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Ethan Hawke Defends Being "Nepo Dad" to Daughter Maya: "I'm Not Embarrassed"

The Gen X star directed his 25-year-old child in the upcoming film Wildcat.

One of the internet's favorite topics to discuss is the proliferation of so-called "nepo babies" in Hollywood and the entertainment industry in general. Short for "nepotism babies," this term is used to refer to the children of celebrities who either follow in their footsteps or embark on a different creative career—and seem to find success right out of the gate, whereas someone with no family connections might struggle. Nepo babies have been around for many decades (Take the Barrymore and Fonda acting dynasties), though the advantage second-generation stars are born with has inspired more criticism and conversation in recent years. In a recent interview, father and daughter actors Ethan and Maya Hawke addressed the complicated label and how they might be courting controversy with their upcoming movie.

Maya is the 25-year-old daughter of Ethan and Pulp Fiction star Uma Thurman, who were married from 1998 to 2005. Her first acting credit was the 2017 Little Women miniseries; she went on to break out in the Netflix hit Stranger Things, star in the films Asteroid City and Do Revenge, and release music. While she seemed more sensitive about being seen as a "nepo baby" in a chat about her new movie Wildcat, which Ethan directed and she leads, her father was unapologetic. Read on to learn more.

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Ethan is "not embarrassed" about being a "nepo dad."

Ethan Hawke and Maya Hawke at the 2018 Film Independent Spirit Awards
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

Variety interview both Ethan and Maya about their independent film Wildcat, in which Maya stars as author Flannery O'Connor. The younger Hawke has long been interested in the writer, and the movie was her idea. She pitched it to her father's production company and chose him as the director.

"Put simply, I'm a nepo dad! And I'm not embarrassed about it," Ethan, 52, told the outlet. The Variety interviewer notes, "The look on Maya's face suggests she's instantly concerned about how that declaration will resonate."

Ethan and Thurman also welcomed a son named Levon Thurman-Hawke, who is an actor as well.

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Maya was more wary about how their collaboration might be perceived.

Maya Hawke at the premiere of "Asteroid City" in June 2023
lev radin / Shutterstock

Maya said in the same interview that she worried what the response to her working alongside her father on Wildcat might be.

"I had moments of insecurity about it while we were shooting the movie," she explained. "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."

Ethan added, "If someone wants to criticize us for working together, that's totally fair. You have to let people have their opinion. You just have to try to do a good job when you're onstage."

Ethan said that Maya is now a star in her own right.

Maya and Ethan Hawke at the 2023 Telluride Film Festival
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for ABA

Maya told Variety that she wouldn't have worked so closely with Ethan earlier in her career, because she wanted to establish herself. (She did appear in one episode of his miniseries The Good Lord Bird in 2020.)

"As a teenager, I wouldn't have been in the place to have enough confidence to do it publicly…" she said. Ethan continued her thought: "You're saying we could have done this earlier, but the temperature in the room changed because Maya now has every right to be the lead of something. It's different than if she were 17. This movie is being financed because she's in it, not because I'm directing."

Maya added, "Well… a little bit of both."

At another point in the interview, Ethan praised Maya's talent outside of her family name. When the conversation turned to his daughter attending the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City, he said, "Famous parents can help you get an audition, but they're not going to get you in."

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Maya knows she's gotten opportunities others haven't.

Uma Thurman and Maya Hawke at the Giorgio Armani Prive Haute Couture Spring Summer 2019 show
Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images

In an interview with People in 2021, Maya acknowledged that her parents' fame helped her get her foot in the door. But she noted that she had to prove herself once she was inside.

"I'm very grateful for the fact that they made it so easy for me to do the thing that I love," she said. "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."

She tries to avoid reading about herself.

Maya Hawke at the premiere of "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" in 2019
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

In a 2022 interview with Rolling Stone, Maya was asked how she deals with people who write her off as a nepo baby.

"I don't really interact with either the haters or the complimenters very much," she said. "I love this piece of advice I've gotten, which is that if you read the good reviews, they're partly true, and if you read the bad things that people say, they're also partly true. You're not God's gift to humanity, nor are you a little dirty garbage rat. You're neither and you're both."

In that same interview, she gave her "ethos" on being the child of two acclaimed actors. "I feel like the only way to handle the nepotism thing—which definitely gives you massive advantages in this life—is, you will get chances for free, but the chances will not be infinite; so you have to keep working and do a good job," she said. "If you do a bad job, the chances will stop."

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Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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