Vital Thrills got a chance to talk to the Ms. Marvel cast and crew. The new Marvel Studios series, starring Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, is now streaming on Disney+.
“I mean, this is all very, very trippy,” said writer and producer Sana Amanat. “When Willow [character co-creator G. Willow Wilson] and I were crafting this comic about eight years ago, we joked about how we’re like, ‘Mm, this is not gonna get past issue nine.’ No one’s going to care. And, lo and behold, Kevin Feige cared, which is amazing, and, of course, the rest of the world.
Amanat continued: “The comic did really well. We had incredible runs. And I think what I love about it the most is that it had people from different backgrounds, people who never really read comics before showing up in comic shops for the first time because of what this meant and what it stood for. And I think that is really one of the merits of the success of this series. And a few years later, when Kevin let us know that he wanted to make this into a show, I was thrilled.”
Executive producer Kevin Feige explained why Kamala Khan is a great character to have on TV. “Why not, I say. I mean, honestly, Marvel – it’s such a privilege because not only are the re-interpretations every few years of existing wonderful characters, but every once in a while, and it does seem like every decade or so, there’s a new character that comes around that catches the audience’s imagination.”
“And this character clearly did that,” Feige added. “And as I said to some people on the red carpet last night, almost from the first few issues, people started asking us in environments like this when we were promoting other things, when is Kamala Khan coming? When is Ms. Marvel coming? So, it always seemed inevitable in a gray way that we would be able to do it. When Disney+ came around, it really gave us the opportunity to do what we really wanted to do, which was tell her full story in six episodes.
“And then have her transition into a feature. And as Sana said, I’m so proud of bringing new characters to the screen and not just telling re-interpretations of characters people have seen for decades and decades. And I think that’s important. I want people who’ve never even considered watching a Marvel Studios production before to be excited and watch this show and then go watch all the other ones.”
Iman Vellani got her casting forwarded from her aunt on WhatsApp. She talked about how this all came about. “February 2022, I got the WhatsApp forward. I thought it was a scam. I don’t know what casting calls look like. But they are not white pages that say, ‘Ms. Marvel’s Disney+ and headshot and resume here.’
“So, it turned out to be real. Yeah, I did it. I sent in a very academic resume, the one photo I had of myself. And they sent back the sides for the self-tape. I was like, I knew exactly which comic books they pulled them from. And I was like, okay, this is real. I can’t do it. I was like making excuses for myself out of fear of failure. And at, like, 3:00 a.m. the night it was due, I sent in my self-tape. I was like, my 10-year-old self is going to hate me if I don’t even try. And two days later, I got a call.”
Vellani continued: “They’re like, do you have a lawyer? We want to fly you to LA. And I was like, I have a math test, but okay. And next thing, I’m in LA with my dad. It was like the greatest trip of my life. And I was fangirling over Sarah Finn and Louis D’Esposito. And I wanted to take full advantage of being in that room because I didn’t know if it was going to happen again.
“And yeah, then the pandemic hit, and they sent me one email. And they were like, ‘Look, you’re very much in the running. We just gotta figure some stuff out on our side.’ And I was like, ‘I gotta figure out university on my side.’ Yeah, and then in June 2020, I sent in the last self-tape. Then, we did a screen test over Zoom. And I got cast on the last day of high school.”
Head writer and executive producer Bisha K. Ali joined over Zoom and spoke about the differences between the live-action and comic book versions of Ms. Marvel. “She’s live-action in the first instance. And I think it was an incredible process in the scene that felt like such a gift or the fact that Sana was involved in this project from now on.
“And having Sana around really felt like, okay, there are like borderlines of how we can do this and stay true to the character that’s in the comic books, and that’s on that on the pages and still add something new, add a freshness. Add vitality and a contemporary edge to what we’re going to see on screen. And I would say that everything…
Ali added: “I can’t speak for anybody else, but I will attempt in this one moment. Every single person involved in this project loves those comics deeply, personally, from their full hearts. And I think we’re all committed to that love. So, it wasn’t a case of throwing… I didn’t wake up and say, hey Kevin, I know, let’s throw out the powers. That was not my first pitch by any means.
“And that was really a group decision talking through how she’s going to exist in the MCU. How is she going to fit into this web of storytelling that Marvel Studios has done in live action for the last decade, and putting all those pieces together while staying true to this beautiful, incredible character that Sana and her team crafted over in their publishing side.”
Mohan Kapur plays Yusuf and talks about what this means for members of the South Asian and Muslim communities: “We’re talking about representation. 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 a fabulous opp because we certainly say this is the Marvel Universe telling a story about our milieu. And it’s so beautifully and so subliminally, you know, translated over scenes.
“You know, a small scene like you go to the mosque, you put your shoes over there, you come back, and the shoes are gone. That’s a real thing. That’s a real thing. You know? The process of entering a mosque, the festivals, the wedding ceremonies they’re just so beautiful. I know this for a fact from whatever little social media that I’m into, that side of the world, they just can’t wait to see this happen. This is us. This is us.”
Kapur continued: “Now, the fact that if Marvel could, you know, run this juggernaut, it’s a big thing for the rest of the world and the other production houses. To say, if they could do it, they knew what they were talking about, let us do it. And it’s going to be a rollercoaster from here on. Hopefully, for actors, writers, directors, and the entire caboodle to sit up and say, let’s do this.
“Let’s show their story and not show shout from the rooftops. This is not a political statement. This is a story of one family, one girl. But it’s so beautiful. It’s the story of a family in a land that’s not their own, but they’ve called it their home. And that’s beautiful.”
Matt Lintz, who plays Bruno, spoke about what was unfamiliar to him and how exciting it was joining the Ms. Marvel cast: “I mean overall, it was excitement. And you know, I was so curious about the culture and the religion and just everything about it. And going onto the show, I was just excited. And you know, I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are certain scenes where I was able to see the culture and how diverse and rich it is.
“And even the clothes, and just there’s so many things I’ve learned. And I feel like, coming off of season one, I’ve learned so much from all these beautiful people. And just to call them my friends and castmates is something that I will be forever grateful for.”
Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah directed episodes 1 and 6 and served as executive producers. El Arbi said, “We were kind of joking around and saying, ‘If you’re gonna do a Marvel show, it’s gonna have to be a Muslim character.’ Muslim superhero. Not knowing that it existed, actually. So that’s how we discovered Ms. Marvel and knew that they were going to do something about it. And we fell in love with Kamala Khan, with her world, her character.
“I mean, we are Moroccan Belgians, so when we were 15 and 16, we were also still looking for our identity, our place in the world. Are we Moroccan Muslims? Are we Belgians? And we felt related to the identity crisis of Kamala Khan. And then we met the great Kevin Feige, and we said, ‘Yo, we cannot not be part of that.’ So that’s how we convinced them. And, alhamdulillah, he gave us a great opportunity and chance to be part of this amazing project. Thank you.”
Fallah added, “Yeah, it was an honor, true honor to be part of the MCU; it’s a dream come true. It’s like the little kid comes outside. Sometimes we were like, yeah, really kids on the set that the producers were like, come here and direct.”
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy directed episodes 4 and 5 and talked about balancing the superhero and the teenage girl: “I think it was about letting the world into the secret that the South Asian culture is pretty freaking cool. Our food, our music, and the way the parent’s relationship with the kids is. I wanted to make it cool so that anybody watching it would be like, that was my argument with my mom when I wanted to go out, and she’s like, ‘There are going to be boys there. Stay home.’
“And you know, sort of make it such that anyone watching beyond, you know, the Muslim world, South Asian immigrant families watching could see a reflection of themselves on screen. And the superhero bit was just that I always believe that everyone has a superhero in them; they just have to activate it. And telling this story is going to change so much for so many people 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.”
Zenobia Shraff, who plays Muneeba Khan, said of her role: “I think Muneeba Khan is a real prototype of the South Asian mother, highly protective, very loving, kind, but very fierce. And will throw down when she has to. And I just think in terms of the family dynamic, Adil and Bilall, we all got there about three weeks before the shooting began, but it was very organic. We had a few rehearsals. I don’t think anything was forced or pushed. And we just sort of…
“Saagar and Mohan and I have been saying we have a baseline understanding of each other, and Iman because we were all born in South Asian households, whether these two were born in the Americas, we were raised in India. But we have a baseline understanding of each other, which is very deep. And based on that, I think we just quietly built it and built it. And then the writing, and it just, the yin and yang of it, you know, Muneeba became the yang; she’s definitely the yang.
“And Yusuf became the more loving, straightforward parent. And it just sort of evolved very organically. But what you’re seeing is not uncommon for many, many South Asian households. And I think we just created it very, very naturally. There was never a word exchange, ‘You do this or I do that.’ And Mohan and I, as Muneeba and Yusuf, I think, created that very naturally. Wouldn’t you say? Say yes.”
Saagar Shaikh, who plays her husband Aamir, responded, “Gee, Muneeba,” to laughter. He continued, “I mean, what’s an obvious saying, like just all of us being South Asian, you know, I feel like we come with this code… that we all just get. And so, you know, that’s just the foundation that we already had going into this.
“And so, there was a lot less explaining that needed to be done or a lot less learning about each other’s, you know, culture that we just didn’t need to do because it was already there. So, you know, we just kind of built on that, and it was a lot easier that way. You know? Because, yeah. I’m done talking.”
Meera Menon, who directed episodes 2 and 3, said about breaking stereotypes: “[I] was gifted the comics by a friend that was like, ‘This girl on the cover kinda looks like you.’ I’d never seen that before, and I think the power of that reflection to be able to see yourself in someone who has to then go on a journey to summon their own bravery and sense of self to save the world, not knowing whether or not brown girls from New Jersey are capable of doing that.
“Like, that is everything. It’s the whole, if you can see it, you can be it thing. So, it’s incredibly powerful. It’s possibly the most powerful thing we can do.”
Rish Shah plays Kamran and talked about getting the call to join the Ms. Marvel cast and all the Funko Pop! figures around him. “Oh my god, all my Funko pops that I’ve been collecting and arranged in my mom’s kitchen in, like, a specific, all the battle sequences over the years.
“Yeah, I was worried I was gonna freak Sana out, and I…” Amanat broke in with, “He hid some of them. He’s like, ‘Yeah, but there’s, like, more behind my computer. I felt embarrassed.”
Shah added, “Yeah, so obviously, I was freakin’ out. I mean the first toy I ever received from my dad was an Incredible Hulk action figure. So it really was something, yeah, like all of us have grown up with. So, to be able to play Kamran, I immediately…
“When I was at university, I used to go to the comic shop called Forbidden Planet in London, and I’d see the comics. And when I found out this was happening, I begged to get into the room, and so yeah, I was basically crying with tears when I found out.”
Jenna Busch has written and spoken about movies, TV, video games, and comics all over the Internet for over 15 years, co-hosted a series with Stan Lee, appeared on multiple episodes of “Tabletop,” written comic books, and is a contributing author for the 13 books in the “PsychGeeks” series including “Star Wars Psychology.” She founded the site Legion of Leia and hosted the “Legion” podcast.