Megan Lawless has a clear vision for her future: “I desperately want to work with Jon Chu. Yeah, desperately.” An outspoken “Crazy Rich Asians” fan, the actress admired the way Asian Americans were represented in the film.
She recently had a chance encounter with the “genius” director. “[Chu] just took the time to talk to me, which he didn’t have to, and we became friends,” she recalls during a phone interview on a Sunday afternoon. “He was like, ‘What’s your name again? And tell me your full name because I want to remember it,’ and I was like, ‘Megan Lawless!’ He said, ‘Okay, I’ll remember it.’ Later that evening, he followed me on Instagram! I was blown away.”
It’ll be easy to remember Lawless after her biggest role to date as Maya Yang in the upcoming film “The Hate U Give.” Based on the New York Times-bestselling novel by Angie Thomas, the film tackles provocative issues like police brutality and racial identity in America. Megan considers Maya the glue that holds everyone together — an important role to have when her best friend Starr Carter’s (Amandla Stenberg) struggle to blend her polar-opposite worlds unfolds.
In real life, Megan’s balance between her lives explains why she found her “super smart, Type A” character easily relatable. As a business economics major at the University of California, Los Angeles, the Chinese American admits juggling both academics and acting can feel like a lot sometimes. “It is crazy, but I’ve always been really passionate about school and acting. Some people feel like you can only do one or the other, but I always had faith that I could pull both off,” the college freshman says. “An actress has to understand both the craft and the business side of it. By studying business and finance, I feel like all I can really do is help my career and give me more tools to propel it.”
But all this isn’t just her dream.
“My mom said that she always saw it in me; she had faith I could become a successful performer,” Lawless says about her biggest supporter. “The creative, artistic gene comes from her.”
Her mother, whose traditional Chinese parents never afforded her the opportunity to pursue dancing and singing seriously, leads the Lawless family’s effort to support Megan and her brother’s acting careers. It explains why Megan dabbled in singing, dancing and acting when she was little. She flew in and out of Atlanta to Los Angeles for auditions since she was 13 years old. Now that she’s moved to L.A. for college, she is literally one step closer to her dream. Her grandparents have even come full circle, bragging to their friends about their granddaughter being on the big screen.
(Megan Lawless Instagram)
The young actress found even more support from her on-set family. When talking about her co-stars, she gushes at what “genuinely good people” they are. Stenberg and Sabrina Carpenter, she says, gave her generous tips on how to survive in Hollywood, including being confident in what she has to offer and not caring what other people, especially casting directors, think. Director George Tillman Jr. also played a huge part in helping Lawless find her footing; sitting down with the three girls and discussing their characters’ relationship was a more hands-on approach than she could’ve asked for. The cast’s humility created a welcoming environment that proved to be essential in coping with the film’s heavy issues.
Before you see “The Hate U Give,” which hits theaters nationwide on Oct. 19, Lawless has one word of advice: Get rid of any pre-perceived notions.
“It does have some political messages, and if people come in with judgment or predisposed ideas of what the film touches on, it could ruin the experience. To me, it applies to everyone; anyone can watch the film, learn something from it and be moved by the message, regardless of their beliefs, morals or values,” she says.
And while you’re watching the film, watch Starr and Maya’s relationship evolve as they oust toxic people from their lives. That’s something Lawless says she learned from her own character — to stick with the people who accept all aspects of her intersectional identity.
As for the future, school remains a top priority and acting a side gig. Of course, if any opportunity came her way, she’d take it in a heartbeat. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see Megan in the “Crazy Rich Asians” sequel.