EXCLUSIVE! Prepare to geek out for Iman Vellani
The 19-year-old Canadian actress is leading the next wave of MCU as Ms. Marvel, the first Muslim hero in the Marvel universe.
Every hero has an origin story. For some, that defining moment involves a radioactive spider bite, top-secret government experiment or even a blast of mysterious alien energy. For Iman Vellani, it was an out-of-the-ordinary message on WhatsApp.
"I got cast literally on the last day of high school," Iman explains of her overnight journey from totally normal person to Marvel leading lady. "My aunt sent me the casting call through a WhatsApp forward that she got. It was, like, super sketchy, but I did it anyway—and it worked out. I was a huge fan of the Ms. Marvel comics growing up, so I still can't wrap my head around it."
Actually, Iman isn't just an admirer of the Ms. Marvel comics; she's an unapologetic fangirl of the entire MCU. But don't worry, because being a superhero stan doesn't make it harder to play Kamala Khan, the teen who gets powers and becomes Ms. Marvel. In fact, it probably helped land Iman the part, because one of Ms. Marvel's defining traits is her own fandom fervor—most of which is directed at Captain Marvel (aka Carol Danvers).
"Kamala and I are essentially the same person, except she's obsessed with Carol Danvers, and my Carol Danvers is Tony Stark," Iman explains of her own Marvel fave. (She says she even has an Iron Man shrine in her room and celebrated being cast as Kamala by rewatching the OG movie.)
Kamala Khan is a relatively new hero (she made her comic debut in 2013), but her introduction immediately made an impact—especially on fans like Iman, who had never seen a Marvel comic character who looked like her before. Iman says bringing the character to life is a privilege...but it doesn't come without some pressure.
"I feel so honored that Marvel trusts me with this character," she says. "The whole reason I got into the comics was because I saw a girl like me—a Muslim, a Pakistani and a superhero fanatic. Until then, I didn't think a story like that was possible. The fact that a company as big as Marvel is making space for a character like Kamala is going to open so many new doors in this industry."
Iman undoubtedly takes the responsibility of playing Ms. Marvel seriously. But that has in no way quieted her fangirl vibes. (She doesn't hide them at all when she's talking to, you know, the execs in charge of all things Marvel or some of her shiny new costars who've starred in her fave movies.)
"On set, I'm the exact same," she explains. "People actually come up to me as their Marvel encyclopedia now. When they don't really know something about their own characters, I get to give them a lesson, which is very funny."
And, like any self-respecting fangirl suddenly given access to the Keepers of the Spoilers, Iman takes full advantage of any opportunity to mine for Marvel intel.
"Kevin Fiege [president of Marvel Studios] will be on set, and I'm just begging him to show me some new content," she says. "Before Spider-Man: No Way Home came out, I was like, 'Just tell me—are there three Spider-Mans in the movie?' And he was like, 'I don't know...but I am going to show my kids The Amazing Spider-Man tonight.' So he'll give me a tip like that, and it's just so annoying as a fan to be *this* close to getting answers!"
Considering the big plans Disney and Marvel Studios already have for Ms. Marvel's future though, something tells us Iman's going to be spending a lot more time giving cryptic answers and dodging spoiler-seekers herself v. soon.
Catch Iman in Ms. Marvel, premiering today on Disney+!
Slider and top image: Irvin Rivera