Inside the ‘Echo’ Writers Room: A Stunning Collaboration of Indigenous, Deaf, and Female Talent

Editor’s note: The following article contains spoilers for Marvel‘s “Echo” on Disney+.

Charlie Cox’s Daredevil appears in the very first episode of “Echo” on Disney+, and he’s instantly forgettable.

That’s not an indictment of the character Cox originated in “Marvel’s Daredevil” on Netflix, now resurrected for the MCU, but an endorsement of the scene around him; a one-shot combat sequence in which Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox) eventually kills one of her opponents and marks Daredevil as an enemy.

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A woman with an artificial leg kicks out against a man attacking her in an arcade; still from "Echo"
OPPENHEIMER, from left: Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock, Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer, 2023. © Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

The scene is striking enough on-screen, but also a key moment in how various teams intent on getting “Echo” right came together — the writing, the stunts, the direction, and an overarching sensitivity to a deaf character’s point of view.

“Echo” is the rare TV series with an Indigenous lead, the first who is also deaf, the first Marvel series to release a whole season at once, and the first with a TV-MA rating. It also happens to be one of the better received recent Marvel projects, with high praise for star Alaqua Cox and the team under series creator Marion Dayre and executive producer Sydney Freeland.

Amy Rardin joined “Echo” after the writers room was already in session — over Zoom, during COVID. In a phone call with IndieWire, the former “Jane the Virgin” and “Charmed” writer described it as one of the most collaborative environments she’s ever worked in.

“It’s really been something that I’ve been very grateful for,” Rardin said of the opportunity to tell underrepresented stories, especially in her last decade as a writer. “It’s important in a room to have representation. Even in the ‘Charmed’ room, we wanted to have a lot of representation. It’s important to listen to people’s experiences and that’s been a really great, wonderful thing — to get to do specific stories based on people’s experiences in the room, but also to get to tell universal stories. Universal emotional stories that I think everyone can relate to. That has been a great 10-year ride for sure.”

Rardin’s body of work also quickly dispels the notion that minority stories aren’t relatable — a thin and increasingly outdated excuse deployed by everyone from lazy viewers to toothless Hollywood executives. “Echo” might tell a hyperspecific story, but it’s nothing if not accessible.

“We’re human, we can relate to human stories and learn about different people’s experiences. And the more we get to see that on screen, I think it makes us all better humans,” Rardin said. “I’ve been fortunate to be working in this environment where, for 10 years, I’ve been able to tell these kinds of stories. I gravitate towards watching those stories, I want to see more of those stories, and I think it’s very important to see that representation on screen.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

IndieWire: What brought you onto “Echo” in the first place?

Amy Rardin: She’s an amazing character, and I really gravitate toward strong female characters. I had been wanting to work on an action series for a long time, so that was really exciting, and I’m a huge Marvel fan. But really, it was this opportunity to tell this woman’s story of this anti hero, which I think is very refreshing to see on screen. As we know as women, a lot of women aren’t perfect, they’re very complicated, and to get to the opportunity to tell this complicated woman’s story was very exciting.

The room had been going on for a little bit… probably for a few months when I joined. A friend of mine, Dara Resnik, had been in the room; we worked together on “Jane the Virgin” and she’s the one that introduced me to everyone at Marvel.

What was it like joining later?

It was really great. They had some really amazing ideas going and they just needed some extra voices in the room, so it was fantastic to get to jump into that situation.

I read an interview with Sydney about collaborating with the Choctaw Nation and bring that specific history and culture to life on screen. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

Yes, that was amazing. One of our writers, Steven Judd, is Choctaw, and getting to hear his personal stories and also being on set — there were representatives and consultants from the Choctaw Nation there almost the entire time when we were on set, which was incredible. [To be] literally sitting in video village and having the representatives right next to me, to get to say “Hey, does this is work for you? Is this authentic? Do we need to change something?” To have their input and insight was invaluable, and I was very, very grateful for that.

For this show, you wrote a lot of scenes where the dialogue ends up not actually being spoken out loud, or gets translated into ASL. How did that look in the room or on the page?

Josh Feldman and Shoshannah Stern were in the room. They were our deaf writers. We also had interpreters in the room with us. And then Doug Ridloff was our consulting producer on set. So not only did I get to be sitting next to representatives of the Choctaw Nation, but also next to Doug Ridloff on set. Doug and I would pretty much meet every day. He would go through the scripts, we’d go through the pages that were going to be shot that day. He worked with the actors to go over the ASL. And I would change the dialogue a lot of times after meeting with Doug, because he would say “Oh that concept doesn’t really translate well into ASL.” We worked together very much hand-in-hand to make sure that dialogue worked for ASL and also for what the hearing people were going to hear, our actors when they were speaking the dialogue also.

Can you talk at all about threading the needle story-wise of the supernatural beginning and then weaving in all the history and the ancestry to the present and Maya’s arc?

Maya’s arc is really about family, what is family? Having grown up in New York, growing up around Kingpin… [she’s] getting to come back to her roots, and I think that is part of her power. Part of your power is getting to know who you are. As humans we’re constantly reinventing that and learning more and more about ourselves, but this is her actually learning more about who she is and with that lies all of her power.

(L-R): Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin and Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez in Marvel Studios' ECHO, releasing on Hulu and Disney+. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick. © 2023 MARVEL.
“ECHO” Photo by Chuck Zlotnick. © 2023 MARVEL.Chuck Zlotnick

You mentioned being a big Marvel fan, but this series does not feel very Marvel — and I mean that in the best way. How did that also manifest in the room, answering or not answering to a higher power and then also being under the spotlight banner?

We always talked about it in the room as being a family drama. All of Marvel stories have an emotional through line, which is why I think people really gravitate toward them, but we got to really push the envelope in terms of emotional storytelling that I think hasn’t really been seen in a lot of shows — to get to expand the family and the town and her relationship with Kingpin. I feel like that is what makes us unique, in addition to all the awesome action and the gritty drama and all of that.

Certainly it being TV-MA it really freed us up in terms of talking about Kingpin and what kind of person he was, and getting to actually show him being the kind of criminal that he is. Getting to see those actions makes it much more visceral on screen. And to get to see Maya do things — she is an antihero, she is a renegade. She grew up in this crime world, so to get to see those also really informs her character a lot. It was really wonderful getting to push the envelope a little bit in terms of storytelling.

Speaking of TV-MA — those fight sequences! How did those come to fruition?

I had never gotten the opportunity to be on set and see fight scenes like that. It was amazing. I had no idea the amount of prep work that goes into these fights. We would conceive of something in the room — “Oh, wouldn’t this be a cool fight,” and “This would be awesome.”  Sydney obviously was very much involved in those fight sequences and how to shoot them, and then we would work with the stunt team and adjust based on ideas that they had.

Then they would work it out — there’s a there’s a whole stunts soundstage in Atlanta, it’s insane — the stunt team and choreograph the whole thing, and then I would get to watch the video of the stunt team doing that, and then I would adjust the script based on things that they came up with. So it was very collaborative between the room, the director, the stunt team, and watching it shot — especially that Daredevil fight which Sydney shot in one take, which was incredible — it was pretty great. And also to get to tell a story within those fights! That Daredevil fight is the first time Maya has ever killed anyone, and it’s sort of her movement into being Kingpin’s acolyte. That sort of the story of that fight.

And I have to ask about Kingpin; those scenes with him and Maya are so rich for just two people talking, especially in Episodes 4 and 5.

I think those are some of my favorites in the whole show. Kingpin is one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written. Vincent D’Onofrio is incredible, but I got the opportunity to speak with him before we wrote a lot of those scenes. He obviously is very well versed in that character, knows that character very well. To me, it was important to tell a story of this woman realizing that this man had manipulated her, and sort of coming out of that shadow of this larger-than-life person that had been looming for her entire life. Part of really coming into your own is realizing that maybe certain people that you viewed as a child are not who you think they are. Getting to break free from that was very important to me, particularly a woman getting to break free from that I think was very empowering.

But what I find really interesting about Kingpin, and what I think is great about the best villains is he has a heart. It’s twisted, [but] I think that’s what makes those scenes work between the two of them. They’re such great actors, but also Vincent taps into this side of Kingpin that does love people in his own messed up way. I thought that was really interesting to explore.

All five episodes of “Echo” are streaming on Disney+.

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