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A lifelong admirer of comic-book heroes, Ontario's Iman Vellani gets to play one in Marvel's latest event series
In the category of newbie actors who land a role they’ve coveted all their life, we present for your consideration: Iman Vellani.
Indeed, the 19-year-old Toronto-area native and diehard Marvel Comics fan answered a WhatsApp casting call and subsequently landed the title role in Ms. Marvel. To say she’s beyond excited would be an understatement.
Disney+“Ms. Marvel is one of my favourite characters for the longest time,” she gushes. “In high school, I dressed up as her, I talked about her obsessively. And this casting call comes through WhatsApp, which is hilarious because my aunt opened a group chat that she never opens and someone had forwarded it. But yeah, it’s all history now.”
In the series, which begins streaming the first of its six episodes on Wednesday, Vellani stars as Kamala Khan, a Muslim-American teen growing up in New Jersey. She has a passion for gaming and superheroes, and an oversized imagination—especially when it comes to Captain Marvel (played by Brie Larson in the Marvel films). But Kamala feels like she doesn’t fit in at school or at home—that is, until she develops superpowers of her own that are not unlike those of the heroes she admires. Now, as Ms. Marvel, she has another set of problems, not the least of which is learning how to control her spectacular yet volatile abilities.
Taking on such an iconic character—and Marvel’s first Muslim hero to hit the screen—might seem like a daunting task for an inexperienced actress, but Vellani says the support of the production team and her familiarity with the comics helped a lot.
“I knew the character like the back of my hand,” she explains. “I lived her life and I felt so much of Kamala in my regular day-to-day that I didn’t [worry about it]. I knew the Marvel Universe so well and I knew the character so well, so I just had to trust that side.”
Disney+What’s more, she received excellent direction on how to embody this hero.
“During my entire audition process, [casting director] Sarah Finn [said], ‘Don’t try. Don’t do anything. We want Iman. Just play Iman Vellani.’ And that’s great because I just have to be myself. But also what does that mean for a 17-year-old? Like, I’m still growing and I’m still changing, so I just wanted to make sure that I was bringing the same energy that I brought to the auditions… I had so much support going into this that even when I did doubt myself, I had a good amount of people around me to just kind of say, ‘It’s OK, you’re on the right track.’”
For her part, executive producer Sana Amanat thinks Vellani was the obvious choice to bring this particular icon to life.
“There’s something very soulful about [Iman],” Amanat explains, “like she has an understanding beyond her years, which is something I’ve always loved about Kamala, too. Even as Kamala is trying to understand the world around her, she’s still teaching us so much. That’s how I feel about Iman.”
Ms. Marvel premieres Wednesday, June 8th on Disney+