Megan Lawless gives off some major college student, philanthropist, and actor vibes. She is a Virginia-born Chinese-American who stars in the movie The Hate U Give, which was released in theaters on October 19th. Lawless talks to us about what it’s like to play Maya, the only Asian role in the movie, and what it means to be part of a social outreach film.
On October 19th, The Hate U Give, came out in theaters. You play Maya, Starr’s close friend. Can you explain your role and what the movie is about?
The film is about Starr Carter, a high school girl who lives two lives—one at a primarily white, private school, the other in a black community. She witnesses her best friend Khalil get killed by a police officer and finds her identity and voice fighting for his justice. Maya is one of Starr’s best friends from school and although she doesn’t entirely understand everything that Starr has to deal with, she is also a minority. She has a level of sympathy and understanding that some of the other kids at school don’t. Maya is the peacemaker between the three best friends, Starr, Haley, and Maya. She tries to bring them all together, but at the end of the day, while Hailey becomes intolerable, she has Starr’s back and supports her.
The Hate U Give is an adaptation of the novel written by Angie Thomas. Did you read Thomas’s work before you booked the role of Maya?
I had not read the book before I booked the role. I really knew nothing about the novel but after receiving the audition, I read the book and it was unbelievably amazing!! I also met many people who agreed with me.
What were your first thoughts of the script?
I was totally blown away and moved by the script. There were these dynamic characters in extremely difficult and emotional circumstances. It really touched me from the beginning. It brought out so many different feelings such as friendship, the sadness and horror at the loss of a friend to violence, the anger of the circumstances, the fear and the love of a family. It just touches on so many different emotions of different characters from unlike circumstances and perspectives, which is so compelling.
In the movie, your character, Maya, and Starr form a “minority alliance” when Starr experiences microaggressions from teammate Hailey. Not many people know what “casual racism” is. Can you explain why this is an important topic to highlight?
I think it helps people understand that casual racism is not completely overt. It is the lack of understanding, empathy or the casual assumptions associated with different races, cultures, or ethnicities that makes it hurtful.
I have not seen the movie, but have read that your character has its own subplot about being Asian-American. Is this true? If so, I am curious (being Asian-American myself) on how the subplot is intertwined into a script that mainly focuses on the Black Lives Matter movement?
The book describes a lot of Maya’s Asian American experience. What stands out most is the story of how Hailey asked Maya whether or not Maya’s Asian family ate cats for Thanksgiving (yikes). This subplot explains why Maya too can relate to Starr on some level and wants to support her activism. It just shows that minorities, although super different, do experience many similar circumstances and should be there for each other. Maya’s subplot, as Starr’s best friend, also reveals what a good friend looks like.
As the only Asian-American in the film, did you feel like you had a certain duty to convey a specific narrative to the Asian-American community?
To an extent. I felt like I wanted to portray a character who demonstrates understanding and sympathy, but also one who really embraces and appreciates differences in people whether it’s race or gender or personal interests and passions. I didn’t want to lean into any Asian American stereotypes but rather act as the character was written—supportive, smart, and athletic.
The Hate U Give has many cultural and social dimensions. What about this movie’s message of police brutality makes it stand-out from other narratives?
The message is portrayed tastefully; the story does not demonize all police officers in general. Instead, it recognizes that a basic assumption about race resulted in a tragedy that affected not just one life, but an entire community. The lessons are so profound and the impact of Starr’s narrative is so compelling. It is not just a story of police brutality, it is a story about love, community, family, and friendship. Anyone can learn from it.
I want the audience to be reminded that there is much more to a story than what you see on the surface.
Do you think this film is going to change a lot of people’s minds about police brutality?
I guarantee the film will provoke some thoughts about police brutality and make the topic more personal to viewers.
What do you hope the audience takes away from the film?
I want the audience to be reminded that there is much more to a story than what you see on the surface. Before judging or creating a shallow opinion, look more into a situation and decide for yourself which side you are on.
You’re on the Board of March of Dimes! Can you explain to our readers what that means and all the work you have done for it?
I have been involved with the March of Dimes since I was 12! My mother, having had kids before, always supported the organization and got me involved at a young age. Since then, I participate every year, going door to door and reaching out to family and friends to raise money for premature babies. At a point, my community walk noticed my consistent involvement and asked me to join the board for our area. I reach out primarily to high schools to fundraise and I help control social media. It’s wonderful to know I’m making a difference for premature babies!
Not only are you in a major film this year and involved in charity work, but you are also pursuing a double major (Film & Economics) at the University of California Los Angeles. I mean, tell us your secret. How do you do it ALL?
I try and manage my time well. I admit I have sleepless nights sometimes but acting, school, and service are all things I want to experience and am passionate about. Since I love doing all of them, it makes it easier. And I love to be busy! But honestly, my secret is organization and prioritization!
When you graduate, do you think you’re going to continue acting? Or would you like to put the economics degree in motion?
I love acting and I definitely intend to continue to act. I feel like learning about business and finance can only help my acting career because entertainment is a business! I want to know how to manage myself, my finances, and how decisions are made in show business.
You’re acting career is off to a pretty good start. What makes you want to continue school? It seems as though when most actors gain traction, they drop out. What’s keeping you?
Not only have I always wanted and looked forward to going to college, but I also believe this education will equip me with knowledge I can use forever. I want to have an interdisciplinary understanding of the world around me, not just limited to the entertainment industry. I feel like going to college can give me a well-rounded point of view and help my involvement in the greater community.
Last but certainly not least, do you have any future projects on your mind?
I worked on a show called “Play by Play” that I really enjoyed and believe is filled with really good content. It is smart, funny and very well written. I really hope it gets picked up for another season so I can continue with that project! I also got involved in the Eighteen X 18 program with Yara Shahidi, Emma Kenney, and Auli’i Cravalho and want to campaign for young people get out and vote! Other than that, I will continue to focus on my education, acting training and film/TV auditions until the next project comes along.
STORY MEGHANA PATNANA
PHOTOGRAPHER BENNY HADDAD
HAIR and MAKEUP CRYSTAL TRAN for EXCLUSIVE ARTISTS using HOURGLASS COSMETICS
STYLIST JULIE FESSEL
In the cover photo, Lawless wears a SUIT JACKET by LATISTE.1 Love