Ethan Hawke disputes that daughter Maya Hawke is a ‘nepo baby’ in new interview because she came up with the idea for their new film Wildcat: ‘I’m a nepo dad!’
The 52-year-old actor and his 25-year-old Stranger Things star daughter reacted to a question about whether she counted as a so-called ‘nepo baby‘ because of her famous parents, Ethan and his ex-wife Uma Thurman.
But as Ethan put it, he didn’t give Maya a leg up with their new film Wildcat. Instead, the movie was her idea, and she brought him into the process to direct it.
‘Put simply, I’m a nepo dad!’ Ethan joked. ‘And I’m not embarrassed about it.’
However, Maya was more circumspect about being a nepo baby.
‘I had moments of insecurity about it while we were shooting the movie,’ she admitted of working with her father. ‘But the internet doesn’t have a lot of nuances. My dad has been a massive teacher for me, and we want to work together. We like being with each other.’
In addition to getting the project moving, Maya is also a producer on Wildcat.
Despite sounding defiant at first, Ethan also acknowledged that viewers could make up their own minds about whether Maya had benefited unfairly from having famous parents in Hollywood.
‘If someone wants to criticize us for working together, that’s totally fair. You have to let people have their opinion,’ he said. ‘You just have to try to do a good job when you’re onstage.’
The film, which has received a SAG-AFTRA waver to allow Maya to do promotion for it, stars her as the acclaimed Southern Gothic writer Flannery O’Connor.
Wildcat focuses on the Wise Blood writer early in her career as she struggles to complete her first novel.
According to the father–daughter duo, it was Maya’s years-long obsession with O’Connor that made her want to pitch the movie.
She was introduced to her writing back in 10th grade, and when it came time to audition for Juilliard, Maya prepared a monologue adapted from O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal.
Although neither she or her father would concede that her parents were the prime reason that she got into the prestigious school, Maya admitted that she sent the monologue to Ethan while he was shooting his Magnificent Seven remake so that he could help her.
‘He helped coach me, and the idea kept floating around,’ she said.
Although she got into Juilliard — and subsequently dropped out after a year to star in the BBC’s Little Women adaptation — Ethan wasn’t sure that it was simply a matter of Maya’s family that earned her a spot.
‘Famous parents can help you get an audition, but they’re not going to get you in,’ he claimed.
Maya’s experiences reading O’Connor continued to tug at her, and she eventually talked her father into directing a picture about the writer for his production company, Under the Influence.
‘I don’t know anyone else that interested in art, faith and America,’ she said, referencing Ethan’s recent work directing and starring in the literary adaptation miniseries The Good Lord Bird as one of his qualifications.
Laura Linney, who appears in Wildcat as O’Connor’s mother, said the film allowed Maya and Ethan ‘to advance their skill and contribute to the world in an artistic way.’
She noted that, ‘The production’s demands were high. It wasn’t a cute father–daughter thing.’
But Maya admitted that friends had cautioned her about working too closely with her father.
‘Before we started,’ she said, ‘everyone was asking me, “Are you nervous to work with your dad?” I hadn’t thought to be.’
Ethan heard the same warnings, but he didn’t think they applied to his relationship with Maya.
‘”What am I not seeing? What am I missing?”‘ he recalled thinking, before joking that Thanksgiving was a less ‘safe’ time for the two compared to working on a low-budget film set.
Part of what made Ethan so certain that his daughter wasn’t just riding on his coattails was that she has been interested in acting ever since she was a child.
He recalled when he was appearing in a 2009 Sam Mendes–directed production of Shakespeare’s The Winter Tale and a pre-teen Maya joined him one day for the tech rehearsal, which he called ‘insanely boring’ because the play stops and starts repeatedly to get lighting and technical cues correct.
But when he was about to send her home in a cab before a second run-through of the play, Maya insisted on staying.
‘Maya was like, “Can I please watch it again?”‘ Ethan recalled. ‘It’s a three-hour play. It’s Shakespeare. I went, “Wow. It’s on.: If you want to watch a Shakespeare play dress rehearsal two times in a row when you are 12 —’
‘— you have some serious issues,’ Maya jokingly interjected
‘— that’s what you’re going to do with your life,’ her dad rejoined.
Maya recalled how Ethan was supportive about her potential acting career, but he tried to impart on her tough-luck wisdom about the business.
‘When a young person would get nominated for an Oscar, he’d say, “The best thing that person can do is go to a monastery for a year and not take the next 10 jobs that are about to come their way,”‘ she recalled. ‘I picked up on that philosophy over time.’
Maya, who’s set to appear in the buzzy Leonard Bernstein biopic Maestro, which stars and is directed by Bradley Cooper, will also be working with her mother Uma Thurman soon in the comedy The Kill Room, which also stars her Pulp Fiction costar Samuel L. Jackson.
‘I’m so excited for people to get to see my mom be funny,’ Maya said. ‘In the last couple of years, she’s done independent comedies that, for whatever reason, haven’t seen the light of day. She’s the funniest person I know.’