Behind The Scenes Of Echo, Marvel’s R-rated Hawkeye Spin-Off

It’s make-or-break time for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

After a disappointing 2023, the superhero studio has shifted all but one of its planned 2024 releases to next year in a bid to recapture the spark that made the franchise a phenomenon in the first place. But before then, the MCU is going back to “street level” with new series Echo, a deliberately smaller-scale adventure centred on the deaf assassin Maya Lopez, first introduced as the head of Wilson Fisk’s Tracksuit Mafia in Hawkeye.

Released as the first instalment under the Marvel Spotlight label, the new studio-within-a-studio dedicated to making more challenging MCU fare, Echo is instantly striking due to how it returns to the violent, R-rated territory of earlier Netflix series like Daredevil, with which it overlaps. Director Sydney Freeland, who helmed the first two episodes, told Zavvi that she was given “a lot of freedom” to push the story in a grittier direction.

“It all boils down to what the story needs; this is a more intimate story about Maya Lopez, and in Hawkeye, she was introduced as a villain. As we were talking with Marvel, it became clear that the best way to do right by this character was to really lean into that, and see how far we go down that rabbit hole.”

In previous interviews, Freeland has spoken openly about not being the biggest fan of the comic book character’s powers, going as far as to describe her ability to copy anybody’s movements as “lame”. Reconfiguring this was also crucial to the character’s MCU renovation.

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“We’re introduced to her in full-blown villain mode, and how she became that way. Watching her in Hawkeye, I found myself asking the question of how a deaf, indigenous girl came to lead this underground army, and exploring that presented a lot of possibilities for how we can improve on the character’s history from the comic books and reinvent her for the screen.”

Her (re-)introduction is deliberately devoid of superpowers, focusing more on Maya’s hand-to-hand combat abilities, with the first episode functioning largely as an extended prologue; how she fell into the grip of Wilson Fisk, and how she escaped from there. This is conveyed largely through action sequences, with a stand-out one-take set piece in the first episode effectively outlining how she broke bad.

“We’re incredibly excited for people to see that scene”, Freeland continued, “but what makes that scene work was already there on the page. In real time, you see her enter as an impressionable teenage girl, and leave as a cold-blooded killer.

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“That was the spark, as we knew it’d be cool to do this as a oner, and we started looking at films like Atomic Blonde and Mad Max Fury Road, and how they feature these elaborate fight sequences staged in single takes, capturing most of their action in camera.

“Of course, the Netflix series were big influences stylistically too, as they also have these fantastic oners. It’s really ambitious to try and pull one off right out of the gate, but we wanted to take a big swing and go for it – what’s the point otherwise?”

The other challenge was making sure that the show did a good job of portraying American Sign Language (ASL), with every sequence featuring Alaqua Cox’s hero featuring extended signed dialogue. In some scenes, words aren’t spoken for minutes at a time.

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Freeland, alongside the vast majority of the cast and crew members, learnt ASL ahead of production, to get to grips with the language and the ways in which it could be utilized onscreen.

“I definitely had questions about how to make it work within an action-driven series going in”, the director continued. “How can you have scenes that last up to six minutes, with multiple characters, where all the dialogue is signed, but that doesn’t in any way impede the way they progress and evolve with the story?

“I don’t know why I ever questioned this, because it’s obvious that you can. My favourite scene in the entire series consists entirely of two actors signing, and it brings me to tears every time I see it – in a way, seeing that represented onscreen like this is emotional and in and of itself.”

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The “Marvel Spotlight” banner is dedicated to series that exist outside of the wider MCU continuity, as a way to draw in viewers who haven’t kept up with each new instalment. But with this series tying in with both Daredevil and Hawkeye, can it really function that way?

“I hope so”, Freeland concluded, before immediately following up with the most political answer she could possibly give: “but we won’t know until it premieres.”

Whilst Echo is the kind of origin story you’d expect from the Marvel, albeit with more of the grit of the Netflix series, its release is still a bold gamble for the studio. If it pays off, expect more intimate, character-driven superhero stories in the future, and a new MCU phase unlike any we’ve seen before…

All episodes of Echo will be released on Wednesday, 10th January, on Disney+.

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Alistair Ryder

Alistair Ryder


Alistair is a culture journalist and lover of bad puns from Leeds. Subject yourself to his bad tweets by following him on Twitter @YesItsAlistair.