Art / Cinema

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Actress Emily Hawkes

From “reversed” cross-dressing Shakespeare on-stage to incestuous Thanksgiving feasts on-screen, this fearless actress isn’t afraid to take it to the next level. A crafty DIY vegan chef and a perfect model of the feminine kickass New Yorker: Emily Hawkes. She took some time to talk to Luna Luna about her career, veganism, and how awesome it is to embrace your girly side.

Photo courtesy of Brynne McManimie

Photo courtesy of Brynne McManimie

Let’s talk about acting. When did your begin your acting career? What inspired it?

I’ve always wanted to be an actress, as far back as I can remember. I went through a lot of different phases when I was young. For a while when I was a kid I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, and one time I wanted to be a youth pastor. But I can’t stand the idea of putting animals to sleep, and seminary really didn’t sound like a lot of fun. Acting is the only thing I could see myself doing forever. I started acting in my living room. My best friend and I really wanted to be the Olsen Twins, back when they were adorable children and not horribly messed up adults. Besides Full House they had a whole collection of straight-to-VHS movies where they solved mysteries. My best friend and I would make up plays based on the movies and force our parents to watch them in our living rooms. Luckily, I stopped modeling my career on the Olsens in about fifth grade. I have always felt comfortable on stage; like I’m home.

Currently, I am inspired by smart, funny ladies, especially Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. What I love about them is that they aren’t afraid to make fun of themselves and to be unattractive. I think it is important to not take yourself too seriously. I have played a lot of unattractive characters. I often play villains, and one time, in high school, I played a man in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There are thirteen male roles in that play and only seven boys auditioned, so we had a whole lot of cross-gender casting. It was very Shakespearean—except backwards.

Anyway, the director had this “great” (i.e. terrible) idea to make each group of characters a different archetype: the lovers were young and hip, Titania and her fairies were hippies, Oberon and his fairies were gangsters (which somehow turned into a weird and probably very racist rapper-mobster hybrid), and the mechanicals (which I was one of) were originally going to be clowns, then nerds, but eventually we kind of just ended up looking like truckers. I was a sixteen-year-old girl and all I wanted in life was to be pretty and have a boyfriend and every night for a week I drew on a fake goatee with brown eyeliner and went out on stage in front of everyone in town. That took guts, if you ask me. I learned to seriously just not care. It’s fun to laugh at yourself and can be really empowering.

Your formal training has been in stage acting. How has that transition from stage to film been working out?

For the longest time I swore I would only be a stage actor because it was the most “authentic” or whatever. Then I did a film and I realized that it is fun. Like REALLY fun. Maybe more fun than being on stage. It’s very different, obviously, than being on stage. When you perform on stage it’s an in-the-moment thrill. You’ve got an audience there to tell you whether or not you are doing a good job. When you are making a film you only have the director to tell you that, and they aren’t always the most reliable source. But film is a medium you can’t ignore as an actor. I’ve been lucky that the films I have worked on have been directed by people who have also worked in the theatre as actors and/or directors. They see things more like the stage, even when not dealing with a stage.

There is also something kind of relieving about knowing that once a moment has been done right, it doesn’t have to be done again. It’s burned into the film or onto the SD card and it’s permanent. It can be hard to go out on a stage and make the same moment night after night.

Emily with the rest of the cast of her latest film FAMILY FEAST at the Queens World Film Festival

Emily with the rest of the cast of her latest film FAMILY FEAST at the Queens World Film Festival

Tell us about Family Feast and all the strange stuff surrounding it.

Family Feast was a project my husband, Andrew undertook for his final master’s project. When we made our first film the previous fall we met a lot of awesome actors and technicians and he wanted to create something that played to everyone’s strengths. He came up with Family Feast, which is a short piece about family, both blood relations and the friends that become our family. The story is about a soldier who goes away to Iraq, and comes back at Thanksgiving to find that everything is different with the people he left behind. The feel of the film is uneasy, foreign, and strange on purpose. I loved bringing my character, Beth, to life, because she is a lot like me. She is sarcastic and a little bit off, but she ultimately knows who she is and what she wants out of life.

…And the food was all vegan, right?

Sadly, it was not. Our limited time and budget did not allow for a whole vegan feast. Besides acting in the film, I also designed the set and costumes. I wanted the “vegan” feast the family sits down to at Thanksgiving to look very strange and foreign. It isn’t exactly the best endorsement for veganism, because the feast really looks gross. Beth is going through this vegan phase (I imagine she probably goes through a lot of phases), and she’s not exactly a chef either. Since Jason, the returning war vet, is an all-American, meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, we needed the meal to be as weird as possible. The mashed potatoes were watery and mushy, instead of turkey they have lentil loaf, and dessert is a strange pinkish cake that Beth calls “pumpkin spelt cake.”

We had to make everything fast the morning of the shoot. Actually, I made the lentil loaf at 1 AM the night before after a full day of shooting. The lentil loaf actually wasn’t too bad and was vegan. I’ve used the same recipe a few times since. We wanted a Tofurkey, but you just can’t find them in April. The mashed potatoes were instant, and so they weren’t vegan. I bought the cake in the bakery at Stop n’ Shop. I think it was a strawberry angel food cake? It was really ugly. If I had made the vegan feast for real, it would have been much tastier and much more attractive. You should have seen the vegan, gluten-free pumpkin cheesecake I made for Thanksgiving 2011.

from FAMILY FEAST, written & directed by Andrew Lewis

from FAMILY FEAST, written & directed by Andrew Lewis

Aside from Family Feast, how do your acting life and your culinary life affect each other?

It’s so cliche to say this, but when you are an actor, your body really is your instrument, and you kind of have to take care of it. It’s so important. Veganism is one of the ways that I take care of my instrument.

What got you on the vegan track in the first place?

I’ve been a vegetarian since I was seventeen. I tried once when I was sixteen but failed. I was working as counselor-in-training at Bible camp and one of our duties each week we were there was to gut the chickens for the barbeque and skewer them onto a big spit. It was disgusting. They looked like little, headless babies. It was the first time I ever really had to deal with where my food came from, although I had always been uneasy about eating animals. Whenever I would find a vein in my chicken, or something gross in my burger that reminded me that this thing used to have a face, I would push my plate aside.

So here I was, surrounded by feathered and gutted chickens and I was like, “Nope. That’s it.” Luckily, my really cool counselor who I wanted to be just like was also a vegetarian and she shared her Morningstar Farm pizza burgers with me until I went home. I ate salad for a month before I realized that I didn’t like enough vegetables to be a vegetarian. So after a year of eating only poultry and learning to like stuff, I took the plunge at seventeen at that same camp while gutting and skewering more chickens. I never looked back.

In 2011, I decided to go vegan for Lent, just to see if I could do it. I felt AWESOME. My body changed completely (for the better). It wasn’t nearly as hard as I ever thought it would be. On Easter, after 40+ days of eating completely vegan, I had a cupcake from Baked by Melissa to break the fast and I felt awful. Not sick, per se, because those cupcakes are really tiny, but just bad about myself. That cupcake wasn’t even that good and totally not worth it. I have been a vegan ever since, and I have no intention of ever going back.

Photo courtesy of Brynne McManimie

Photo courtesy of Brynne McManimie

Neither acting nor having a vegan diet are easy paths to pursue. Not to sound corny, but how do you do it? Any tips for overwhelmed acting students or prospective “I just love cheese too much!” vegans?

You have to do what feels right for you. For me, acting and veganism are the things that are right for me. In my kitchen, I take the perspective of eating passionately and compassionately. I really love food. Like a lot. I like it even more when I’ve made it myself and put love and effort into my meal. I think this country has a really terrible relationship with food and I find it so sad. Food is awesome, especially the kind that comes from the earth.

But women in particular are told to consider food the enemy. Food will make you fat, and therefore unattractive. So we eat diet garbage. It’s no good. Since becoming a vegan, my life has been filled with so much gladness because of food. My husband and I basically went on a vegan food tour of the Pacific Northwest for our honeymoon and it was great. I feel good knowing that what goes into my body is less harmful to me and way less harmful to my animal friends. It isn’t hard for me because it is so, so worth it.

With acting… well, they say nothing worth doing is easy, so I’m just going to do it every chance I get until it isn’t fun anymore.

For prospective vegans my advice is this: Look, I love cheese. Cheese is great and there will never, ever be anything to replace it. You just have to decide what is more important to you. If you just can’t give up cheese or eggs or whatever, that’s fine. I make it a point not to judge people’s eating habits (people always assume I do, though. It’s very interesting. Especially in New York. When people learn I’m vegan they usually say something like, “Oh I only eat meat like once or twice a week and it’s always from this little organic farm upstate and…” so on and so forth. Everywhere else I go its just, “But where do you get your protein?”).

Instead of becoming a vegan cold-turkey, consider making some changes to your diet as it stands and really take time to think about where you get your food. Instead of shoveling Kraft shreds into your mouth straight from the bag, consider only indulging in good quality, farm-fresh cheeses. That way, you know the cheese you are eating isn’t full of hormones and chemicals, and neither are the cows that the made the cheese. You’ll also use less of it, and enjoy it more because it will actually taste good. Then maybe one day, you’ll realize you don’t need the cheese anymore. Maybe you won’t. I hope you will, though. There is more to life than cheese.

For budding actors my advice is this: Make your own opportunities. We are living in time where it could not be easier. Don’t get me wrong: pounding the pavement the old-fashioned way is important. But while you are waiting for your big break, create something. Go out and meet other artists—actors, cinematographers, writers, PAs, key grips, producers, whoever–and keep in touch with those people. Make talented friends (you are bound to if you are in one of the major metropolitan areas), and then make stuff together. Form an improv troupe. Make a movie. Make a webseries. For crying out loud you can make a feature film that looks damn good on your phone. You have no excuse. Start a Kickstarter and produce your own play. Don’t wait around for someone else—make it yourself.

Rockin' her adorable vintage look with husband (and director) Andrew Lewis. Photo courtesy Jenn Anibal

Rockin’ her adorable vintage style with husband (and director) Andrew Lewis. Photo courtesy Jenn Anibal

And because we’re Luna Luna, we’ve gotta talk style. Who or what has inspired your rather urban chic meets adorable vintage look?

I went through some pretty hardcore tomboy phases in junior high and high school, but otherwise, I’ve always been a big fan of dresses and pretty things. I love vintage eras. I was big into costuming in college, which I think has inspired my fashion. I worked in my university’s costume shop which was literally the best job I have ever and will ever have. I got paid to play with pretty dresses 12 hours a week. Sometimes I even got to make them. It was great. We had these two huge rooms full of costume storage. I would love to go up there and paw through the dresses in the women’s room. They were arranged by period. My favorite fashion era is the seventeenth and eighteenth century in France. I’m talking the days of BIG skirts and TINY waists. But since it isn’t practical to wear five layers of skirts over a cage made of whale bones that attaches to my waist, or to put miniature boats in my giant, powdered hairdo (they did that–so awesome), I mostly like to throwback to my second-favorite era, the sixties.

Let’s just say I’d kill to have Betty Draper’s wardrobe, especially in the early seasons. And as many people who know me know, my current fashion icon is Zooey Deschanel. I like quirky and she is pretty much quirky personified. She is also not afraid to be ultra feminine, which I love. As I’ve said before, I don’t really like to take myself too seriously, and I feel that way about clothes, too. For example, I’m really loving that animals have made a comeback in fashion. Not like animal print, but pictures of animals emblazoned on things. I bought a couple of sweaters with dogs on them this year, and have a skirt covered in little white horses. Those who know me really well know that I used to rock a lot of cat sweaters in elementary school, so it just goes to show how fashion is really cyclical.

People like to rip on feminine feminism a lot. What are your thoughts on that? You seem to do just fine as a girlish but yet totally badass New Yorker.

I hate that. There seems to be this idea that to be a feminist, you have to be almost masculine, which in my mind seems to completely miss the point. Or, at least, you can’t care about what you look like to be a “good” feminist. I’ve heard a lot of feminists shame themselves or others for caring about what they look like, even during important life events like their weddings.

People tell me that caring about what you look like is shallow—I don’t see it that way. What’s wrong with being smart and dressing smart? I think people forget that feminism is not about looking a certain way or acting a certain way—it’s about personal choice. It’s about not wearing a poufy dress and pearls while cooking a three course meal for your husband who was at work all day while you watched the kids because you are expected to by society. It’s about wearing that poufy dress because it makes you feel awesome, and the pearls because they make your collarbone look sexy, and cooking dinner because you love to cook.

Sometimes, things that you like or want might fall into the category of “Stuff That Was Previously Oppressive to Women.” So what? I love wearing dresses and makeup. If it was practical for my life, I would wear a dress every single day. In fact, I can’t think of anything more feminist than wearing a dress. You know who can’t wear dresses*? Dudes.

(*At least by current American social standards—I do know some dudes who can seriously rock a dress).

Check out her website:

Images: Brynne McManimie

Image: Jenn Anibal

Renée Aubern is a California born, New York bred poet, writer of songs, and kook. Constantly on the move, she documents the world around her in photographs and notebook scribbles. @reneeaubern


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