'Hawkeye' Directors on Alaqua Cox's Debut as Echo and Filming ASL Scenes (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
After the second Hawkeye episode ended with the reveal that Maya Lopez, aka Echo (Alaqua Cox), is the leader of the Tracksuit Mafia and responsible for kidnapping Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), episode 3 flashed back to give audiences her origin story. Directors Bert and Bertie open up to ET about giving audiences the chance to learn more about Maya, working with Alaqua and casting her cousin to play a younger version of the character.
“It was very important to introduce her as someone who lost someone very close to her,” Bert says, referring to the collection of flashback scenes that show Maya as a young child learning to cope with being deaf, showing off her fighting skills and her close bond with her father, William Lopez (Zahn McClarnon), who is later killed by Ronin.
While audiences see Alaqua as a grownup Maya learning to restrain her anger as she faces off with Clint and Kate, trying to figure out Ronin's true identity, her earlier scenes were played by newcomer Darnell Besaw, who is not only Alaqua’s cousin but also a member of the Menominee Tribe. (“MTE salutes these two members and their families,” members of the Menominee Nation wrote on Facebook the day the episode premiered.)
Bertie says the fact that the two performers were cousins is how they found and cast Darnell, who she says bears a striking resemblance to Alaqua. “The similarity between them made it a slam dunk for us,” the director continues. “She just came in and learned ASL [American Sign Language]. And there’s just such a wonderful naivety and charm to her that sets up the character in exactly the right way.”
She adds, “It was just lovely that there was a family connection between the two of them also.”
The directors also had nothing but praise for Alaqua and what she brought to the screen in episode 3, which is aptly titled “Echoes.” When the timeline returns to the present, it sees Maya quickly getting into a rumble with Clint and Kate, who eventually make their escape from the abandoned toy warehouse in Brooklyn where they’ve been held captive.
While the interaction between Maya, a deaf character, Kate, who doesn’t understand ASL, Clint, who is hard of hearing and knows basic ASL, and Maya’s Tracksuit Mafia ally, Kazi (Fra Fee), who can communicate with ASL, was admittedly a challenge to film, both directors credit Alaqua with helping them pull it off.
“She taught us so much about ASL and about capturing it correctly, in terms of what you need to see and where possible to not cut into too close unless it's a really emotional moment,” Bert says.
“So, hopefully we did justice to capturing ASL on camera. Simple things, like an over-the-shoulder [shot] means that you can still have the ASL in the foreground,” the director continues, explaining that that kind of camera angle normally becomes “about the other character. But here it can still be about them.”
When it came to blocking certain scenes and how the show cut between hearing and non-hearing moments, Bertie adds that with Maya’s character, “We always wanted to bring it back into her perspective and her point of view of the world. And point of view isn’t always just vision, it’s also audio.”
Meanwhile, Alaqua is grateful to her co-stars for taking the time to learn ASL. “I talked to Hailee a lot. She tried learning ASL, which is so nice,” she says, adding that Hailee told her, "'Don’t worry about this. Take the scene very casually. You’ll be fine. You’ll be able to get through it.' And that advice stuck with me very well."
In addition to being deaf, Alaqua is an amputee, with her character seen wearing a prosthetic leg onscreen. “Seeing what she wanted to do physically as well was so impressive,” Bert says. “Every day she was up for whatever challenge we threw at her, within reason. She’s new to this whole thing and she handled it like a pro.”
Adding to that praise is executive producer Trinh Tran, who says the character of Echo “in the comics is great. She’s amazing in it. And we wanted to make sure that that came across [in Hawkeye]. How Alaqua played her, she’s such a badass in this series and a formidable foe for our heroes to face.”
“So, that’s the excitement of introducing somebody like her,” she says.
Ahead of Hawkeye’s debut on Disney+, it was confirmed that Maya would also be at the center of her own limited series spinoff, Echo, which Kevin Feige said will “see her go from the end of this series into that.”
Later, when asked if the directors would be interested in reuniting with Alaqua on Echo, Bert said that “we would never say no” to a chance like that before Bertie added, “Maya is such an incredible character from the Native American community. It does feel like that’s a great opportunity for someone of that community to tell that story.”
New episodes of Hawkeye debut Wednesdays on Disney+.