Ms. Marvel: Iman Vellani Appreciates the Show’s John Hughes Vibes
Kamala Khan actress (and major Marvel fan) Iman Vellani is ready for viewers to see a lighter side of the MCU with Ms. Marvel.
Iman Vellani and her MCU character have lived parallel lives
Paralleling the character she portrays, 19-year-old Canadian Iman Vellani is an earnest and talented teenage superfan who has been called up to the big leagues. Not long ago, she was reading issues of Ms. Marvel and dressing up as the MCU’s first lead Muslim heroine for Halloween. But after being cast, on her last day of high school, Vellani gets to bring the character to the MCU. Vellani spoke with Den of Geek about the “surreal” experience of going from being a fan on MCU subreddits and doing Avengers nail art to leading her own show on Disney+.
Den of Geek: Could you talk about the importance of getting to meet Kamala Khan through her own world and in her own story before we get to see her next year in The Marvels?
Iman Vellani: We wanted to ground the show and keep it a little separate from everything else in the MCU because this is a very new character for a lot of people. She only debuted in the comics in 2014. That gave us a lot of flexibility in changing certain things to fit more into the direction that the MCU is heading in right now. Marvel is letting directors and writers play and create their own show based on their character. Coming from Moon Knight, especially, which is a lot darker and Fight Club-esque, to a show that’s very much more lighthearted and John Hughes and Scott Pilgrim vibes and coming-of-age, we really wanted to lean into that corniness of growing up because it’s embarrassing and awkward. Kamala gets to go on a journey of self-discovery and figuring out how she fits into this world, if she can fit in with the Avengers, and what it means to be a superhero.
Were there any other references you had for your character or the show as a whole?
Lady Bird and Eighth Grade were another two that the directors had in mind, but, in my head, if you’ve seen Boy by Taika Waititi, it’s a similar vibe of a kid who doesn’t really know how they fit in but lives in their own fantasy world in their head.
Some of those films feature young people who are portrayed by actual young people, like you. Do you feel like that helped you get into her mindset?
I got cast when I was 17, and the character is 16, so we really weren’t far off. After I read the comics when I was in high school, I was like, “She lived my life. I lived her life.” The parallels are just insane, Kamala getting her powers and me getting this part, we’re so hand-in-hand, and the directors really went into my life in high school. They really wanted to get in the head of a 16-year-old growing up with immigrant parents and being in love with superheroes. I was so close to the source material that it was easy for people to use me as a resource to bring this character to life and make it as authentic as possible.
Kamala Khan is the first Muslim superhero in the MCU. How does that impact the show at large?
We’re introducing an entirely new diaspora of fans to the MCU, all these South Asians and Muslims who never saw themselves represented in a positive light before. I’m excited to share this character and let people know that their experiences are shared and that people understand them. It’s important to showcase children of immigrant parents who are proud of their culture and don’t neglect it.
You mentioned the creative team, which is more diverse than we have historically seen. How did that impact your experience?
It was just so encouraging and inspiring for me to see because I didn’t grow up with a lot of representation. After I read the comics, I immediately Googled Sana Amanat, who created the character with G. Willow Wilson, and I watched her TED Talk. Then two or three years later, I got to meet her. She has kind of been my rock throughout this entire process and is basically my older sister.
In the comics, there’s a thread in Kamala’s story about feeling an element of invisibility. Is that part of this story?
We wanted to lean into that side of growing up when you don’t feel understood; you don’t feel represented, especially when all her heroes are the Avengers, who are predominantly male and white. So immediately, she gets powers and thinks, “I have to be Captain Marvel. I have to do what Captain Marvel would do.” But she has to go on her own journey and create her own self because that’s what’s going to help people, not pretending to be someone else.
Up next, we’re going to see you in The Marvels alongside Brie Larson as Captain Marvel and Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau. What are you most excited about for everything beyond this show?
Sharing a screen with those incredible women was so empowering. Nia DaCosta is one of the most incredible directors I’ve gotten to work with in my two-year career so far. But, right now, my head is just everything Ms. Marvel. I just need the show to come out and for people to watch it and fall in love with her.
The first episode of Ms. Marvel premieres June 8 on Disney+.