Iman Vellani on the Joy of Playing Kamala Khan and ‘The Marvels’
Getting to see someone who is so dedicated to the role they are playing is a joy to watch. It’s why so many of us love Tom Hiddleston as Loki and it is why I love Iman Vellani’s performance as Kamala Khan so dearly. The actress, who first came into the role on the Disney+ series Ms. Marvel, recently took to the big screen in the film The Marvels.
I spoke with Vellani about playing Kamala and how her love for not only Kamala but the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole makes her such a wonderful actor to watch both on and off screen. “I wanted the Captain Marvel shirt and I was planning on taking it and then I totally forgot. Such a rookie mistake, honestly.”
But one of the things that has been made a staple of Vellani’s press tours is her open willingness to talk about comics and her love for them. As avid reader and lover of Marvel as well as the MCU as a whole, Vellani isn’t afraid to tell Kevin Feige what she thinks about things and it makes her someone fans love to see. When I asked about getting to finally talk about The Marvels, she brought up how she felt validated to have a platform as someone who grew up loving the franchise.
“It’s fun. I feel like all of my high school nerdiness has just been validated now that I finally get a platform to talk about,” she said. “Because I didn’t really have a lot of friends in high school who were interested in Marvel. I had my English teacher and one guy from my drama class, and then everyone else just wanted me to shut up and stop talking about it. But this is great. I won’t shut up now because people are actually asking me.”
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From comics to the screen and back
Vellani is rightfully living every nerds dream. Not only does she get to be a hero on screen, but she’s been writing her own stories as well. Ms. Marvel: The New Mutant is co-written by Vellani and Sabir Pirzada and currently has issues out now. Releasing a comic for the character you’re playing that you clearly love is exciting but for Vellani, it shows the dedication she has for comics and these stories.
“It’s been a really packed almost years for me, I can’t really pick the most exciting moment,” she said. “My journal is just filled with, there’s so much happening. My life is so overwhelming that I literally need to write down points, notes of what happened in my day sometimes because it’s a lot. And I think with Ms. Marvel, it was just meeting Sana Amanat. She co-created the character and I watched her Ted Talk and she’s very much like my older sister and such an important part of this entire journey. For me meeting Kevin Feige, that was a big one. Meeting a lot of people, the online response doesn’t affect me as much. Seeing my face on billboards doesn’t affect me weirdly.”
She went on to talk about seeing her face on Ubers and around doesn’t matter to her as much but getting to be a part of the Marvel world and going to Marvel Publishing to work on her own comic with Pirzada does. “I was literally in an Uber and my face was stopped right next to me on a bus and I was staring at it for so long. I’m like ‘this makes no sense. I understand how I got from point A to point B. I remember approving that photo, so I get it, but I can’t connect the dots.’ But meeting people and getting to meet Marvel people at Marvel Publishing and them letting me expand my vision and giving me the tools to do so has been so incredibly special and amazing. And there’s not enough synonyms to describe it. I’m honestly so blessed and I hope I get to keep just learning more about like the creative processes and meeting more people within Marvel, outside of Marvel and just cool people who are honestly really passionate about what they do. Because so many people who work at Marvel, they love their jobs so much and they know how lucky they are.”
The fun that is The Marvels
The Marvels was a different journey than Ms. Marvel for Kamala Khan. She wasn’t in New Jersey anymore. A grand space adventure with her favorite hero left our girl fangirling over Carol Danvers and learning what it means to be part of a team. For Vellani, The Marvels offered a new adventure for Kamala but something for her to explore that was similar to what she was going through.
“I have been going on a very similar journey as Kamala has in these last few years,” she said. “Starting on the show, it’s much smaller group of people. It felt almost an indie film at times. And then the movie was such a big scale. I’m meeting all these incredible actors who I’m such big fans of, and I always put celebrities on pedestals and they’re just gods in my eye. And I think for Kamala and I both, we had to kind of take a step back and not allow our idols to have so much power over us and so much power over our emotions and, if it’s a good day or a bad day. And I think Kamala comes to realize that very quickly after Tarnax when Carol’s like ‘we can’t save everybody, get back on the ship.'”
Vellani went on to talk about how that impacted Kamala and the vulnerability it brought to the character. “She’s seeing her favorite person in the entire world in a completely different light. And Kamala being very emotionally intelligent has to very quick to be like, ‘okay, I’m gonna just not say a lot and observe and be where she wants me to be. And because I think Carol’s kind of the more, even since her first movie, she’s hasn’t been in control of her emotions. And it’s true. She doesn’t, she grew up in the military, she grew up with men around her life. She not very good at being vulnerable in front of people. And so it comes out in the wrong ways. And I think Kamala is very good at acknowledging that. So it was very fun for me to play and I think kind of a reality check for myself as well.”
This movie is very fun though, with Flerkens being used to save an entire space station, and so I asked Vellani about getting to really bring that comedy into the movie and how she got to have humor play a part in The Marvels. “I enjoy it, It’s fun for me,” she said. “I just get to react in real time to dealing with cats and going through jump points. It’s sensory overload for me in real life. And I just direct that energy into my performance I think. You as the audience are saying how silly and crazy and fun this movie is, and Kamala is kind of the audience surrogate in a lot of ways. She’s the one who’s gonna tell you, ‘see this is a funny, weird moment. And it’s crazy.’ She kind of puts perspective into this entire universe ending situations that the MCU has been dealing with for so many movies now. And I think we kind of made it at her and her family both. They’re just like this is crazy and we acknowledge the fact that this is crazy. So just that in of itself is funny. Not just like me necessarily telling a joke.”
The future team?
Kamala Khan, at the end of the movie, goes to see Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) in New York. For many fans, they instantly thought it was Kamala building the Young Avengers. There are other teams that Kamala could be building as well and so instead of asking about what team and trying to get some answer that Vellani couldn’t give me, I just asked about the joy of getting to work with Steinfeld and finally have that moment between two characters that fans really love seeing together with Kate and Kamala.
“My favorite parts of reading comics is when you’re reading an Iron Heart comic and then suddenly Tony Stark appears, you’re reading a Ms. Marvel comic and then suddenly Nova appears,” she said. “I love the reminders that this universe is all interconnected and especially when it’s done tastefully. I love the shadow of Kate’s bow appearing first at the door, and then you’re like, ‘okay, oh my God, it’s happening. So moments like that. And I love the way it’s shot and I love that Kamala’s riffing off of Nick Fury’s 2008 Ironman tag. So it’s just a lot of the full circle moments make me very happy as a fan, but also as a performer. It was so cool to meet Hailee and to work with her and I hope we get to work more in the future. I think there’s plenty of different avenues we could take this storyline. Cool, cool movies ahead. Hopefully we’ll see.”
Before I left, I did tell her she should return to her Letterboxd account and she said she thought about it but wasn’t sure “because sometimes I have hot takes.”
The Marvels is in theaters now and Iman Vellani, as always, is a delight!
(featured image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
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