Spoiler warning for season 4 of The 100.
From The 100 and The Handmaid’s Tale to Wynonna Earp and Orphan Black, many of the science fiction genre’s more successful television shows of late feature female protagonists and a litany of badass female characters. Many also employ female writers and directors, infusing a woman’s worldview into our media narratives. Though we are definitely making strides in queer female representation in the genre as well, I am disappointed there are no shows to list featuring female protagonists of color. But it is worth celebrating the victories we have achieved, and here at The Fandomentals we are starting a Ladies of Sci-Fi interview series to pay homage to womankind’s triumphs.
This month’s guest is actor Tasya Teles, who plays the fierce but aloof Echo kom Azgeda on apocalyptic drama The 100. There could not be a more perfect choice for the first instalment of this interview series. Teles was recently promoted to a series regular for season 5, which begins 6 years after a second nuclear apocalypse forces the characters underground or (in Echo’s case) into space.
It’s no secret that Echo is a favorite of mine and a character I enjoy analyzing, and I took this opportunity to dig into Echo’s psyche. Teles was kind enough to provide thoughtful answers that allow us some rare and valuable access into the taciturn warrior’s head. Read on to hear her dish on Echo’s backstory and her mindset during some big moments in season 4, as well as tease at what we may see from Echo next season.
The following interview was conducted via email;* it has been lightly edited for clarity, but any redundancy in questions is due to that format.
Lisa P: First of all, congrats on your promotion to the main cast! You said in another interview that you were jumping up and down when you got the news, a perfectly rational response in my opinion. What is your favourite part of being involved with this show?
Tasya Teles: Aww, thank you so much! I couldn’t be happier. I really fell in love with Echo, and I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to develop her story further. There’s so much I love about the show, where do I begin? The writing is surprising and ruthless, the characters are strong and complex, and I adore the cast and crew. Everyone is challenged to the highest degree, and this shared dedication to storytelling makes every day rewarding, crazy, and fun. Another thing I love about being involved with the show is getting to meet all the fans. Sachin Sahel and I were just talking about how much we love going to conventions. It allows us to get to know the fans, and hear from them face-to-face. The show means so much to many people, so it’s truly an honor to be a part of The 100 family.
LP: I know that fan reactions to Echo have not always been overwhelmingly positive. How much do you feel that’s changed this past year, now that fans have gotten to see more of both you and your character?
TT: I felt that people started seeing her differently this past year. Some saw beyond the warrior mask right away, and others are still warming up to her. Throughout season four, her armor starts to break, and beneath it is this vulnerable child who’s lost everything. She has to rebuild her world all over again, and deal with the trauma of the past.
At the end of the day, Echo isn’t inherently evil, she was trained to do one thing: protect Azgeda. Azgeda is a pretty brutal clan, so to survive, Echo cuts emotion out and focuses solely on strategy and execution (no pun intended). Part of humanizing Echo, as villainous as she was at the top of the season, was trying to figure out who she would be in today’s society. Along with my coach, we began looking at child soldiers and young terrorists. The stories of these kids really break my heart. Many were stolen from their families, and conditioned to behave a certain way. Finding Echo’s broken heart, and understanding that she must have been brutalized as a child, helped me bring her adult story to life.
Hopefully season five invites the audience to get to know a different side of Echo. But like they say, you can take the girl outta Azgeda, but you can’t take the Azgeda out of the girl. She’ll definitely retain her badass side that makes me love her so much.
LP: You’ve mostly worked with Bob Morley, Marie Avgeropoulos, and Zach McGowan in the previous three seasons. Heading into filming this season, who are you most excited to work with more?
TT: Bob, Marie, and Zach. Just kidding. But it would be amazing to work with Zach again! Maybe we can figure out another way to bring him back from the dead (hint hint writers)! I would love to work more with Adina Porter. She has a coolness and strength to her that is so mesmerizing. I think an Echo/Indra face off would be brilliant. But I love everybody on the team, I’m happy any way you slice it.
LP: Right now Echo’s backstory is a pretty blank slate. Do you have any theories or headcanons about her history that you use to help develop or understand her more fully?
TT: One thing I do think about a lot is where she came from. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve looked at child soldiers, modern day pirates, spies, and secret agents. Like child soldiers, spies are often people with no family, and nothing to lose, which is what makes them great spies. Using the idea of Echo as an orphan, or being kidnapped from her family, is where I started to build her backstory.
Growing up without a family in a ruthless environment, Echo was put into training almost immediately. She lost her childhood to combat training, which hardened her, but it also cultivated this cool, capable badass we met in season four, and saw a glimpse of in season two. Azgeda would be a scary place for any orphan, even those who were training as assassins. Little Echo was conditioned to be ruthless. She had to protect herself from a variety of threats at every corner, never having a safe haven to call home. So it follows that she latched on to Queen Nia pretty tightly when Nia noticed her. By promoting Echo into the royal guard, Echo suddenly had status, protection, and a purpose. That was the closest thing to a family she ever knew. How sad is that? But her fear of abandonment, and her incapacity to trust others easily, are scars from her childhood that never leave her, which we see her struggle with in season four. She’s terrified of losing her “family,” and will go to great lengths to protect her kin.
LP: You said at SDCC that what you most like about Echo is her strength and loyalty and how she always protects her clan first. That draws some interesting comparisons to Clarke, given the respective massacres they were involved in at Mount Weather and the underhanded things they both did in 4×10.
In 4×12 they have that moment where Echo asks if her actions were so wrong and Clarke seems to empathize and reflect on herself. She then gives up her own helmet to save Echo, which suggests she thinks Echo is no worse than her, or at the very least is worth saving. Do you think that’s a fair comparison, that Echo and Clarke are actually quite similar but Clarke just so happens to be our protagonist and belong to a (slightly) less brutal clan?
TT: I think that’s a fair comparison. There are parallels between Clarke and Echo, and maybe if the story was told from an Azgeda perspective, then Clarke may be seen as an antagonist to the main plotline. But yes, I think they do share similarities. Leading up to that moment, we saw them both cheating in the final conclave, and we’ve seen that they both won’t hesitate to put their own lives at risk for the safety of their clans.
LP: Bellamy and Echo’s relationship has been quite rocky so far because they have both done some awful things for their clans, clans that were often at war with each other. It has been teased that alliances will have shifted in the six years since the second Praimfaya. Is it safe to assume that those characters’ fierce loyalty will now be working for rather than against that relationship?
TT: I think that time is a great healer. I also think that in times of survival, with only a few people on the ship, there isn’t much room for lingering grudges or hatred. Both characters have lost so much including their best friends, and families. At a certain point you have to ask yourself, is it really worth it? So yes, it’s likely that some new loyalties have been formed among them. Whether these loyalties work for or against them sets up a really interesting problem in season five if everyone reunites. Seeing these new relationships under intense pressure will definitely make for some great drama.
LP: Trust has been a major theme for Becho in the past three seasons. After all that’s happened between them, how do you think Echo will have gone about trying to regain Bellamy’s trust?
TT: Echo has never known a life where she isn’t constantly faced with the threat of war and all the dangers associated with it. I would say that for the first time, Echo is in a place where she can be herself. Part of her transformation is learning how to trust others, and Bellamy and her have a lot of ground to cover. I do think she will eventually try to regain Bellamy’s trust, but how does she do it? I don’t know. Maybe she makes him a giant ‘I’m Sorry’ paper maché two headed teddy bear. Six years is a long time to be stuck in space, I’m sure they’ll get sick of board games pretty quickly.
LP: Octavia and Echo have had a pretty tumultuous relationship too. Last time they saw each other, Octavia kicked Echo out of the bunker and left her to die. What will happen if Echo ever sees Octavia again, now that she will be closely allied with Bellamy? That sounds like the most awkward family reunion ever. Does Octavia even know Echo is alive and was on that ship?
TT: If your assumption is that Echo and Bellamy become close allies, then yeah, that’s a Thanksgiving dinner I would skip. I don’t think Octavia knows that Echo is alive, and certainly not that she’s in space with her brother. Even Echo didn’t know that she was headed for space. Reuniting with the ground is troubling for Echo. Octavia greatly threatens Echo’s assumed trust in her new ‘space family’. Loyalties will be tested once again at this terrifyingly awkward family reunion. How much Bellamy decides to trust or defend Echo is up to the writers. My hope is that Echo has finally found a home, and some friends. Otherwise she might regress into being a lone soldier once again, which is a scary, but interesting, idea. If Echo goes rogue, nobody is safe. She’s definitely a warrior you want to have on your side.
LP: You’ve said previously that Echo was devastated when Octavia fell off the cliff and she thought she’d killed her, because she had both failed Roan and hurt Bellamy. But she looked downright miserable in that scene where she had to tell Bellamy his sister was dead and then watch him mourn. What was going through her head in that moment?
TT: Echo was miserable. Confronted with the repercussions of what happened on that cliff was the beginning of Echo’s unraveling. It was also a really emotional day on set for me. It was such a shameful moment for Echo, I think her head was spinning. Whether she wanted to admit it to herself or not, Echo respected Bellamy enough to not want to hurt him. She was ashamed, devastated, and remorseful, leading to another tiny crack in her foundation. For me, that’s the first time she ever questioned her Azgeda principles and belief system, “Why am I affected by this? This is war. People die all the time. It wasn’t my fault. It was Octavia who wouldn’t come. Why am I so tormented by this?!” She didn’t want to be there. She wanted to just disappear altogether, and she almost got away leaving the prison cell without having to confront her mistake, until Bellamy called out, “My sister will stop you. She’ll warn the others.” It was difficult for Echo, and there was lots happening in her head at the time, but she pushed all the emotion down so she could do her job.
LP: She really meant it when she said she was glad Bellamy would get a chance to see Octavia again, didn’t she? That was one of the few moments before her banishment where she seemed to drop her walls.
TT: Absolutely. That came straight from the soul. Echo isn’t someone who holds grudges, or politics around too much, and she rarely drops her walls. The nature of her job forces Echo to remove herself emotionally from much of what she does. The audience only gets these little peaks of who she really is behind the mask, so I loved that she snuck that in there, and she meant it.
LP: Personally, I’m totally Team Becho. But if Echo was to get involved with any other character on The 100, who do you think it would be and why?
TT: That’s a wonderful question, and I love your enthusiasm (laughs)! I think that there’s an endless world of shipping possibilities. For the group that’s stuck in space, it’s highly possible that they all dated each other at one point or another. Maybe all at the same time! No, that would be weird. But it would be really hilarious if out of nowhere Octavia and Echo became a thing. Talk about a plot twist.
LP: Echo’s clan was obviously very important to her, and after she was banished we saw her fall apart over the course of a few episodes, culminating in the ritual suicide scene where she lamented, “I belong nowhere.” How much of a treat was it to finally peel back the layers of this strong badass and show her vulnerability, now that she was in the midst of both an identity crisis and the apocalypse?
TT: Oh my gosh, such a treat! When I read that I thought, “FINALLY!” I had been playing her as a very controlled, and very disciplined warrior, and I really wanted to see Echo lose her mind. In the Seppuku scene, she finally broke. Her world was turned completely upside-down. The obscure idea of living in space, with no family, no Roan, no Azgeda, no purpose, and surrounded by this weird techno-world, reminiscent of Mount Weather, was too much for her to handle. Everything came tumbling down on her, and for the first time we saw this staggeringly deep emotional body that she had been hiding for who knows how long. Playing this stoic badass was incredible, but the release was even better.
LP: I must say, I loved how Echo just ripped that panel off the wall and was so willing to help Harper once they were on the Ark, and how desperately she crawled over to Bellamy to pull his helmet off and give him some air. Do you see her easily integrating into the group who went to space now that they are relying on each other, or do you think that old Azgeda loyalty will make it take a little longer for her to trust them? Or for them to trust her, for that matter?
TT: Yes! I absolutely love the moment when she scrambles to Bellamy. It actually wasn’t in the script. Bob and I brought the idea to our director, and he loved it. It made perfect sense that Echo would be the one to rip off Bellamy’s helmet at the last second, as Bellamy had just saved her life moments before, an exchange they’ve made a few times now. But Spacekru should be more nervous about Echo pressing a wrong button, than worrying about Echo’s previous loyalties. At this stage, survival becomes the immediate daily focus. Loyalties will be tested if they make it back to the ground, and that’s where things can become dangerous for her.
LP: What role do you see Echo playing for Spacekru? She’s a natural leader, but she’s the outsider on the Ark and Bellamy is already the de facto leader. Other than that, her talents are mostly combative, so how will she find a way to contribute during those six years in space?
TT: Décor. The space station is definitely in need of some new curtains and complimentary pillow cushions. She also makes a killer flambé! No, I don’t see her being good with décor, or cuisine, but who knows maybe there’s an underlying passion just waiting to be unleashed. She’s so mysterious, that Echo, you just never know.
Echo is a natural leader, when necessary, but she’s a better accomplice, strategist, and spy. I don’t think there will be any sort of power struggle. Echo is pragmatic, economical, and gets straight to the point. She doesn’t sugarcoat, or waste time tiptoeing around an issue. So she definitely became the space therapist. Richard Harmon and I have this long running joke about what therapy sessions with Echo would look like. She’s also an amazing PE teacher. I would say her specialty is mainly sword fighting, but perhaps a bit of bo staff lessons too, just to spice things up.
Thanks so much to Tasya Teles for taking the time to answer all my burning questions about Echo during this busy filming season. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter to stay connected, until we meet again. The 100 season 5 is due to premiere in early 2018 on The CW. January can’t come soon enough!
*Editors note: clarification regarding the method of the interview was added on 10/01/17.