[This story contains spoilers for The Marvels.]
If you’ve kept tabs on the conversation surrounding The Marvels, then you’ve likely noticed that Iman Vellani’s Kamala “Ms. Marvel” Khan is unanimously considered to be the scene-stealer of Nia DaCosta’s superhero team-up pic. Vellani picked up where she last left off on her Ms. Marvel Disney+ series, which is also generally regarded as one of Marvel Studios’ best outings on the streamer. Much of Kamala’s journey parallels Vellani’s own MCU experience, as both went from leading typical teenage lives to becoming superheroes overnight.
In The Marvels, Kamala can’t get over the fact that she’s fighting alongside her idol, Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), but along the way, she recognizes Carol’s flaws and learns a valuable lesson that Vellani has also learned during her MCU tenure.
“She’s not going to put people on a pedestal as much [moving forward]. Kamala and I are on a very similar journey. I’ve gotten a lot better at not holding celebrities to the highest standard possible. They’re still human,” Vellani tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Vellani was already riding high on being the MCU’s first mutant, but then the feeling became amplified when she learned that she’d be taking a page out of Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) Iron Man playbook. The Marvels ends with Kamala recruiting Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop for the Young Avengers.
“There was a version of this in an old script, but we never shot it. And then there were rumors that we were going to get to it in additional photography, but with a different young Avenger,” Vellani says. “So I never really got the script until right before additional photography and then I flipped out. I immediately rewatched Iron Man and texted Nia in all caps. I was like, ‘I cannot believe the honor that I am getting right now. This is crazy!’”
Vellani hopes that the goodwill she’s earned from The Marvels will motivate Marvel leadership to green light a season two of Ms. Marvel. She’s even giving Marvel boss Kevin Feige a break from her emails and corrections if it means improving the odds.
“I’m trying not to give him a hard time right now until I get [Ms. Marvel] season two, and then maybe I’ll email him another 72 questions,” Vellani says. “Yeah, I’m taking it easy. If he says the MCU is [Earth-] 616, I’ll let him believe that.”
Below, during a recent spoiler conversation with THR, Vellani also discusses the mid-credit scene’s surprise cameo that she believed was going to feature someone else.
Well, the consensus is that you stole The Marvels, and it would’ve been a real shame if you didn’t get a chance to talk about it. Have you been pretty anxious these last few months as you wondered whether you’d get to support your work?
Extremely. This movie has spanned almost two-and-a-half years, three years. I went on it as soon as I finished Ms. Marvel; I had maybe a week in between. So it doesn’t feel like it exists unless I talk about it and I’m able to share my excitement with other people. I had so much fun making it, and I just want to share that with everyone. And hopefully, that comes across on the screen as well.
Were there any silver linings to the strike? Did you get to do anything you’d been putting off the last few years because of how busy you’ve been playing Ms. Marvel? Did you clean out your closet or finish your novel?
I’ve been writing a comic book! Thank you for setting me up there. (Laughs.) I’ve been writing a comic book for Marvel Comics, which is a dream come true. It’s a Ms. Marvel comic, and I cannot believe they’re actually giving me the handle on it and letting me write whatever story I want. I have an amazing co-writer, Sabir Pirzada, who also worked on our TV show. So I already have a relationship with him, and he knows the character’s vibe. It’s been the greatest experience, and honestly, my time has been passing very, very well.
Did you feel even more comfortable in the role by the time you got to The Marvels? You’d already been playing her for a while at that point.
Yeah, I felt like I was already in it. We came off the show, and then the first scene that we filmed in The Marvels was a Khan family scene. So I was already familiar with the cast, and it was the same set they had brought and made. So it was already a very comfortable vibe. The only thing I really had to get over was working with Sam Jackson. That was also during the first week, and it was kind of crazy. Saagar Shaikh, who plays my older brother, and I, we were just making eyes at each other anytime Sam Jackson would make any move. It was like, “Did you see that!?”
Did Sam try to disarm you at all?
Yes, but I was so in a state of utter shock that he exists beyond a 16:9 frame. It was so weird to see him in real life and to see his legs and how tall he is and his swagger when he walks. It was very, very weird. When he came onto set for the first time, he said hi to everyone and shook their hands, and I hid behind Nia, our director. I was way too freaked out. So she was wrestling with me to try to get me in front of her, and then Sam came around to me and just gave me the biggest bear hug that I’ve ever experienced in my life. It was so warm and welcoming. So, after that, I was pretty okay, but in all the scenes with Sam, you’ll notice that I’m talking much quieter. I was just like, “I’m treading lightly here. I don’t want to disrupt this man’s process or anything.” (Laughs.) But he’s very easy to work with and he loves Nick Fury so much. It was wonderful.
I still think it’s so interesting that you and Brie Larson both played your roles twice before the public saw either performance. Did the two of you talk about that common experience at all?
We would talk about it, but we mostly bonded over the super suit. The big clunky Captain Marvel suit that she wears in the movie, I had to wear it on the TV show, so she was like, “Oh my God, finally, someone understands.” There’s so many pieces involved and so many straps and everything. But Brie was a very important part of my journey at the beginning because she really helped me with the imposter syndrome that I was dealing with at the time. She went from indie films to the insane amount of limelight that you get with Marvel Studios, and I went from nothing to that. So we had a lot of Zoom calls, just venting, and she really did ease my nerves. I always go back to those conversations; they ground me. It reminds me why we do the work that we do and why it’s important. It’s much greater than us. It’s about the fans and the young girls who are going to watch this, and all the pressure suddenly becomes worth it.
The dynamic between the three of you is the best part of the movie. Did the real-life dynamic between the three of you mirror what was happening on camera? Did the three of you get closer as they got closer?
Yeah, we had a couple team building exercises. The first week that we got to London, we all got together and watched Black Widow in the theater. So that was my first time meeting Teyonah [Parris], and it was so sweet. Everyone was very protective over me being the youngest, but I also knew way more than them about their own characters. (Laughs.) So the tables turned when they needed help with something. They’d be like, “I don’t understand this scene. What’s the lore behind it? What’s actually going on? Are we punching a moon back into orbit? What?” Each character has such a different idea of what being a hero is like, much like in real life. Teyonah also has a different approach to acting in these superhero films than Brie and I do.
So, for Kamala, it’s this romanticized idea. She sees the Avengers as Earth’s mightiest heroes. She sees Captain Marvel as this cosmic lady fighting battles in space with her cat. It’s so cool. And she listens to Ant-Man’s podcast and reads his book, and then she reads comics and writes her own fanfic. So Kamala went into this teamwork with really high expectations, and it was so much like me. I was like, “We are going to be blood sisters by the end of this. Everyone’s getting a tattoo together.” (Laughs.) It didn’t go that far, but we did get very close. We text all the time.
How complicated was the fight choreography where the three of you switch places? Did it take a lot of patience?
Patience is the right word. A lot of very smart people figured out when and where we should stand and the last positions we should be in. So our stunt team was amazing, and they helped make our fight scenes so engaging and fun. I genuinely believe our fight scenes are some of the best we’ve seen, and it was hard because we would have to do each thing three times. “Okay, this whole take is going to be Brie standing here, [Iman] standing here and Teyonah standing there.” And for the next take, we switched, and we’d do the whole scene again with us standing in different spots. Each scene was then repeated multiple times, but it got easier as we did it. So it was a lot to keep track of in my mind, and I don’t even know how our editors did it.
When I spoke to you for the show, you told me how they put an Iron Man cologne bust in Kamala’s room as a tribute to your own Iron Man shrine. Well, I went back and scoured your room on the show, and I couldn’t find it.
You couldn’t find it!?
I checked a couple times, in fact, but I immediately noticed the Iron Man bust in The Marvels’ version of her room. Is it possible you mixed up the two different bedroom sets since you shot back to back?
(Laughs.) It is not possible! It is definitely there, somewhere, in the show. Before we even started filming Ms. Marvel, we had table reads on the stages where we were going to film. So the producers gave me a tour of her bedroom, and it was on the table. So I called my dad immediately and I was like, “See! The horrible cologne that you got me paid off!” So it’s there, somewhere.
Kamala kept trying to give Monica a code name. Were you rooting for one in particular?
There are some random ones that did not make the cut, but Night Light was one that I really liked. I think we used that on Ms. Marvel as well, so Kamala recycling some of the code names that she didn’t want and trying to give them to Monica was pretty funny to me.
What’s so charming about Kamala is that she’s an MCU fangirl like you are, but she learns a lesson in this movie to let her idols be human. How do you think this’ll affect her moving forward?
Well, I do think that she’s not going to put people on a pedestal as much. Kamala and I are on a very similar journey. I’ve gotten a lot better at not holding celebrities to the highest standard possible. They’re still human. They still put on pants just like we do. So I think Kamala is going through the same thing of just humanizing the people that she loves and realizing that they’re not picture perfect, Carol especially. She’s not a good leader. Carol has gone through a lot of trauma, and she’s been conditioned to suppress her emotions. She doesn’t understand how to fully be vulnerable in front of other people and in front of a team. Whereas Kamala, this is all she’s ever wanted. She wants a team, and she’s ready for this. So she really is the most emotionally intelligent and mature out of the three Marvels, and she can read people really well. A lot of the other characters can honestly learn quite a bit from her.
Well, you had your Nick Fury in Iron Man moment as Kamala Khan recruits Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) to start assembling the Young Avengers. Cassie Lang (Kathryn Newton) seems to be next on her list as well. When did you first hear about this?
There was a version of this in an old script, but we never shot it. And then there were rumors that we were going to get to it in additional photography, but with a different young Avenger. So I never really got the script until right before additional photography and then I flipped out. I immediately rewatched Iron Man and texted Nia in all caps. I was like, “I cannot believe the honor that I am getting right now. This is crazy!” I did not need to rewatch that entire movie, but it didn’t hurt. So I was giddy the entire time. All of us were freaking out. It was also the last scene we shot for the movie, and it is the last scene of the movie.
It sounds like you were bursting at the seams.
Yeah, I couldn’t keep it together. During all of our rehearsals, I was like, “I feel so cool right now in my baseball cap,” and that trench coat was so cool. I then met Hailee for the first time, and it was a dream. Suddenly, it felt like I was a part of something much bigger.
Marvel always uses nondescript baseball caps to disguise their superheroes, and it’s always good for a laugh.
That was definitely intentional!
But that’s cool that you got to work with Hailee. Sometimes, cameos are shot separately and pieced together since schedules are impossible to align.
Yeah, she flew over to London, and I hung out with her dogs [Martini and Brando]. It was pretty cool.
So the Khan family home is destroyed during the fight with those Kree warriors, and I initially thought that they were the ones moving into the Rambeau house in Louisiana. But they were just helping Carol move in …
Yeah, the Khan family is going to have to get insurance involved to fix their own home.
Nick Fury should pick up the tab.
Yeah, Nick Fury’s got it.
So the mid-credit scene …
They shot the mid-credit scene during principal [photography]. They shot it earlier, so they knew what they were doing. But I thought it was going to be something else. I did not realize Beast [Kelsey Grammer] was in it. I knew they shot it, but I was expecting to see something else. And lo and behold, they kept the secret even from me. I literally jumped and had a heart attack on my bed when I watched it for the first time. I literally texted every single person we worked with, and I was like, “How could you keep this from me?” But at least I got to experience it as a fan, which was so cool. I’m just so excited to see what they do with that in the future.
We found out at the end of Ms. Marvel that Kamala has the mutant gene. Was that another late-stage change to her origin, or did they tip you off ahead of time?
That was sort of a late surprise. We did do that in additional photography, but I think they were just waiting on the go-ahead to be able to film it. Even when we were filming it, we didn’t know if it was going to make the cut at the end of the day. So I was praying. I emailed Kevin and I was like, “This needs to be real,” because what an honor it is to be called the first mutant in the MCU. It’s just so cool.
But I do wonder if they chose to go with the X-Men-related mid-credit scene in The Marvels because of Kamala’s mutant gene. Maybe there’s a long game being played there.
Yeah, I think they’re connecting a lot of things. They’re sprinkling in the mutants here and there. We saw [Charles Xavier] in Multiverse of Madness. So I honestly am not privy to what they’re doing with the X-Men and how they’re going to incorporate them, but it is extremely cool and a really big flex to have one in our own movie. Well, two, if you count me.
Were you around to meet Tessa Thompson when she came to The Marvels’ set for her cameo?
Yes, that woman exudes cool. I honestly can’t remember what we talked about because I couldn’t get over how much swagger she carries herself with.
Was Kamala always going to be the one to coin The Marvels team name? Or was the singing planet going to be the first to say it, originally?
If anyone was going to name the team, it had to be the fanfic writing nerd! The guy on Aladna who sang the name definitely validated Kamala in so many ways. But yes, Kamala was always the first to say it, and there are a thousand versions of that line left on the cutting room floor. I had way too much fun doing the honors.
We all loved when you took Kevin Feige to task over the MCU’s Earth-616 designation. Have you had the chance to give him a hard time about anything else since then?
I’m trying not to give him a hard time right now until I get [Ms. Marvel] season two, and then maybe I’ll email him another 72 questions. Yeah, I’m taking it easy. If he says the MCU is [Earth-] 616, I’ll let him believe that.
Are you optimistic about a Ms. Marvel season two?
I am patient, and honestly, I hope all the love that Kamala is getting from this movie inspires people to be more vocal about wanting a season two. I would absolutely love to continue this story, and Kamala and her entire community has so much story left to tell. I want to see Bruno [Matt Lintz] again. I want to see Nakia [Yasmeen Fletcher] again, and that’s just me. So it would be really amazing to have a season two, and there’s so many different directions we can go with it.
Decades from now, when you look back on the making of The Marvels, what day will you likely recall first?
Ooh, I celebrated my birthday on set. I’m an August baby, so I normally don’t have large groups of people singing me “Happy Birthday.” I didn’t have school [in August], so it would just be my family. But it was an insane day, because we had Brie, Sam, Nia, Teyonah, the entire Khan family, the cat and Kevin, who came to visit. So I had all of my favorite people in one room, singing me “Happy Birthday.” They were filming the first fight scene in the Khan family home, and everyone just took a break before lunch to have cake in the backyard of the set. It was the cutest thing ever. I even got to ask Sam a bunch of questions since he was finally sitting down and eating cake, all happy. Yeah, it was a great day.
The Marvels is now playing in movie theaters. This interview was edited for length and clarity.