[This story contains spoilers for Echo.]
No one has a story quite like Echo star Alaqua Cox.
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Despite no prior acting experience, Cox, at the encouragement of friends, auditioned on a lark for a coded project that was looking for somebody exactly like her: “an Indigenous deaf woman in their 20s.” Cox then went through a three-month audition process for what would become the supporting role of Maya Lopez on Marvel Studios’ Hawkeye. The brass at Marvel were so impressed by Cox that development of her own spinoff series, Echo, was fast-tracked within a few months of her Hawkeye casting and the beginning of that series’ production.
Cox grew up on the Menominee Indian Reservation in Keshena, Wisconsin, and just three years after her Marvel casting became public, she’s already seeing the impact that Indigenous representation is having back home.
“I saw a post of an Indigenous girl that wore her hair with pieces of her bangs in front of her head [like Maya Lopez],” Cox tells The Hollywood Reporter via an ASL interpreter. “Her mom posted it and said, ‘You’ve inspired my little girl. She wanted the same hairstyle as your character.’ So those little moments just make me so emotional.”
Echo concludes with a showdown between Maya and her surrogate father, Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio), and instead of avenging her biological father’s (Zahn McClarnon) murder, she used her powers to access the treacherous crime lord’s mind in hopes of healing the childhood trauma that made him who he is today. The jury is still out on whether Maya eased his pain in full, but Cox believes Maya had at least a partial impact on the man who previously authorized her real father’s death.
“I think Maya healed him a little bit, but maybe he doesn’t know how to handle it. That’s why he was so pissed off, yelling, ‘What did you do!?’” Cox speculates. “Maybe Kingpin doesn’t like that Maya tried to heal him. He probably doesn’t want to be healed yet … So I think she healed him, but he wasn’t ready for it.”
After tapping into the powers of her ancestors and realizing she has a greater purpose as a protector of her Choctaw Nation community, Maya’s next move may be a bit unexpected. Cox doesn’t think her life of crime is necessarily over yet, and even though she passed up the opportunity to exact retribution by killing Fisk, Cox doesn’t rule out Maya changing her mind in favor of revenge.
“I don’t think she’s officially done with crime. Of course, she’s still going to have that itch to find revenge for the murder of her father,” Cox says. “So Maya is still going to be involved with crime, and … maybe with the help of her family, she can get that revenge.”
Below, during a recent spoiler conversation with THR, Cox also discusses Echo’s tragic ice cream scene and how she had relatively similar experiences as a deaf child where people didn’t empathize with her.
I loved the way you played Maya’s frightened reaction to seeing Daredevil’s (Charlie Cox) silhouette for the first time. Do you remember what you were thinking at the time?
That scene is when Maya is younger, and it’s the first time that she actually got in a fight with other people. Kingpin sent her and his two lackeys to have that fight, and when it breaks out, Maya doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t know if she’d rather help or run. And then, all of a sudden, Maya is attacked, and she breaks that guy’s neck. She gets her first kill, and that’s when she gets an adrenaline rush. That’s what makes her addicted to fighting and this lifestyle. And then I remember her thinking, “Oh shit! Daredevil is actually here to fight.” So it’s a crazy scene, and working with Charlie Cox was such a big honor because I’m a huge fan of his. The first time I met him, I went up to him and said, “Oh my gosh, guess what? We have the same last name!” I was so excited, and it was just so cheesy.
Daredevil is a blind superhero with heightened senses, so do you think he recognized that Maya is deaf?
That’s a good question and an interesting point. My brother asked me that same question, and I was like, “I actually have no idea.” [Writer’s Note: We only see the fight from Maya’s perspective, so perhaps a future story will explore Daredevil’s perspective on it.]
Maya and Daredevil would have a lot to talk about since they are two of only three characters in the current MCU who are deaf or blind. Have you imagined how their potential conversation would go?
In the comic books, Maya has the ability to lip read without using sign language, but you can’t really do that in real life. Even the greatest lip readers can probably only pick up about 30 percent of the words that are said. So, since Maya uses ASL on this series and not her voice, it would be pretty hard to talk with Daredevil, who is blind. It’d be weird, right?
Well, assuming they had an interpreter, what would they likely bond over?
We’d probably talk about Kingpin and how we’re going to save the city. Maybe we’ll team up and start beating up other people. (Laughs.)
Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio) claims to love Maya, but he never bothered to learn ASL. He also killed her father and threatened to kill the rest of her family. Do you think he loved controlling her more than actually loving her?
Yes, I think so, but I still think he loves her. He wanted to manipulate her and he brainwashed her in a way as well, but Kingpin actually loves Maya. He is willing to give her an entire empire, and that is such a big deal because he knows that Maya will always have his back no matter what. So, even though he betrayed her, I truly think Kingpin does love her, but he likes to control her as well.
Maya attempts to use her powers to heal Kingpin’s childhood pain. Do you think she succeeded?
It’s fifty-fifty. Maya knows Kingpin had a horrible childhood. His parents were always fighting, and Maya knows that feeling because she has a lot of her own complicated emotions being raised by Kingpin. They have such a strong bond together, but it’s a complicated, emotional bond. I think Maya healed him a little bit, but maybe he doesn’t know how to handle it. That’s why he was so pissed off, yelling, “What did you do!?” Maybe Kingpin doesn’t like that Maya tried to heal him. He probably doesn’t want to be healed yet, because he is such a bad person. So I think she healed him, but he wasn’t ready for it.
Do you think her powers may have changed him enough to influence his decision to run for mayor?
I think that was his own scheming decision to run for mayor. I think it would benefit him more.
My favorite moment of yours on the entire show was when Maya is inside his head and she says, “Give [the hammer] to me, please.” The performances, the story and Dave Porter’s score all melded nicely there.
Gosh, that day was kind of sad for me. When I do emotional scenes, I tend to make myself intentionally sad. That’s what helps me get into the character of Maya. So I think about the real-life events that I’ve experienced and I have to think about them all day to stay in that emotional state. So those scenes just become even more emotional, and it was such a sad day. Right after we were done with that scene, I remember feeling overjoyed to not have to think about those sad moments in my real life anymore. A wave of happiness came.
We had to put a vibration device in my shirt because I didn’t know when Kingpin was done saying his lines. So the vibration device helped me know when his lines were done, and the interpreter controlled the vibration to let me know that I could start my line. It was a very distracting process, and I had to stay connected to the emotions of my character. So those things made it a lot more difficult, and it happened in that scene as well. But it looked great on the screen, though.
Most superhero names aren’t deeply meaningful, but Echo’s name represents her ancestors’ powers and qualities that echo through her. Were you quite moved by that explanation that Maya’s mother (Katarina Ziervogel) gives her?
Absolutely. I love her powers because they’re very different compared to other MCU superheroes. I love how her Indigenous culture is used within her superpowers. Indigenous people, as a culture, we care about our ancestors so deeply, and we think about them in high regard. They always give us resilience. We’re able to battle through anything, and that shows authentically on the screen as she’s able to get these powers through her ancestors to defeat her foes. It’s just very nice and heartwarming that they added that.
Maya’s grandmother (Tantoo Cardinal) made her a new costume for the Choctaw Powwow. What were your emotions as Maya walked side by side with her community that night?
Oh my God, I loved that day. That was probably one of my favorite days throughout the whole series, because these are my people. It felt like home: the powwow clothes, the regalia and the real Indigenous food that was there as well. It just felt like home. My brother, my sister, and my grandma were there. They were background actors in the show, so it was nice that I had my family there in that moment as well. I didn’t feel like working that day. It just felt so much like home, but then I had to remember, “Oh crap, this is a working day.” So I had to get back into work mode, but it was a great day on set.
She began the series wanting to be Queenpin, but by the end, she helped save her family and Choctaw community, and likely realized that she has a greater purpose to protect others. Are her days of crime officially over?
I don’t think she’s officially done with crime. Of course, she’s still going to have that itch to find revenge for the murder of her father. So Maya is still going to be involved with crime, and she’s also going to have the help of her blood-related family. They’ve always been there for her no matter what, and now she’s realized that. So maybe with the help of her family, she can get that revenge.
The ice cream scene is incredibly sad before it evolves into violence. Have you had plenty of those experiences where someone didn’t realize they were interacting with a deaf person?
Yes, I relate to that scene, and I’ve had so many experiences. I’m the only deaf person in the community that I grew up in, and I was the only deaf person that was in a mainstream school. The kids were just so uneducated with deaf culture and being around a deaf person, so I used to get bullied as a kid. In middle school, they would make fun of me, especially because I was a deaf person. They would mock my sign language that I would use or the sounds I would make. And because I’m very much a nice person, I didn’t talk back to them or tell them to stop. I would just let them do it until the end of school. But then I transferred to a school that had a deaf program and ASL classes, and everyone around me was deaf or learning about deaf culture. So I felt more respect there, and it was a vastly great improvement. I had a lot of deaf friends and hearing friends in that school that were learning sign language or knew the basics of it. So I definitely relate to that scene.
Douglas Ridloff was Echo’s ASL master, and his wife, Lauren Ridloff, played Makkari, the deaf superhero with blazing speed in Eternals. Have you gotten to know Lauren as well?
Yes, I have. I got to know her when I was filming Hawkeye. All three of us lived in Atlanta, so we were able to hang out a few times. We got coffee here and there. We went to the park. We talked about her role as Makkari, and she knew I was feeling very overwhelmed at that time on set because it was my first time. So Lauren gave me some advice about her experience on set and what it was going to be like for me. So that was really nice to be able to get to know her in those moments. I really love that family.
The contact lens that Kingpin forced on Maya, is that type of ASL technology something the deaf community would remotely welcome?
I don’t think the deaf community wants it. I don’t want to speak for them, but I think they would agree with me. We just don’t need that kind of technology. Just take ASL classes. The deaf community has so many different kinds of signing styles in their own states, and they have their own culture in different states as well. It’s a little bit hard to explain, but we all have our own accents or styles of sign language. So I don’t think the contact lens would work for every single kind of deaf person. If you want to talk to a deaf person, just take ASL classes. That’s my opinion.
Because of all that you’ve accomplished, current and future generations of deaf or disabled children now know that anything is possible, even being a Marvel superhero. Has it sunk in yet that you are now an example to others?
Yeah, it’s so huge. Sometimes, I get emotional reading comments. I still use Facebook, and so I’m able to see what’s going on in my community. And so I saw a post of an Indigenous girl that wore her hair with pieces of her bangs in front of her head. Her mom posted it and said, “You’ve inspired my little girl. She wanted the same hairstyle as your character.” So those little moments just make me so emotional, and I’m happy I’m able to inspire children.
Echo is now streaming on Disney+ and Hulu.
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