‘Ms. Marvel’: The Cast and Crew on why Iman Vellani “Belongs in the Marvel Universe”
"It may have been the first or second day I met her, she was like, which movie do you like better — 'Infinity War' or 'Endgame'?”
Iman Vellani is Kamala Khan. But even more impressive, Kamala Khan is Iman Vellani. The stars completely aligned when it came to casting the young actress in the role for Marvel Studios’ Ms. Marvel, as Iman’s story lines up with Kamala’s story a little too perfectly. And no, Iman doesn’t have any form of superpowers, but she’s just like Kamala through and through. Both girls have a strong love and admiration for the Avengers and are absolute fangirls for all things Marvel — honestly, the biggest difference is that while Kamala is Captain Marvel’s #1 fan, Vellani is the ultimate Iron Man stan.
“Iman is Kamala, Kamala is Iman. Like it's just so interchangeable at this point,” Executive Producer Sana Amanat tells Marvel.com. “But definitely, Iman brought her own spin to it, of course, because she's her own person…She reads everything, and she's such a huge fan. She's the ultimate fan. She belongs in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.”
Talking to everyone in the cast and the crew behind the scenes, they all in unison agree that Vellani is absolutely in the top 1% of Marvel aficionados. “Iman is the biggest Marvel fan you can imagine. She's a Marvel expert, an encyclopedia of Marvel history. She knows so much,” Director and Executive Producer Adil El Arbi tells Marvel.com. According to Arbi and his directing partner, Director and Executive Producer Bilall Fallah, Vellani actually came to set with a little notebook full of questions and also suggestions — some of which were meant for them and the episode they were directing, and some of them were actually meant for the man in charge, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige.
“It was challenging, not necessarily to us, because we're on board with her [ideas]. We want to do everything she wanted to do. It's more Kevin is like, ‘easy there, easy.” He’s like this wise uncle, saying, ‘OK guys, OK, calm down. We'll do a little, a little, not everything.’ So that's how it went,” Arbi continues with a laugh.
In interviews, Vellani has not shied away from talking about how much she respects and admires Feige. However, meeting him for the first time was not as smooth as the star hoped for.
“My first time meeting Kevin was a little rough,” Vellani recalls. “He comes and Sana is like, there's someone here to meet you. I look up and it's just his eyes because he was wearing a mask, a hat, fully covered. I fully lost all brain function, all body function, I was a mannequin around him. I could not speak or smile or breathe.”
They say never meet your heroes, and Vellani learned this in real-time the hard way. “This poor man was trying to talk to me, and me being so awkward made him super awkward, and we were just awkward together. Then they called me for my scene and I was like a zombie walking to do the scene. Adil was like, what's wrong with you? And I'm like, Kevin Feige's downstairs. And he's like, oh, let's go meet him together. So, we go meet him and the same thing happens. I was just hiding behind Adil and Kevin keeps peering over. He's like, is this girl going to talk to me or something?”
Don’t worry, they eventually talked. Actually, Vellani presented him with a four-page list of 72 questions about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Feige’s day-to-day duties that she wanted clarity on. “It was very sweet and he answered the first 40 the next day over a Zoom call. I really respect and admire him and I can speak to him now in full sentences, which is great.”
But not only did Vellani have questions for Feige, but she also had questions for the rest of her castmates. Namely, what’s your favorite Marvel Studios movie? Marvel talk is popular among all the cast and crews for the MCU, but it was especially heightened on the set of Ms. Marvel.
“I think one of the first days, it may have been the first or second day I met her, she was like, which movie do you like better — Infinity War or Endgame?” Saagar Shaikh, who plays Kamala’s older brother Aamir, laughs. “That was her test to see if she likes me or not.”
On set, Vellani could also be found watching Marvel movies and shows, and Zenobia Shroff, who plays Muneeba Khan, recalled one time she watched Vellani freak out about an episode of Marvel Studios’ WandaVision.
“She was on her iPad between takes. WandaVision had come out, and [while she was watching] she said ‘What?’ out loud and she fell to the floor because she was so excited about what she had just seen. I don't know what it was. I didn't want to interrupt her viewing. But yeah, she's very excited. She's a fangirl.”
Saagar has his own story about Vellani watching WandaVision, which he eagerly offers up, like a true big brother: “I'll tell you a secret. Kevin Feige got mad at her for watching WandaVision on her phone. He's like, 'They're not made for phones! Watch it on TV!'”
While the MCU was a hot topic of conversation, Vellani never forced anyone to watch the almost three-dozen film installments when the cameras stopped rolling — honestly, the cast was doing that on their own time, anyways.
“She's very proud of how much she loves the MCU, so she doesn't have to spread it to anybody else,” Yasmeen Fletcher, who plays Nakia, adds. “She knows she is solid on that. She's confident in her depth of knowledge in the MCU.”
So yes, Vellani’s fangirl is showing — but it’s not like that’s a bad thing. Head writer Bisha K. Ali knows the series was absolutely blessed when Vellani came on board because she’s not only a huge fan with too much Marvel knowledge, but she’s a curious, creative artist, too and that only enhances the show and further, the character of Kamala.
“The reality is, I think that was from day one, and that's not really regarding just Marvel, but in general, she has a creative mind. She has that maturity. She wants to be in this industry regardless, and well done for us and lucky for us that she's obsessed with Marvel, and that she loves it so much. I think all of that really comes through in what gives her the ability to play this role and just embody this role, but also what's going to give her the ability to navigate the future within this character and within her wider universe. I really think she's an artist. I don't think it's possible to expect an artist to come on board a project and not have a million ideas about it.”
MS. MARVEL IS NOW STREAMING EXCLUSIVELY ON DISNEY+.
The Hype Box
Can’t-miss news and updates from across the Marvel Universe!