NEW YORK — Iman Vellani, who stars as Kamala Khan in the new Disney+ series “Ms. Marvel,” has a conundrum. Now that she's a part of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), does she remove the Marvel posters from the walls of her childhood bedroom or leave them up?
“Brie (Larson) is on my wall and she’s in my phone book. So, like, that’s weird,” said Vellani in a recent interview.
“Ms. Marvel,” debuting Wednesday, is 19-year-old Vellani's first professional acting job. Already an avid reader of the comics, Vellani learned of the open audition from her aunt. She went to the audition. Lo and behold, Vellani got the job.
The first month on set was spent in prep, rehearsing and stunt training. She had to give up her high school diet of McDonald's and Oreos and build stamina, but Vellani wasn't interested in changing her shape too much. "I was 17. Kamala was 16. I wanted her to look like a normal high school kid,” she said.
“My first proper day of filming — that was intense,” said Vellani. "It was all of the stunts that I had to do in the real Captain Marvel suit. The one that Brie gets to wear. It was an extremely uncomfortable day. That suit is not made to move in. You’re just supposed to stand and walk like a mannequin, and that’s what it’s made for. There’s so many pieces and it’s just really uncomfortable, and the scenes were pretty intense. So I came home with all these bruises and everything. My mom was like, ‘Oh my God, what happened?’ And I’m like, 'I’m a superhero. That’s what happened.'"
Vellani just may be the first Marvel actor who is also a massive fan. She especially loves Robert Downey, Jr. and has proudly re-watched “Iron Man” “more than the average person.”
“They really are just a projection of real life and make you feel like you’re a part of something. Isn’t that what we all kind of want, to feel like we belong? And I know it sounds super cheesy, but for the Marvel fandom, it’s comfortable. It’s what we know. We can recite everything under the sun about the MCU."
Sana Amanat, the co-creator of “Ms. Marvel,” jokes that having an actor who is a stan (or, really big fan) as they say, has its challenges.
“Sometimes she would just pull up in the producer’s chair next to me and just give lots of thoughts and opinions on, you know, either the show or the rest of the MCU. And I’d be like, 'That’s cool, but I need you to just act right now," she laughed, adding, "Iman brought so much life and love to the character and it just made the entire process so much easier.”
Vellani was browsing a local comic book store when she discovered the “Ms. Marvel” comics and immediately felt represented in a way that is not common in mainstream media.
“I saw a girl who looked like me. She was Muslim and Pakistani and a superhero fanatic and I was Muslim, Pakistani and a superhero fanatic, so it worked out quite well. And I think my favorite part about the comic books was that it wasn’t about her religion or her culture or her ethnicity, it was about a fanfic-writing nerd, who just so happened to be Pakistani and just so happened to be Muslim. Those parts of her life motivated her and drove her as a character. she used her religion as a moral code. .. She never neglected her culture. It was something that kind of uplifted her journey."
One of the things about South Asian culture that Vellani says “Ms. Marvel” gets right, is the importance of family. Kamala's parents and brother feature prominently in the series.
“Showing those close, tight-knit family relationships, showing parents that are alive in the MCU, how rare is that," said Vellani. “We wanted to hopefully get the ball rolling on Muslim representation in the media because there’s 2 billion Muslims and South Asians in the world, and we cannot represent every single one of them. But I do hope that people find some sort of comfort in Kamala’s character or through her brother or her parents or anyone in her community.”
Vellani is not only thrilled to represent in the MCU but also to be entrusted with its secrets.
“It’s an honor to keep these secrets. For some people, power is money. For Marvel fans, it’s knowledge and secrets and all the inside scoop on all the movies that haven’t been released yet. I have it. I have that power and I love it.”