The Marvels Star Iman Vellani Talks Working With Kittens, Young Avengers & More [Exclusive Interview] 

"The Marvels" arrived in theaters last week, and the enthusiastic and delightful Iman Vellani couldn't be more relieved to finally be talking about it. After landing the lead role of Kamala Khan, who becomes the titular "Ms. Marvel" in the Marvel Studios TV series on Disney+, Vellani has brought youthful exuberance and excitement to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as she teams up with her superhero idol Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). But that's not all, because Carol's adoptive niece, Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), is also back and all grown up with superpowers after a strange incident in Marvel's "WandaVision," creating an occasionally tense but mostly entertaining dynamic between the three female heroes.

Following the conclusion of the Screen Actors Guild strike recently, I got the chance to speak with Iman Vellani about her first Marvel Studios movie. Vellani is every bit as delightful as her MCU alter ego, and there's just a warmth and positivity that naturally and genuinely radiates from her personality. We talked about the physical challenges of becoming a superhero in a big blockbuster movie, working with the cats and kittens who make up the Flerkens, delivering Nick Fury's famous Avengers speech, being blown away by the movie's mid-credits scene, and how "The Marvels" approaches the idea of hero worship. Speaking of heroes, who is Iman Vellani's personal Captain Marvel? Read our interview to find out below.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

'I think the most difficult scene would've actually been when I'm in the spacesuit talking to Nick Fury...'

I have to say, I'm so glad that the actors' strike ended and you were able to talk about this movie. Because after seeing how great you were in it, I was just like, "Man, it would be a total bummer if she doesn't get to talk about being in this movie," because you're fantastic in it.

I know! It's so cathartic for me to just let it all out now. I've been holding this movie in for almost three years, so it's a good release. I'll say that.

To begin with, I was curious, did you get time before production began to hang out with Brie and Teyonah in order to help develop your chemistry? Because that's such an integral part of this movie, the dynamic between you three.

So we shot the film in London, and I came to London two weeks after we wrapped "Ms. Marvel," so I did not really get a lot of downtime. But we did have our first outing altogether. It was like me, Brie, Nia, Teyonah, Lashana Lynch, [and] we all went to go see "Black Widow" together at the movies. Covid was just starting to get a little normalized. Yeah, so that was very cute. We also had the whole theater to ourselves. There weren't that many people in the crowd, and the Marvel flipping logo comes on at the beginning of the film, and all of us just started cheering. It was the cutest thing ever. Yeah, so we had little moments like that where we would finally find time to go out. We saw "Hamilton" together, did some karaoke. So, there were moments, but honestly, we were spending so much time at work hanging out together and strapped in harnesses together. Being in pain collectively — it's a bonding experience.

Speaking of that, what was the biggest challenge for you as far as Ms. Marvel's action sequences? How much did you partake in, as opposed to having a stunt double have to come in and take over?

I love doing everything that they let me do. My stunt double, her name's Pam [Forster], and she's amazing. When I first went for my first stunt session, they were like, "So you tell us what you can do." Because the show hadn't come out at this point, and I was just coming off of it. So I was literally teaching our stunt coordinator everything that Kamala can do, how she uses her powers. But I also wanted to level her up a bit with this film. We included a lot of parkour movements, if you notice; that's very fun. Pam is so good at parkour, so we did a lot of moments like that. I did all the wire work that they let me do.

So yeah, it was really just building a new version of Kamala for this movie. I think the most difficult scene would've actually been when I'm in the spacesuit talking to Nick Fury, and I bump into the window. That was a really heavy 40-pound spacesuit or something. I'm attached to six different wires. There was no air going into my spacesuit past my neck. So in between every single take, I have my makeup artist is shoving a fan down my chest, and everyone's trying to keep me cool. Then they flip me upside down, and the entire weight of the face suit is suddenly on my neck. And I'm screaming my dialogue for two minutes through Sam Jackson, who I'm already freaking out over. So, I was like, I'm straining. I'm talking, I'm yelling upside down in a very heavy suit, trying to also keep my body upright the way they want it. So, my core is involved and my neck is hurting, and I'm straining my voice, and I'm freaking out over talking to Sam. That was probably the most difficult.

'There's a longer version of the Aladna dance'

How do you feel about the way the movie introduces the idea of hero worship? It's kind of something that the Marvel movies haven't really dealt with before, kind of seeing that this hero of yours who is your idol is a flawed person. What was your take on that?

Yeah, I think all three of our characters have a very different idea of what being a hero looks like for Kamala. It's a very romanticized concept, right? She sees the Avenger — literally Earth's Mightiest Heroes, her favorite superheroes — Captain Marvel, who's like a cosmic lady fighting epic battles and outer space, and she's reading comics. She's listening to Ant-Man's podcast and listening to all these grand stories of what she wants to do and what she could possibly be capable of doing now that she has superpowers, too.

So Kamala's going into the teamwork with very high expectations. Because Kamala has had her powers for a while, she's kind of internalized what being a hero means and getting the opportunity to fight alongside very powerful individuals, one of them being her idol, and coming to realize that her idea of heroism doesn't quite match Carol's idea. It creates a very interesting dynamic between them. Honestly, Kamala ends up being kind of the glue of the group in a lot of ways. I think she becomes a secret leader, even. And Carol honestly has to learn a lot from Kamala, just from the way that she interacts with even the young Skrull girl, keeping her calm and being like, "Everything's going to be okay. Carol Danvers is going to take care of all this." So yeah, there's a lot of fun dynamics that we could play with.

Now, Marvel is always making last minute changes right up until movies are released. There's always re-shoots, stuff like that is built into the production schedule. Was there anything that sticks out in your mind that was disappointing to see get scrapped or cut in the editing room?

There's a longer version of the Aladna dance. I am a musical theater nerd, and I loved it. They sent me the song, and it's so good. Then we had a week or two of filming the Aladna scene, when Carol and Monica and Kamala arrived for the first time, and they started bringing on the song. That thing goes for a couple minutes, and it's a long take that our incredible camera operator [...] Simon, he's amazing. Literally, at one point, he's like walking backwards, and then they put him into a harness, and now he's doing an aerial shot of this entire dance sequence. I wish they would release the full version of the dance.

Yeah, I hope they put it out on the Blu-ray or something.

Yeah, I think they will. I mean, I hope they will.

So are you singing and dancing in it?

I'm just doing what Kamala is doing, but there's just so much more. The song is also so well-written. It's so quirky and I love it. I love to see it.

'I still have scars on my wrist. He's my mortal enemy'

I wanted to talk about the Flerkens, because there are obviously so many of them this time. How many real kittens were there on set? Was it ever chaotic or did they actually make most of them digital?

We had a lot of real kittens on set. For the main Flerken in Goose, Brie's allergic. I don't know if she likes cats. I don't think she really worked with the cat. I was very excited to work with the cat. His name was Tango, and the minute they handed him to me, I think he was so overwhelmed with the environment, and we called action, and my suit is so shiny, and he just clawed me, clawed my suit. I still have scars on my wrist. He's my mortal enemy.

Then after that, I didn't get to work with a cat, either. It was just like a green plushy.

Oh, bummer!

But the Flerkittens, I met one Flerkitten, his name was Snuggles. It was like six months old. The cutest thing I've ever been handed to in my entire life. It was so small and so fluffy. So we had a lot of kittens and they were very, very, very well-behaved. Mohan [Kapur], who plays Kamala's dad Yusuf, is the biggest cat guy. There's so many photos of him just going into a corner in between takes and caressing the cats, and everyone's just like, "He's in his happy place." It was very cute.

I love that. That's adorable. So you get a great scene here at the end of the movie, that final scene where you get to do your own version of Nick Fury's Avengers scene, which is awesome. Was it always going to be Kate Bishop that you had the scene with, or were there different versions that involved other Marvel characters that could potentially be part of Young Avengers or anything like that?

There was another version where — does matter if I say it? There were more characters in it. I will not say which characters, but there were more characters. But that was way before we did additional photography. We knew we were going to get that scene. It was the last thing we ever shot on this film during additional photography. And so yeah, it changed a couple times. And I think what it ended up being, I think just Kamala and Kate Bishop is honestly perfect. They are so compatible. Hailee [Steinfeld] and I got along so well. She's such a fun human to talk to. And honestly, our back and forth, our banter was really funny, and I wish they kept some of that in there because that scene just kept going, Hailee and I just kept bouncing off of each other. So, I would be very excited if I ever got to work with her on a legitimate movie after this. So yeah, it's very exciting and I'm so honored that I get to be the one to bring this entire group together.

Did you already know Nick Fury's "Iron Man" speech by heart before getting that scene?

Absolutely. I did rewatch "Iron Man" right before I shot the film. I rewatch "Iron Man" every chance I get. Any big thing that happens in my life. Oh, I got cast, rewatch "Iron Man." Oh, first day of filming the movie, rewatch "Iron Man." Oh, I did a big action scene today, rewatch "Iron Man." That's now any excuse to rewatch "Iron Man," I'll take it.

Of course. 

'I saw the scene, and I literally had a heart attack on my bed'
Marvel Studios
What was your reaction to the mid-credits scene? Did you know that was happening before you saw it? Because I know, obviously, you're a big Marvel fan, so what was going through your mind when you saw what happened?

I read the script, but they wrote a different name. It wasn't Beast, so I didn't know they were filming that. I know he's like CG or whatever, so I don't know actually who was there on set. But yeah, I thought they were filming something else. Then I only saw the final cut of this film last month. I saw the scene, and I literally had a heart attack on my bed. I texted Nia and Mary [Livanos], our producer, immediately. I was like, "How could you keep this from me? I was here the whole time." Honestly, I'm glad I could have experienced that scene as a fan, and it wasn't spoiled for me. But yeah, I'm so excited to see where that ends up going. And Beast is one of my favorite characters.

Yeah, the X-Men stuff is going to be really compelling to see how it plays out. Now for Kamala's story, would you prefer to see maybe her story continue just on the big screen and have her be part of this ensemble in the MCU? Or is there the hope that there'll be a second season of "Ms. Marvel" that gets her back home and maybe a little bit smaller scale?

Yeah, I would love for a second season. Not only Kamala has so much story left to tell, but [in] her community, I think we've established a lot of wonderful characters. Her best friends, Bruno, Nakia, Zoe, her school, her religious community, her family. I know people really responded to the Khan family very well from the movie. So I just want to explore more of that. I want to see Kamala grow up a little bit. I want to see her go to college, have a prom. Honestly, I'm living vicariously through this character. So every experience that I did not get because of the pandemic, I want her to get it, so I can have a prom and have a graduation. But yes, I want that slice of life to be more like Disney+ in a TV show format. Then I think it would be cool to have a Young Avengers type thing — team up, big spectacle, obviously in a movie, yeah, that would be ideal. Hopefully people can start a petition or something to get them going.

'I think I'll implode'

For Kamala, Captain Marvel is her idol. That's her big hero, but who is your real life idol? Who do you stan as hard as Kamala stands captain Marvel?

Robert Downey Jr.

Of course.

I love RDJ. Who else? I've been very good about not putting celebrities on a pedestal, because they are humans just like everyone else. But I don't want to do that to Robert Downey Jr. I need someone to fangirl over. I need to put that energy somewhere, so I'll go crazy if I bring him down from God level.

So have you not gotten a chance to meet Robert Downey Jr. at all in all of this Marvel business?

No. I know Kevin [Feige] really wants it to happen. I think I'll implode.

I hope that happens for you. That would be amazing.

For you, maybe. My mind is not going to be able to process any of it.

I don't want this to sound braggadocious, but I did get a chance to meet him on the set of "Captain America: Civil War," and it is –

Is he just the best?

He is. He's just insanely cool. He's exactly as cool as you want him to be, and he knows exactly what he's doing, especially when trying to get him to answer questions and reveal secrets. He knows all the tricks.

He's good, he's good. Yeah.

'I would like to see improvement within the fandom'

Now, I know you love the MCU, but I was curious, is there an aspect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that maybe you think needs improvement right now? Obviously, fans have all sorts of opinions, and so I'm wondering what you think about that.

I think a lot of things. I think not necessarily within Marvel — I think Marvel is very good about, they know where they go wrong, and they know how to fix it. It takes time to get there. I would like to see improvement within the fandom. I think people need to be a little more positive. These fandoms, the whole point of them is so that people who are passionate about these nerdy things, they can talk about it without being judged and can share their excitement with the only other people in the entire world who will reciprocate. So, it would just be like Marvel, they're growing and they're adjusting to the times, they're listening and responding to the fans' criticisms and feedback. So I think people just need to be a little patient, and let them cook. I think keep the fandom positive in the meantime, share what you are enjoying.

Don't force-feed doom postings to everyone, because it's a lot to handle. Already the world is so going through a lot, Hollywood's going through a lot, Marvel's going through a lot. So it's just sad when fans throw wet blankets on anyone who's just trying to share their passion, their excitement, and love for these movies. At the end of the day, it's the movies that are made for people to escape real life, not the making of the movies. Who cares about how these movies are made? There's so many horror stories. Have you even read what happened on "Wizard of Oz"? Just like, people, live your life, and then when you're ready for a little break, go see "The Marvels."

Perfect. I love it. Well, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me, Iman. Thank you so much. You're so much fun in "The Marvels," and I can't wait to see more of you in the MCU and hopefully elsewhere, too.

Thank you so much. This was great.

"The Marvels" is in theaters everywhere now.

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