In The Marvels, Iman Vellani makes a delightful return as Kamala Khan after we last saw her in the Disney+ series Ms. Marvel. The Pakistani-Canadian actress has been widely noted as a scene-stealer in the film, bringing all of Kamala Khan’s joy over meeting her idol Captain Marvel to the big screen. Vellani is fully living the dream of a comic book nerd in many ways. She recently co-wrote Ms. Marvel: The New Mutant alongside Sabir Pirzada, which introduces Kamala Khan as a mutant and member of the X-Men in the Marvel Comics universe.
We caught up with Iman Vellani to talk about her ideas for Kamala Khan’s future, her relationship with her The Marvels co-stars, and her hopes for Ms. Marvel to meet a certain character in the MCU.
Nerdist: What is it like living every comic book nerd’s dream? Your joy in being in this film was so palpable and so wonderful to see. What was the experience like?
Iman Vellani: I really have been trying to figure out how to sum it up and it’s near impossible. I feel like such an imposter at times. I am very, very lucky and I can acknowledge that, but what if I’m not enough? What if there’s a bigger fan? It’s a lot of pressure when you actually think about it and knowing the fan base very well from God knows how many years I’ve been a part of this community… It’s a little intimidating, but I think if I’m happy doing the work, then people will be able to see that. So hopefully that’s enough.
The relationship between Kamala, Carol, and Monica was the highlight of the film. What was it like building that relationship and bonding over the filming throughout?
Vellani: Yeah, I was going into this thinking we’re going to be like sisters, super close, and they kind of just took me in. It was very sweet because both of them have not only been in Marvel things before, but they’ve just been in Hollywood before and I had just come off of Ms. Marvel. I hadn’t done any press yet. I haven’t been exposed to the world. I basically had these two years where I could just prepare for my life to change. Brie and Teyonah were both very good at giving me space to ask questions and be vulnerable and open.
There’s so many weird questions that you can’t really ask until you’re put in that situation, in terms of press and your makeup or body image. There’s so much of just being a woman in the public eye and I think they understand that on such a deep level. It was very great for me to have them as support, and then they just let me take off once the universe got ahold of me and they’ve always been available if I ever needed anything. It was a very sweet relationship.
In The Marvels, Kamala goes through this journey of learning not to put Captain Marvel on such a high pedestal. Did that journey parallel your own at all as someone who’s just entering this world of Marvel and this massive limelight?
Vellani: Absolutely. I say this all the time, but me and Kamala are going on a very similar trajectory here. With Ms. Marvel, it was like a homey environment, small, everyone was kind of my age and we were all new and this was everyone’s first big thing. Then suddenly, two weeks later, I’m doing a scene with Samuel L. Jackson and my brain cannot wrap my head around it. I’ve gotten a lot better at realizing famous people are also people.
I think at the same time, Kamala realizes Carol has so many stressors already on her, and she very clearly does not know how to express her feelings. She doesn’t know how to be vulnerable in front of other people. She doesn’t have any relationships in her life, whereas Kamala has her friends, her family, her religious community. She’s got her mentors, her idols, and so many people around her in her life and her entire Jersey City squad and Carol doesn’t have that. [Carol] has Goose. She has a freaking cat. That’s it.
It’s not even a cat. So it makes total sense that she is the way that she is, and I think Carol actually ends up learning a lot from Kamala about being open and having emotions and honoring those feelings and just like Kamala does. It was very sweet to watch our characters progress and go through this entire arc throughout the course of the film.
Kamala/Ms. Marvel is one of my favorite characters, not only as a South Asian Muslim woman, but also because so much of her culture and religion is woven into who she is in every comic page of portrayal. The same is true for her in live-action, too. Do you have a favorite example of a certain cultural or religious reference that happened in The Marvels?
Vellani: There’s this one part where Muneeba, Kamala’s mom, is saying how she’s going to kill Carol Danvers in Urdu. That was really funny. I don’t know why. That just makes me crack up every single time. That, and obviously [the moment where] Aamir is praying as they’re about to crash-land back on to Earth and Nick Fury was like, “Well, don’t stop. We need all the help we can get.” There are these little moments like that that make these characters so specific and [to me], this is representation. Not being “this is what Islam is and this is what being Pakistani means.” It’s just having these little moments. My parents talk to me half in English, half in Urdu. They’re sprinkling in little words just like the Khan family does. It makes me feel seen, and I love that we have that in the film.
Yeah, absolutely. I think something special about Kamala is that kind of specificity, but that is universally appealing, because, ultimately, she is just a girl trying to fit in.
Vellani: Exactly. Aren’t we all?
Kamala gets her little Nick Fury in Iron Man moment at the end of the film, which had me so excited. It seems that this new team seems quite intriguing. Do you have a dream team, aside from Kate and now potentially Cassie, even someone who isn’t in the MCU yet?
Vellani: People really love these Young Avengers, but I don’t even know if they actually read those comics—not that they’re bad. The chemistry between Kamala, Miles [Morales], and Sam [Alexander], it’s too good. I would love to see that trio in the MCU. Neither of those characters exist yet in live action, but I’m praying for it. Yeah. I love Sam Alexander. One of their first interactions that they had. Also when Sam tried to reveal his identity and Kamala was like, “Get away from me.” I love it.
If there were a Ms. Marvel season two, which we are all hoping for, what is your favorite comic storyline that you would like to see done in live action next?
Vellani: Doc.X, I think. Gen Z and their phones, people love talking about that and just the impact that technology really does have on us. I think Doc.X is such a good villain to incorporate and act as the metaphor for how much content we’re consuming and the ways we use technology to ruin other people’s lives.
I think that could work so well in a college setting or even her senior year. I really want to see that storyline play out. And also, I think it’s one of the storylines where Kamala is just at her peak nerdiness. The comic also starts with her hosting a LAN party with all these other nerds, gaming. It’s so amazing, honestly. So I want to see more of that. I want to see gamer Kamala. I want to see her just fueling on bags of chips and pop.
Speaking of comics, co-writing the first comic book run where Kamala is now a mutant is a big responsibility! I’m sure you were over the moon at the opportunity. Did you learn anything new about Kamala’s character?
Vellani: I honestly wanted to honor a lot of G. Willow Wilson’s original Ms. Marvel run. She does such a good job of painting the picture of who Kamala is right down from the very first frame of her smelling bacon at Circle Q, and I love it. I love how much personality she has. For me, I wanted the comic that I co-wrote to showcase why I love this character so much in this specific medium.
I love Kamala in the MCU, but I wanted people to see why she’s even cooler in the comics. I wanted to put her powers on full display, so me and my co-writer Sabir Pirzada, who is my favorite human to work with, were just like, “Okay, how crazy can we go with these powers? What kind of shapes can we come up with?”
These powers work so well and only in comics. You could do so much with it. And as long as the artist can draw it, the sky’s the limit. That was my main takeaway, and I think I found so many new things Kamala can do with her powers. It’s crazy. She uses her own body as a slingshot at one point. Her fingers elongate into spaghettis and they separate drones. It’s so weird and crazy. You couldn’t do that in live action. So yes, this was my love letter to her powers, I guess.
Now that you’ve written for Ms. Marvel, if you had the chance to write for any other superhero, who would it be?
Vellani: That’s tough. Maybe Deadpool, honestly. I think he’s a pretty fun character and I love reading his comics. He just comes to the top of my mind because I recently have been reading some Deadpool. But I love his humor, and honestly, when you read enough Deadpool comics, you can just mimic it and I feel like that would be really fun and put him in really strange situations.
Let’s hop back to The Marvels. As you talked about before, Kamala has a lot of people to rely on and it shows this emotional maturity that, say Carol or even Monica, can’t really get to. Could you tell me a little bit about how you portray that and what was most important to you in portraying her relationships to her family and friends especially?
Vellani: Kamala is very much the glue of the group in a lot of ways. She has so much more knowledge than them about superheroing. Even though she’s younger than all the rest of the characters, she’s still the most mature, still the most emotionally intelligent because she is such an observer. And I’m very glad for the way the movie is edited because it cuts back to Kamala just reacting and not speaking. There’s little moments where Monica slips up and calls Carol “Aunt Carol,” and you just have that one look from Kamala.
There’s a lot of moments like that and she realizes very quickly early on that she’s in between some really tense moments between Carol and Monica. They have years of history under their belt and yet she still doesn’t shy away from giving her opinion. She doesn’t shy away from making choices under pressure. A lot of the reason is because of her relationships, Kamala just feels like a character who understands what it is like to be human. She’s the epitome of humanity in my eyes. I think she’s the most human character in the MCU. I think she has so many relationships that ground her. I think her religion grounds her. The fact that she has both parents who are alive grounds her, and Carol just doesn’t have that.
I think that quality just makes her a natural born leader in a lot of ways, which is why I would be so excited to see something like the Young Avengers come to fruition. There’s so much that so many characters can learn from her, and Carol definitely takes a lot of that from Kamala. Kamala teaches them about teamwork and about partnership because she’s researched all this. She reads comics, she writes fan fiction, she’s listening to Scott Lang’s podcast. So she’s so involved in the superhero of it all that sometimes she forgets that her heroes are also adults and they have lives and they’re human too. Carol and Monica teach her more about adulthood, and she teaches them about leadership and about teamwork. So it’s a good balance.
The scene in Aladna, with all the bright colors and set pieces, kind of reminded me of a Bollywood musical. We’ve seen Kamala go through some Bollywood-like scenes in the comics, but would that be something you would like Kamala to do in the MCU too?
Vellani: I would like for Kamala to do it. I would not like to do it. They already had me dance twice in Ms. Marvel. I can’t move like that. No, I wish I could say I was the Madhuri Dixit of the MCU, but I’m really not. I don’t think I want to be. That seems like a lot, a lot of dance moves. But there are scenes from the comic where she is in Bollywood-esque numbers and stuff and I was like, “That would be fun for Kamala, if I’m thinking not selfishly.” I would love to see it. I’m a little scared of Bollywood. It feels very intimidating and a lot of pressure.
We have to talk about the end credit scene, it is groundbreaking for the MCU. Now that Kamala is already part of the X-Men in the comics, which member of the X-Men would you like to see her meet first?
Vellani: Wolverine. Wolverine any day. Personally, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is one of my favorite characters ever, but also her first mentor in the comics was Wolverine. I wanted to bring Wolverine back into this one. Hopefully, we can do that in the future. I think their interactions are so sweet and she brings out a different side of Logan and I love it when she just has all these superhero parents. It’s wonderful. He’s very protective over her and I think he’s also very real with her. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything and I think Kamala needs just a reality check sometimes.