The Pakistani-Canadian fan who became a superhero: Meet 'Ms Marvel' actor Iman Vellani

Express News Service

Marvel is back, and finally, with a series that feels closer to home for us. Ms Marvel, which premiered yesterday, follows the trials and tribulations of a 16-year-old Pakistani-American high school student from Jersey City who ends up with superpowers. With many references we can relate to, including Shah Rukh Khan films and parts of ‘Oh Nanbaa’ from Rajinikanth’s Lingaa getting used, the series is Marvel’s tentative look into the world of South Asian diaspora and is its first live-action content with a Muslim superhero.

Pakistani-Canadian Iman Vellani, who plays the titular role, thought the casting call was a scam. “I sent in a rather academic resume, and the casting call turned out to be real! As we began making progress, I started making excuses out of fear of failure. But I knew that my 10-year-old self would hate me if I didn’t give it a shot. Two days later, I got another call,” recounts Iman, who was in Toronto at the time. “I was asked whether I had a lawyer.

They wanted me to fly to LA, and I was like, ‘Uh, I have a math test!’ Next thing, I’m in LA with my dad. This was the greatest trip of my life, and I was fangirling over Sarah Finn and Lewis D-Esposito. Then the pandemic hit, and they sent me an email saying that they had to figure out some stuff and assured me I was still in the running. Meanwhile, I had to figure out my university on my side, and in June 2020, I sent in the last self-tape and then, we did a screen test over Zoom. They cast me when I was in the last day of high school.”

Iman was already a big fan of the Ms Marvel comics. “I’m so excited that people can finally see what I saw when I picked up those comics for the first time and fell in love with Kamala and her world. It’s truly a love letter to all MCU fans.” Iman says Ms Marvel is a different character when compared to other superheroes in her age group. “Ms Marvel understands fan culture on a cellular level, and this elevated the storytelling in a unique way. She’s a 16-year-old kid, with super-powers which we have seen before. But she’s also a fan of every other hero within the MCU canon.

“It feels like there is this new generation coming up.”Take an EXCLUSIVE look behind the scenes of #MsMarvel, our latest MCU obsession pic.twitter.com/e3NXyRycmP
— Twitter TV is watching Ms. Marvel (@TwitterTV) June 9, 2022
That fascination and excitement are reflective of real-life Marvel fans; so that’s why we relate to her. She reacts like we all would if we were to get such powers,” says Iman, who goes on to explain that the series doesn’t necessarily get too drawn into the cultural, religious aspects of her personality.

“I don’t think those were her main markers. They were part of her life, sure. She’s another normal girl who wakes up, goes to school, prays, and eats. We didn’t set out to make a show about a Pakistani Muslim; she is just an Avengers-loving, fanfic-writing dork, which also happens to be a Pakistani Muslim. We have balanced it all quite well”, Iman says as she signs off.

Ms. Marvel is now streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.