck, I'll get kicked out of the kingdom. And that's what should happen. So I'm just going to try not to suck."

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So far, she hasn't. Stranger Things fans loved Robin so much that her signature striped uniform seemed to be everywhere the Halloween after season 3 debuted in 2019, and the character continues to serve as a touchstone for LGBTQ+ fans.

"It introduced me to an audience of my own generation and especially a lot of young gay women," Hawke says of the hit show. "Getting to meet people and communicate and create a character that's meaningful to people is all an actor could ever hope for."

RELATED VIDEO: Ethan Hawke Proudly Applauds Daughter Maya's 'Stranger Things' Role: 'She's the Real Thing'

Hawke's Stranger Things fame also brought people to her pre-COVID concerts. "To care enough to go out and hear somebody new try to sing their heart out and tell you a story was unbelievably moving to me," says the singer, who released her debut album Blush in August.

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Last year delivered another first for Hawke: an opportunity to appear in a TV show with her dad, 50. The two did a November episode of Showtime's The Good Lord Bird together, a collaboration the actress says "we've been thinking about forever."

"But we're always working together in one way or another," Hawke continues. "Whether it's me calling him being like, 'How do I do this? I need help.' Or him helping me with audition tapes. There's a real network of communication there. I really see him as my teacher more than almost anything else."


As a kid, Hawke says her mom, 51, and dad — who divorced in 2005 — wanted to be seen as parents rather than Hollywood stars. "It's wasn't like, let's go to this premiere. Both of my parents wanted to be understood by their children as people and as parents," she says. "And I think the same is true now."

Hawke believes her parents still value her personal accomplishments over her career.

"I don't think that either of my parents would be like, 'I'm so proud of my daughter because of how good she was in this one thing, or that other thing,'" the Mainstream star says. "My parents are proud of me because of the way I treat my friends. My parents are proud of me because I travel alone a lot and haven't died."

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Hawke also cares more about making art that means something to her than the "need to identify myself as separate from my parents."

"I don't think I care about making a name for myself," she concludes. "I'm happy."

Mainstream is out now in theaters and on demand.

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