Alaqua Cox got an urgent text from a Marvel casting agent last year. For a few months, she had been auditioning to play Maya Lopez in Marvel Studios’ Hawkeye (premiering Nov. 24 on Disney+), and they needed her to log on to Zoom right away.
“I see about 12 people, including the Marvel Studios president, Kevin Feige, doing the deaf clap where you wave both your hands,” recalls Cox, 24. “I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ and they said, ‘Welcome to the Marvel family!’ ”
Afterward, Cox screamed and ran into the next room to tell her grandfather, then bounded next door to where the rest of her family lives and told them, too.
It was a surprising turn of events for Cox, who grew up on the Menominee Indian Reservation in Wisconsin and whose acting experience consisted of a background part in a high school play. In the years since, she’d worked at a nursing home and for Amazon and FedEx. Truth be told, Cox had never considered acting professionally. All that changed when friends sent her a casting call that was looking for a female Native American who was deaf.
Marvel casting head Sarah Finn notes the team searched far and wide for the role, wanting to find an actor who was authentic to the part.
“Alaqua is one of a kind, absolutely,” says Finn. “She went through a large audition process. … We were all rooting for her, from the beginning.”
For the audition, Hawkeye head writer Jonathan Igla writing fake sides for Cox to read, and director Rhys Thomas helped her prepare as the process went on.
“We met with quite a few people, and I had the fun of reading with Alaqua,” says Rhys. “I got to sort of help her get prepared and then got to present her to Kevin and the team. I’m so grateful to them that they had the confidence. She had never acted [professionally] before, but they said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Now she’s working alongside such names as Jeremy Renner and Hailee Steinfeld, her new co-stars.
“They knew I was overwhelmed being on set for the first time and provided me a lot of support,” Cox says of the Hawkeye team taking a newbie under their wing.
Cox’s life changed again in December when Disney announced her casting to the public. She went from an unknown to somebody on the radar of Marvel fans, who flooded her social media. “I had more notifications to the point I had to turn them off,” says the actress.
In the comics, her character, Maya, is the deaf superhero Echo who has the power to mimic movement, and on Nov. 12, Disney confirmed an Echo series is in the works with Cox set to star. Marvel did not inform her Echo would be happening until midway through Hawkeye‘s shoot.
“Hawkeye is my first experience of acting. Now I’m going to get my own show in the MCU? It’s wild,” says the actor.
One of four siblings, Cox is close to her family and has fond memories growing up playing in the woods with four-wheelers and snowmobiles.
“We had a very fun and adventurous childhood, and our scars on our knees may prove that,” she says. She appreciates being able to help provide for them with her newfound career.
Cox is part of a wave of deaf representation in Hollywood this year, along with awards contender CODA and fellow Marvel title Eternals, which features Lauren Ridloff as the deaf superhero Makkari. While making Hawkeye, Cox (an amputee who has a prosthetic lower leg) got to spend time with Ridloff, whose husband, Douglas Ridloff, was an American Sign Language consultant on Eternals and Hawkeye.
“I believe kids deserve to see inclusivity and accurate representation,” says Cox, who won’t comment on talk that her Marvel character may be getting her own spinoff series. “It will make kids with all types of cultures and disabilities feel like our dreams can break free from limitations.”
This story first appeared in the Nov. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.