Television shows often tend to take on the personalities of their central character, infusing the show with that specific energy. In the case of the excellent Ms. Marvel, the latest MCU/Disney+ series is essentially a charm offensive thanks to its series lead, Iman Vellani. The young performer is making her acting debut in Ms. Marvel, although you’d be hard-pressed to know it based on how she carries herself across the two episodes that aired on Disney+ thus far.
Vellani grew up reading the Ms. Marvel comic book and her enthusiasm for that G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona series is well-documented. What’s so striking about Vellani is how well she knows the MCU, going so far as to correct Marvel Studios head, Kevin Feige, about the correct multiversal designation. Considering her character, Kamala Khan is a huge fan of superheroes; it’s a perfect match between the role and actor—one upon which her co-stars agree.
Complex recently sat down with Vellani during a virtual junket for Ms. Marvel and chatted about how her fandom informed the character, what personal touches of her made it into the show, and what it was like going from a TV show to starring in the upcoming Captain Marvel sequel, The Marvels, and much more.
You’ve spoken about being a fan of comics and the MCU in general. Did being a fan make it easier or more challenging to inform your portrayal of Kamala?
Iman Vellani: Oh, it made it super easy. I was a walking encyclopedia. Any [laughs] anything they would like need fact-checking for, I’d be like, “No, no, no, bring it here.” Honestly, me knowing so much about the comics and reading them when I was in high school, knowing how close to home they hit for me, just made it a lot easier for me to slip into Kamala’s shoes and just bring so much of my real-life self into the character. And because this is my first acting job—it’s my first everything. Like, I don’t know what I’m doing, but I know how to be myself, and I know how to, like, read lines. So those things kind of just worked.
In terms of being yourself, I know you were encouraged to bring some specificity to how you were portraying the character. Was there something that you were able to include that you’re like particularly proud of or that people wouldn’t know about?
IV: Kamala’s notebook that she has in the show is based on my notebook in real life. I carry this little book around everywhere. It’s like my journal, but also like ideas and drawings and everything. Our producers thought—they’re like, “I think Kamala needs one too.” And now, we use it a lot for just like telling the animation sequences in the show and the fantasy montages. We really use her notebook to kind of be her creative outlet.
It’s funny you bring up the notebook and the animation because that was one thing that really struck me about that opening sequence was just like visually how kinetic it was. Was that something that, even when you read the script on the page, did you have a sense of how the visuals were going to look even from the writing?
IV: Kinda. I understood a little bit [of] what it was gonna look like because of the voiceover. That was really helpful, just [based on] how fast-paced they wanted the voiceover; I could put two and two together about how fast-paced it was gonna look in general. But I don’t watch myself and so seeing it for the first time fully edited was like, “Oh, wow. This is cool.”
We see Kamala have this big setpiece moment in the second episode. How did you change your physicality when you were in the suit doing heroics versus when you were just being Kamala?
IV: We wanted to kind of ease into everything, just not like one minute she’s a normal teen woman and [then] she’s like this full-fledged superhero. We want to really milk out that arc, and we had six hours to do so. So, you know, having all those fun bits—the training montage in episode two, watching her fail repeatedly, and then just find the life or death courage that she needs to save the kid [from] falling off a building. It’s just so classic comic booky storylines that we wanted to bring in here. This is really one of the only shows where we can be as cheesy as possible, bring in classic Black Widow superhero poses, and Captain Marvel poses. It made it so much fun for me too. Really, just the essence of the character is that a representation of all the Marvel fans who would react the same way if they also got superpowers.
What was it like to go from a show to a movie like The Marvels? Was there a difference, or did it feel like it was the same but bigger?
IV: It was really intimidating, especially because on Ms. Marvel, no one was super, super famous, and so I wasn’t like freaking out working with any of our cast members because everyone was super grounded, and we were all just close friends. On The Marvels, I was the youngest and the newest and worked with established Oscar-winning actors. So that could be really intimidating, but they made me feel so welcome; they are so human, gave me good advice, and just held my hand throughout the entire process.
New episodes of Ms. Marvel Season 1 premiere on Disney+ at 3 a.m. ET on Wednesdays.