After starring in the title role in 2022’s Disney+ series, Ms. Marvel, and now appearing as one of the three leads in the new movie, The Marvels, the consensus on Iman Vellani is pretty clear: She’s an absolute scene stealer and one of the most “straight out of the comics” examples of casting the MCU has ever had, imbuing her own real life endearing superhero enthusiasm into a character known for sharing the same outlook.
The 21-year-old Vellani’s had a whirlwind, fan dream scenario occur in recent years, as the huge fan of both the MCU and the Ms. Marvel comics actually found herself cast as Kamala Khan, and now has gone on to work alongside Brie Larson as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in The Marvels, from director Nia DaCosta.
Because of the SAG-AFTRA strike, it was not possible for Vellani or her costars to actually promote the film until the day before it opened. In the wake of the strike’s resolution, I spoke to Vellani about her experience making the film and just how much her real life knowledge of Marvel has come into play on set. We also discussed her recent debut as a bonafide comic book writer with the series Ms. Marvel: The New Mutant and, of course, those scenes from the very end of The Marvels teasing big things to come, one directly featuring Kamala, one which pertains to her.
Heads up that you’ll find a proper Spoiler warning when we reach that portion of the interview if you haven’t seen the film yet and wish to look away at that point!
Fandom: You’ve had such an amazing experience since this began. You’re cast in the role and you’ve starred in a TV show that’s centered around you. But when you began filming this movie, and you’re actually working with Brie and Teyonah, did it feel like the next big leveling up in the midst of what has to all be such a surreal experience?
Iman Vellani: Yeah. I was still very much in the Ms. Marvel headspace because we came directly out of the show. I had like two weeks, and then I went on to the movie. So I was straight into it, I didn’t really have to relearn a lot of the fighting and everything. I think on Ms. Marvel especially, everything was so foreign to me in terms of how a film set works and what’s my role. I think people, a lot of the time, will look to number one on the call sheet to set the tone of the shoot and I had no idea what I was doing. I was just happy to be there, to be involved. So it was really nice on The Marvels watching more put together actors set the example, show their onset etiquette, how they interact with crew members. It was a really nice learning opportunity for me in general. How they prepare, who and what they need in their environment to do the work, because these are long hours, taxing scenes, physically demanding. Brie especially, but also Teyonah and Sam even, they all had very fun little knickknacks. Sam has this dual fan headset thing to cool him down. And Brie has an anti-gravity chair. It’s great.
Fandom: Sam has this amazing career apart from Marvel, of course. But he goes back to the beginning of the MCU. So when you’re working with someone like that, what is the adjustment period like?
Iman Vellani: Awful. It’s full of nerves, and you can barely breathe in his direction. He’s actually a very welcoming person. And he loves what he does so much. I think that was the biggest thing for me that kind of helped me get over all of this. When we’re confused about a scene, he’s also confused, but he wants to get to the bottom of it. He wants to know exactly what he’s doing, where he’s standing. He learns his dialogue very quickly if there’s any adjustments, and he loves Nick Fury. He genuinely loves the character so much. He cares about the character. He was coming off of Secret Invasion, and he was really the only person keeping continuity between, for his own character, because no one from our set was on that show. So to see someone like him who’s been in the industry for so long, who has been in Marvel for so long, still care and he has that fire in him still to want to do the fight scenes, to wanna be in as many movies as he can, it’s very admirable. And I think I learned a lot from him. And he also gave me a lot of hope, honestly, that I’m never gonna get like tired of this job, ever.
Fandom: I was at the Secret Invasion junket and he came barreling down the hallway at one point with so much energy.
Iman Vellani: Yeah! It’s so unexpected.
Fandom: As you’re living this dream of stepping into a thing that you love and you’re meeting these people and acting alongside them, I feel like a big normalizer must be the infamously long days on set you mentioned. Does that help you establish “Okay, we’re all in this together. We’re coworkers here” and that’s you’re in the long haul together?
Iman Vellani: Yeah, it really felt like that. There were a lot of accidental team building exercises, I guess. When you’re all in a harness together in an uncomfortable supersuit flying in front of a green screen with VFX dots all over your face, you really build a special bond. It’s crazy. We had a lot of wire work in this movie. So for scenes like that, we’re all just kind of adjusting our harnesses. And you know, you can’t drink as much water, you can’t eat as much food. So, yeah, it was nice to be in pain together.
Fandom: [Laughs] Pain is a bonding thing, right?
Iman Vellani: Absolutely!
Fandom: First with the show, and now with the movie, you have received such praise for your performance and continually been singled out. What’s it like to get that reaction?
Iman Vellani: It’s honestly pretty validating that people are responding to Kamala and, I guess, me. Because when you are on set with the tracking dots on your face, and you think you look insane, and you’re in an uncomfortable supersuit, and you’re nervously working with actors you’re obsessed with, while trying to save the world, you can get very insecure about your performance. Especially, “Is it is it matching Brie’s level?” or “I hope we’re doing the same thing. I hope we’re on the same page.” Because, honestly, the real test is when the VFX are finished. And hopefully the intensity of your scene matches the intensity of your reactions.
I have nightmares of that one interview that Elizabeth Olsen did when she was talking about the scene in Infinity War where she’s looking out the window at destruction. And no one told her what the final version was actually going to look like so her reaction was so detached from the actual stakes of the scene. So yeah, lesson here to all actors doing action scenes: Find your VFX supervisor, become their besties, ask them a million questions! Because honestly, you’re creating this thing together. They’re not going to do all the work for you. They’re basing their VFX off of your actions. And I think it’s also very possible that you’re going to ask them a question that they didn’t even consider. So that was a very good learning opportunity for me, especially coming out of Ms. Marvel, since we were still building the hard light powers together.
Fandom: You are well aware, given your own fan history, that with passionate fanbases, basically everything can be polarizing, especially if something is seen as a deviation from the source material. So for you, is it funny to now make this shift where you learn something like Kamala being a mutant, and you know it’s going to take some of the fans time to adjust? Now you have the perspective of getting that info early and and getting to mull it over, versus when you were on the other side of it, learning with the rest of us.
Iman Vellani: I like to think a lot about the fact that if I didn’t have this job, I would also probably be online saying who knows what in those subreddits and tweeting god knows what, so that kind of grounds me and I’m way more i forgiving, I guess, to the world. Because they’re not there. I’m a part of these conversations, I’m a part of these meetings. I know what’s happening. I read the scripts, I understand why decisions are made. And as long as they’re made with good intentions, and they’re still following the core of the comic books, the themes of those comics, that’s all I really care about, and it’s so nice to have people like Sana [Amanat] on our TV show, who co-created the comic book character. She was a huge reference point for me to bounce ideas off. I was like, “I’m doing this thing and in the comics it’s like this, but I really want to get the tone of it right.” So she was super helpful. And Nia DaCosta is also a really big Ms. Marvel fan, so it was so nice to have someone who’s like an Uber nerd as well because she also wanted to stay true to the comics. to the source material. Making sure that Kamala didn’t ever feel super out of place being the youngest of the group. I think she honestly ended up being the glue of the group and a lot of the characters around her can definitely learn a lot from her.
Fandom: I spoke to Nia last week and she said she really felt like the three of you — Brie, Teyonah and yourself — all mirrored your characters in some ways. Did it feel that way to you as well?
Iman Vellani: Yeah, especially because all the scenes we were doing, we were basically on set together because of the switchy situation. So you know, even if it’s just me and Teyonah at some point, it could be Teyonah and Brie. So everyone was kind of there. Our rehearsals were super fun. We would go out, like Brie and I went to go see Hamilton in London together. It was nice that I finally had older sisters and it was like a very new experience for me to. Also, I was kind of trepidatious about being in this trio because I was much younger, much less experienced. I didn’t know if they had seen Ms. Marvel, I didn’t know if they’d heard of Ms. Marvel. So I didn’t want to be the insane know-at-all fangirl, actually, because I was very intimidated by everything. But they gave me space to nerd out over things. They gave me space to nerd out about their characters. So it was it was just nice that they they took me in and were very welcoming.
Fandom: The switching aspect is such a cool part of the movie visually but I feel like that must have been pretty complicated to shoot in terms of matching poses and everything else. What was the process like figuring all that out?
Iman Vellani: In the first fight scene in the Khan living room, that was kind of easy, because it was across three different locations. But the first time we really did it in the same location was on Carol’s spaceship. And we were so confused, because we had to shoot each scene like three times and Nia and our VFX supervisor would come out and explain how we were going to film the scenes and me, Brie and Teyonah just stood there, like “…In English, please? What are we doing? Okay, we’ll take this step by step!” But at the end of the day, it really is just like doing it three different times. And then the last two times you do it, they’ll have a green screen panel just behind two of the characters, or three of the characters…. See, I’m confused even thinking about it! It was a lot. I just go where they tell me.
Fandom: Playing Kamala also led to you writing a comic book limited series. How did that all come about and how surprised were you that this opportunity came to fruition?
Iman Vellani: Yeah, it came about at the end of last year. I was doing some press with Sana and I was throwing ideas out there. Like, “You know, if I wrote a comic book, I would do this…” And I was not being serious. And she was “You know, I can make a couple calls for you..” And I said no… And then I texted her like a month later. I was like, “Actually, I really think I do have some ideas that I would like to share with people who are willing to listen.” And she said okay and she got Kevin [Feige]’s blessing and he was super on board with the idea. And then she talked to her friends at Marvel editorial. And then I was in a meeting with them and pitched them a bunch of ideas and they loved it. And then we search for my co-writer, Sabir Pirzada, who actually worked on some of the Ms. Marvel comics and the Ms. Marvel TV show. So he’s just been the most amazing collaborator. And the turnaround was insanely quick. I think we started writing the first issue at the beginning of March or end of February, and they wanted to draft by the end of March. It was crazy and so honestly liberating that every idea I have, as long as the artist can draw it, it goes.
But yeah, it was such a full circle moment for me. I honestly was more scared of writing this comic than being the character in the MCU. I grew up reading comics… Well, I didn’t grow up reading comics. I’ve been reading them since I was like 14, but they hold a very special place in my heart and I wanted to do them justice. I wanted to do the Ms. Marvel comics justice. I’m very proud of this end product and I’m very excited for people to read it. I think they’ll get to know me a lot better. Writing a comic book is much more of a personal experience because you’re working in a group of less than 10 people and I’m writing these words in my childhood bedroom and someday people are gonna go to the comic book store and read them. And it’s crazy to think about that.
Fandom: I love Kamala’s imaginary character, Dr. Surfer, and how there’s definitely some very old school Stan Lee-type dialogue there.
Iman Vellani: Yes!
Fandom: Was that really cool for you?
Iman Vellani: You’re the first person to bring that up! That makes me so happy. I am a big Stan Lee Silver Surfer fan. I love the Steve Englehart stuff as well but Stan Lee writes him with such a poise and he’s so majestic, almost, with the words that he uses. I really just read a bunch of Doctor Strange comics and a bunch of Silver Surfer comics and then literally made a list of words that I love from each comic book and then mashed them together for Dr. Surfer and that’s his dialogue. I was just like “What are two really cool characters that I can make happen and put them in her dreams?”, so that was really fun for me.
Fandom: So will there be more comics from you in the future, when this series wraps up?
Iman Vellani: Maybe! Who knows…
Fandom: A clip of you went viral last year when you were adamantly declaring that the MCU is set in Earth-199999 and not 616, despite what was said in Multiverse of Madness. I’m very much on your team on this. But what can we do to get Kevin and the folks behind the scenes to change it? Because they’re going all in on calling it 616!
Iman Vellani: Listen, I’ve learned my lesson after that. I’m glad I could get a lot of the fans on my side, but, unfortunately, what Kevin says goes. He’s apparently the boss! I mean, whatever. [Laughs] But no, I think in our hearts, it’s still 1999999 In the MCU canon. They can think it’s 616! But as an outsider, that’s my headcanon right now. I’m justifying it with like, the people in the MCU don’t actually know the real number. We do.
Fandom: Maybe someone in the comics, in the real 616, they’ll know what’s up.
Iman Vellani: I mean, it really depends how you look at it. Like is the MCU its own universe, or is it an adaptation of the comics? I think it’s its own universe separate from the comics.
Fandom: Right! Joking aside, you were talking about how on set you didn’t want to go overboard with the comics knowledge stuff, but how much does that come into play? Are you being asked advice or being used as a sounding board because everyone knows “She knows her stuff on this”?
Iman Vellani: I do give my unsolicited opinion a lot. Especially when I got more comfortable with Nia and also learning that Nia is such a nerd as well. She loves comics, she loves Ms. Marvel Comics. I do think I could annoy her a little bit with just like, “Actually, it might be better if we did this” or “Actually, the lore doesn’t make sense when you think about the show.” But no, she was actually very open to listening and hearing what I have to say, because I think they also realize that I represent a lot of the real life fans. And if I’m flagging something, they should probably listen before someone else flags it when it’s already too late to make changes in the movie. So I appreciated being that person they could just go up to. I got to see cuts of the movie before anyone else did just because they wanted my opinion. It was nice to be heard and appreciated just for my nerdiness, I guess.
[Editor’s Note: FULL SPOILERS FOLLOW for the final scenes of The Marvels.]
Fandom: So let me throw in a couple spoiler questions for you. In that final scene, you got to finally begin the seeds of Young Avengers. How fun was it to film that scene with Hailee [Steinfeld], plus get to do your best Nick Fury recruiting Tony Stark impression, all while helping set up this team that people have been waiting for?
Iman Vellani: Well, when I read that scene, I was losing my mind, going crazy. And it was actually not only the last scene of the film, but also the last scene we ever shot. So it was already very emotional that this movie was coming to an end. And I had just met Hailee and she was so sweet and we were bonding over supersuits, plotting where this Young Avengers thing is gonna go. It was very fun. And we had Lucky the Dog on set as well and he’s the cutest little thing ever. Yeah, it was crazy. I had to rewatch Iron Man the day before I went to work. I didn’t even need to rewatch the whole movie, just the after credit scene, but you know, it helps! That really got me into it.
I love Kamala… She probably went up to Nick Fury at some point in between and asked about how the Avengers got together. And I love thinking that she just planned her whole speech based off of his whole speech. Broke into Kate Bishop‘s apartment, sat there waiting for her for god knows how long… I just love her thought process of all of it. I was freaking out on set and definitely brought a lot of that into the scene because this is just such a surreal moment. And I’m so honored that I get to be the one to kind of initiate this whole team up. So yeah, it’s very cool.
Fandom: Now you’re not in the mid-credit scene, but it’s another big one. And with that X-Men tease, and Kelsey Grammer returning as Beast, how much are you looking forward to, at some point, seeing Kamala meet some fellow mutants, whether it be the guys from the old Fox movies or maybe characters we haven’t necessarily met yet?
Iman Vellani: It would be insane. They can’t just drop the M word for the first time in Ms. Marvel and then not let me be a part of it. That would be insane! [Laughs] I’m really hoping I get to be utilized further in the MCU and hopefully in an X-Men film. Who knows? It would be very cool. I love the X-Men so much, especially [because] I’ve been reading so much about them with my X-Men comic as well. I actually wasn’t the biggest X-Men fan. I didn’t read a lot of their comics. I was very intimidated by them because there’s like so many and you don’t know where to start. But I think Grant Morrison‘s New X-Men was one of my favorites that I’ve ever read, and Jonathan Hickman’s stuff… There’s such good source material. And I really, really, really hope that the adaptations are even half of how good the comics are.
Fandom: As we wrap up, I just have to say last year, I was on the Disney Wish cruise ship. And it was so fun to see you pop up in a big show on screen while I was eating dinner at an Avengers restaurant.
Iman Vellani: Oh my god, that was crazy. That was actually the first thing I ever shot on The Marvels set with Brie. Because as soon as I got out of quarantine, they’re like, ‘Okay, Disney asked us to film this thing really quick.’ And I had no idea what it was. They just had me jumping from different green boxes. It was hilarious.
The Marvels is now playing.
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