‘Echo’ Star Alaqua Cox on the ‘Huge Transition’ From Supporting Character to Series Lead – And What Made It ‘Feel More Like Home’

The actress tells TheWrap all about the “amazing support” she had in her second acting gig ever

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Alaqua Cox rides a motor bike in Marvel's "Echo" (Marvel Studios)

Alaqua Cox wasn’t even a full week into filming on her first professional acting job before finding out that she was getting her own series. And, of course, not just any series — her own Marvel TV series. Naturally, she was overwhelmed, but according to the actress, Marvel came through with some truly “amazing support” that, in the end, made things “feel more like home.”

Cox made her acting debut in 2021’s “Hawkeye,” where she played Maya Lopez, a high-level member of Kingpin’s (Vincent D’Onofrio) crime family who is hellbent on killing the man who killed her own father. That man was, of course, the Ronan, better known as Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner).

By her memory, Cox was on “probably my third or fourth day of working on set,” when she was informed that Maya would be the center of her own Disney+ series — which is now streaming in its entirety on Disney+ and Hulu — after “Hawkeye” ended.

“I remember they came up to me and they said, ‘So you’re gonna get your own show.’ That’s all they told me. They didn’t get into details or anything,” Cox recalled to TheWrap. “I was like, what? Why didn’t you wait to tell me after we were done filming ‘Hawkeye?!’”

She continued, “I’m so overwhelmed right now being, you know, first time acting on ‘Hawkeye.’ And I’m learning so much in the process already, I’m meeting all these people. I was also in a state that I didn’t know. I was in Georgia. So I was very overwhelmed. It’s just so crazy to find out in the middle of filming. I wish they waited till the end.”

That said, Marvel did ask Cox what they could do to make the experience of getting her own show “more comfortable,” and her request was simple — have everyone involved take ASL classes.

To her surprise, everyone actually did. And it made the transition significantly easier. You can read TheWrap’s full conversation with Alaqua Cox below.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity

With ‘Echo,’ you go from being the supporting character to being the center of your own story. This truly is the Maya Lopez story. What was that transition like for you?

The feeling of that is just unreal. It’s unbelievable because, being in a supporting role, and it being my first role, and having no acting experience before that — well, I did have two small acting roles in high school, you know, high school play, but I never once thought of becoming a true biz actor.

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Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Marvel’s “Echo” (Credit: Disney+)

So for the supporting role, I worked about five to seven days total on ‘Hawkeye,’ which was only a few days. It was a small supporting role, you know? But then I became number one on the call sheet, and it was a huge transition for me. But I did have amazing support from Marvel; they provided me with a deaf acting coach, a deaf personal trainer, they were listening to my needs that I wanted. And I wanted deaf representation.

I wanted that one-on-one communication with them. I didn’t want to use a third party interpreter to talk through my requests that I needed, to talk to the people I wanted to talk to. So I felt like they were giving me all the support I needed to make this transition as easy as possible.

I wanted to ask about that, because I spoke to Sydney Freeland about this series, and she said she she really wanted to be able to look you in the eye and communicate properly. How did that impact the feeling on set? What did it mean that they really did listen to you and did give you that support? Because that doesn’t always happen.

It was so nice. I remember that they said — before we started the pre-production of ‘Echo’ — I remember somebody came up to me and they said, ‘What do we need to do to make this experience more comfortable for you?’ And I said, ‘Take ASL classes, the whole cast and crew.’ And they said OK. And in the back of my head, I kind of thought, meh, they’re not gonna be able to do it, and they’re just telling me yes, just to say it made me happy in that moment.

And when I got on set the first day, people were able to sign the basics of sign language! You know, ‘How are you?’ [and] ‘Do you need to use the restroom?’ They wanted to make it more comfortable for me. It felt more like home. Like I mentioned earlier, I didn’t know anybody in Georgia at that time. So it was really nice to be able to communicate even the basics of sign language with people.

It was very nice of them to be able to take those classes. I think they were taking about five days a week. And the teacher that they were taught by was deaf as well. So they were choosing these deaf, authentic people to teach American Sign Language. Sometimes we have hearing people that teach American Sign Language classes, and that isn’t always right. The right thing to do, I should say.

So it’s very nice that they were able to choose an authentic deaf person to teach the whole cast and crew American Sign Language.

When I was talking to Sydney Freeland about it, she told me, ‘I imagine that, for Alaqua, talking to me and watching me kind of learning ASL was kind of like talking to a kindergartener, because I only knew the basics.’ So I’m curious, is that accurate?

Well, I mean, it is the basics of sign, so I feel like sometimes it might have felt like that? But it was so important that she took those basic classes to be able to talk to me. It’s impossible to be able to learn years and years of sign language in the short amount of time that we had. So it was just very nice for them to do it and give the effort anyways, but that is a very funny image to think about, yes.

I had a good laugh at that one. I’m also curious, is there anything that you took from ‘Hawkeye’ on to ‘Echo?’ Or was it just like a clean slate?

I don’t know actually! I think I — honestly, it’s overwhelming. I didn’t have any expectations because I didn’t know what to expect.

So, I did have the acting coach that was able to help me with Maya’s emotions that she is portraying, and so I got a lot of advice from that coach. I tried to just apply the things that I did learn — I couldn’t name any of those exactly at this moment — but a lot of the emotions that Maya’s feeling on ‘Hawkeye’ is something that I’ve tried to bring into ‘Echo.’ That ws very good question though. The deaf acting coach did help a lot though.

In speaking to others involved on this show, the central message was that this was always intended to be the Maya Lopez story. You didn’t have to worry about the big, cosmic implications of the rest of the Marvel world, you really got to exist in your own story and your character’s own piece of this universe. How was that for you, from an acting standpoint?

I’m just very grateful for the opportunity to have my character having its own story. It’s a big step for Hollywood because Maya is deaf. She’s an amputee. Those are two big characteristics that portray her. And it’s not a very common thing to put an actor with a disability and make them a star character in a show. So I think it’s a wonderful thing that they did that.

And I really liked how they put Kingpin in my story to attract the audience more. I think that was a tactic that they used, but I’m just ever so grateful for this opportunity.

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Marvel Studios

There are so many firsts happening with this series, so what were the initial conversations going into this, in terms of setting expectations?

I remember Syd would call me up into her office, and we would talk about Maya’s character in detail, because she knew I was still so new, and learning how to navigate this acting world. So I would go into her office and honestly, she talked a lot and I kind of sat there most of the time, because I know exactly what to do.

But we talked about Maya’s emotions, and why she would be feeling certain things and why she’s going through these emotions and these struggles. We just wanted to develop her character a little bit more, and we did more research about her and about Maya’s life.

So I did get a lot of direction and help from Syd, and I just enjoyed all of that prep time in those conversations. And, of course, the acting coach again did help.

Well, let’s talk about the end of ‘Echo’. Maya seems to be in a better place, she seems to have let most of her anger go. But, anger is a hard thing to let go of and she wanted an empire. So in your mind having played Maya, where is she at, really, at the end?

That’s a good question. I think that Maya is just so used to being so secretive, and she’s involved in crime in New York City. You know, she was raised by Kingpin and he taught her how to fight. He taught her how to defend herself and look for revenge all the time. And when she found out that her dad was killed by Kingpin, she felt so betrayed and went back to Oklahoma to reconnect with her blood family.

She does have a hard time opening up with them because she just so used to this life that she grew up in in New York City. So, her blood relative family, she is realizing that they never did leave her. They always had her back, even though she was gone for all of those years, and she never responded to their text messages or emails. You know, they would constantly try and keep in contact with her, but Maya would never reply back. And then when they saw Maya in Oklahoma person, and she saw that they still wanted to be there for her, it made her realize the true meaning of family. And she starts opening up.

Now I think that’s where — Maya is starting to get there. And she wants to open up to her family, and she wants to know the definition of family and community. I don’t know if she wants this empire anymore! I think she might be done with New York City. She wants that revenge still, but also I think she’s trying to lay low at the same time. So I would say I think that’s where she’s at.

I do have to ask — you can yes or no this, you can say I don’t know — but do you know if and when we will see Maya Lopez again in the MCU?

I honestly don’t know. I don’t know! I really hope we will see her again. Maybe she’ll pop up in hopefully an Avengers movie? We’ll see though.

Could we see a season two of ‘Echo?’ Should we expect to see her in ‘Daredevil: Born Again?’

We’ll have to see. I don’t know anything. So we’ll have to see!

“Echo” is now streaming on Disney+ and Hulu.

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