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'Ms. Marvel' Star Iman Vellani Got Cast on Her Last Day of High School

The Disney Plus show's cast and crew talk about bringing one of the Marvel's newest superstars into live-action and shining a spotlight on South Asian culture.

Sean Keane Former Senior Writer
Sean knows far too much about Marvel, DC and Star Wars, and poured this knowledge into recaps and explainers on CNET. He also worked on breaking news, with a passion for tech, video game and culture.
Expertise Culture, Video Games, Breaking News
Sean Keane
3 min read
Alone at a wedding, Kamala Khan shows her superpowered glowing fist.

Iman Vellani's Ms. Marvel arrives on Disney Plus this Wednesday.

Marvel Studios

Ms. Marvel star Iman Vellani makes her long-awaited Marvel Cinematic Universe debut when the colorful superhero show kicks off on Disney Plus on Wednesday, but the 19-year-old's journey to playing Kamala Khan started back in February 2020, with her aunt's forwarded WhatsApp message about a casting call.

Briefly thinking it was a scam, the comic book-savvy actor realized it was genuine when she got the script for a self-taped audition and recognized the issues it was pulled from.

"I was like 'OK, this is real. I can't do it.' I was making excuses for myself out of fear of failure," the Pakistani Canadian Vellani said during an energetic press conference on Friday. "At like 3 a.m. the night it was due, I sent in my self-tape. I just thought my 10-year-old self is gonna hate me if I don't even try. And two days later, I got a call."

After a trip to Los Angeles to meet casting director Sarah Finn and a brief delay after the pandemic began, Vellani did a screen test over Zoom and "got cast on the last day of high school."

Ms. Marvel No. 1 (2014)

Kamala's first comic series started in 2014.

Marvel Comics

Unlike 60-year-old icon Spider-Man or the 81-year-old Captain America, Kamala is one of Marvel's newer heroes. She first appeared in 2013 and made a huge splash after her solo comic series kicked off the following year and brought the Muslim superhero into the spotlight.

"This is all very trippy. I mean, when [writer G. Willow Wilson] and I were crafting this comic about eight years ago, we joked, 'This isn't not gonna get past issue nine, no one's gonna care,'" said Sana Amanat, Kamala's co-creator and a producer and writer on the show. "Lo and behold, [MCU producer] Kevin Feige cared, which is amazing, and of course the rest of the world -- the comic did really well. We've had incredible runs."

Since then, Kamala -- whose superhero alter-ego is derived from her idol Captain Marvel -- has shown up in animation and starred in a video game. The Disney Plus series is the character's first live-action appearance, though her comic book superstretchy polymorphic abilities have been swapped out for the ability to wield cosmic energy. Feige noted that a streaming TV series was the perfect way to introduce her to the MCU.

"Almost from the first few issues, people started asking us, 'When is Kamala Khan coming? When is Ms. Marvel coming?' When Disney Plus came around, it gave us the opportunity to do what we really wanted to do, to tell her full story in six episodes, and then have her transition into a feature [in 2023's The Marvels]," the producer said. "I'm so proud of bringing new characters to the screen and not just telling reinterpretations of characters people have seen for decades and decades."

The Khan family converse around the kitchen table in Ms. Marvel

Kamala's family play an essential role in her emotional journey.

Marvel Studios

Ms. Marvel also shines the spotlight on Kamala's Pakistani American family, much to the delight of Mohan Kapur, the Indian actor who plays patriarch Yusuf.

"It's a wonderful story of a community that's so ethnically diverse and culturally rich. And for me, coming from that region, I think it's fabulous because we suddenly see the Marvel universe telling a story about our milieu," he said during the press conference. 

"And it's so beautifully translated overseas. A small scene like you go to the mosque, you put your shoes in over there, you come back and the shoes are gone. That's a real thing. The process of entering a mosque, the festivals, the wedding ceremonies, they're just so beautiful."

Ms Marvel Kamala

The teen hero will don her iconic costume before her adventure is done.

Marvel Studios

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who directed the series' fourth and fifth episodes, echoed Kapur's sentiment.

"I think it was about letting the world into the secret that South Asian culture is pretty freakin' cool -- our food, our music, the parents' relationship with the kids," she said during the press conference. "And the superhero bit: I always believe that everyone has a superhero in them. They just have to activate it. Because I know I have two young girls that when they see Kamala Khan, they too will know that they can also be a superhero."

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