TXST alum lands role in Marvel’s ‘Echo,’ Speaks to students at Q&A


Lane Fortenberry | March 20, 2024

Yesenia Herrington, left, interviews Dannie McCallum in the Performing Arts Center Recital Hall.
Yesenia Herrington, left, assistant professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance at TXST, interviews Dannie McCallum in the Performing Arts Center Recital Hall on March 19 in front of students, staff, and faculty.

Even though she misses the feeling of rushing to class in between breaks at the river and baking goods for her residence hall, Texas State University performance and production alum Dannie McCallum (’16) is finding early career success in Los Angeles.

McCallum landed the role as Tuklo in Marvel’s five-part show “Echo,” which premiered on Disney+ in early January.

“I didn't know I was auditioning for Marvel until I got the job,” McCallum said. “It was all very secretive and just included the name of the character, three words that described her and the story of the specific character. That was it  and that helped me not overthink it.”

Tuklo is an ancestor of the protagonist Maya Lopez and member of the Choctaw Nation. Her story takes place in the early 1800s when she joins the five-tribal police force, the Lighthorsemen, to take down criminals in Oklahoma.

Dannie McCallum speaks to students in the Performing Arts Center Recital Hall.
Dannie McCallum speaks to students, staff, and facutly in the Performing Arts Center Recital Hall on March 19.

Before working with Marvel, though, McCallum grew up in the Rio Grande Valley. After high school, she attended the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts over a summer and received an offer to attend the rest of the conservatory period. She ultimately decided to return to Texas due to the proximity to her hometown and the high cost of living in New York.

McCallum chose TXST after researching the best acting programs in Texas. Her older sister was also a Bobcat at the time, so there was a sense of comfortability of moving to San Marcos.

In addition to the river and rec center, she found her place with the other students and professors in the Department of Theatre and Dance.

“I found that once I allowed myself to get into a friend group in the theatre program, I felt like that was the best part of Texas State,” she said. “I'm not a partier, I'm not a drinker, and I don't do anything crazy. I would just be in our little kitchen baking and passing out goods to every dorm room. That was the kind of college kid I was.”

McCallum credits the life and acting advice that a few of her professors (the late Jeremy Torres, Tom Copeland (retired), Babs George, and Neil Patrick Stewart, among others) gave her as major contributors to her early success.

“Jeremy was a life-changing professor, and I'm so thankful to have had the opportunity to work with him,” she said. “He taught us to really focus on who we are as human beings and to let that speak through our work.”

McCallum said Copeland was a pivotal professor regarding anything she wanted to do in film. He encouraged students to get on set in Austin and brought in guest speakers, including casting director and TXST alum Stacey Rice (’11) who worked on “Euphoria,” “American Crime,” “The Leftovers,” and many other popular TV shows and movies.

“I also had professors who would teach me acting techniques that weren’t for me, and they were OK with that,” she said. “That's what this whole thing is about  I'll take a piece of that and the rest of it won't do, but that's OK. Texas State really prepared me acting-wise and let me get to know myself as a human and where that fits in my career.”

Dannie McCallum, left, poses for a photo with "Echo" star Alaqua Cox.
Dannie McCallum, left, poses with "Echo" star Alaqua Cox.

LA wasn’t part of the dream New York was. McCallum wanted to be a Broadway actress and had been training since she was five, always dancing, acting, and singing. The school in New York turned out to be more of a film school, which she didn’t expect.

She spent her senior year at TXST doing more background work, trying to get on set as much as possible in Austin, Georgia, and wherever else she could to gain experience and network with others.

“You never know what's going to happen,” she said. “How do you move somewhere where you don't know anybody and just pick up your life and go? Number one was trying to be financially ready for it, which are you ever for LA or New York? I dipped my toes in Atlanta for a bit but realized I needed to move to LA for the work I wanted to do.”

McCallum had an agent at a smaller agency in Austin and frequently went out for auditions, including sending in self-tapes for various roles. The casting director for a role she auditioned for, which she didn’t get, contacted the manager she has now at Artists First in LA and said they should connect.

Within the next couple of days, McCallum had a meeting with them.

“I was completely shocked because I knew I needed to find a manager out here,” she said. “You want to have as many people on your team as possible. They hadn’t seen my work at all but said if a casting director is taking time out of their schedule for someone, that's all they needed. I'm not sure if that's normal in the industry, but I'm thankful that somebody stuck their neck out for me.”

McCallum was under three nondisclosure agreements when she got the role as Tuklo in “Echo,” so she couldn’t tell anyone what the project was. She was hosting at a restaurant in LA when the phone rang.

“I got the call when I was about to go on my 30-minute break,” she said. “They told me I booked it, and when they told me it was Marvel, I immediately burst into tears. I’ve been with my managers for almost five years. There’s a saying that the average actor goes on 64 auditions before they book one.

“After all the auditions I've gone through and then the pandemic, I felt like this was never going to happen. To get that phone call and then for it to be Marvel on top of that, I couldn't even talk. I was such a mess, but I'll never forget that feeling.”

Dannie McCallum as Tuklo in Marvel's "Echo."
Dannie McCallum as Tuklo in Marvel's "Echo." Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios.

McCallum said she felt pressure because of the fandom surrounding Marvel and the vast number of interconnected movies and TV shows, which she was ready to watch if needed. The directors and everyone working on the show made her feel welcomed, wanted, and necessary to tell the story and created a collaborative environment. She even knew some of the crew from previously working with them.

In one of the episodes, her character gets shot at while standing on a cliff. Even though there weren’t any real bullets heading toward her, there were small explosive props that projected tiny rocks to exude the effect of gunshots hitting the cliffside. One of the explosive props was close to where she was standing and was making her nervous during the shoot.

“They could tell I wasn’t good even though I said I was,” she said. “I said I was afraid one of them was going to malfunction and explode in my face. They didn’t want me to focus on any outside thing except for what's going on in my head. If I spoke up, people listened, and I had a voice.”

Dannie McCallum poses for photos on the red carpet at the "Echo" premiere.
Dannie McCallum poses for photos on the red carpet at the "Echo" premiere.

With shows in recent years like “Echo,” “Reservation Dogs,” and “True Detective: Night Country,” Indigenous representation is increasing across the industry. Even though it hasn’t registered with her just yet, McCallum is proud to be part of a show that’s contributing to the ongoing and necessary conversation in Hollywood.

“We're coming into this age where these stories are really being valued and told,” she said. “That's so important in this industry. It’s so special and surreal sometimes, but it really does feel good. I hope that somebody who looks like me, or even who doesn't look like me, just sees their story told.

“It's not only with different cultures but different abilities. In ‘Echo,’ she's both deaf and an amputee. And for the disabled community to see themselves on screen in a non-stereotypical way is important. My brother's disabled, and he’s a sports announcer in my hometown. You never see that. People can do so much more than what you give them credit for.”

On March 19, McCallum traveled to San Marcos to participate in a Q&A session with performance and production students, staff, and faculty in the Performing Arts Center Recital Hall at TXST.

There, she shared words of advice with aspiring actors, including the importance of winning the room even if you don’t book the role, making good impressions, creating fans out of casting directors, and understanding what to take away from audition successes and passes.

“Either you win or you learn,” she said. “Focusing on the losses is never going to get you anywhere and will just make you sad. Sometimes, it didn’t have anything to do with you and they just decided they wanted somebody with red hair instead of brown hair, so it’s out of your control.”

For more information, contact University Communications:

Jayme Blaschke, 512-245-2555

Sandy Pantlik, 512-245-2922