Iman Vellani Wasn’t Allowed to See the Set of Her Favorite ‘Ms. Marvel’ Scene
Welcome to My Favorite Scene! In this series, IndieWire speaks to actors behind a few of our favorite television performances about their personal-best onscreen moment and how it came together.
After five months of filming “Ms. Marvel,” Iman Vellani stepped onto the set of her favorite scene for the first time.
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The actor who made her debut leading the series was deliberately barred from the set of AvengerCon, the Avengers convention that her character Kamala Khan attends in Episode 1.
“The entire time it was being built no one let me step on that set,” Vellani recalled in a Zoom with IndieWire. “They wanted me to see it on the day we were filming. Our directors Adil and Bilall were filming BTS footage of the whole show, and they have that entire moment on camera when I saw it for the first time and I was blown away. It was so obviously made by nerds who love the universe so much, and that was me watching it. It was the greatest set ever.”
AvengerCon is packed to the brim with visuals and details that fly by in “Ms. Marvel” — but that’s part of how the scene pays tribute to the lifeblood of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Its fans, Vellani among them.
“This entire scene was really the heart of the show in a lot of ways, because it was an homage to the entire fandom and we wanted to encourage and acknowledge the amount of work that goes into being a fan,” she said. “It’s a lot! You’ve got to make cosplays, and the theories and the fan art and break down trailers frame-by-frame… for me as a fan my favorite thing to do in Marvel movies is literally sit and break them down and watch for all the Easter eggs. It’s so validating when you understand an Easter egg because all the work that you’ve put in as a fan, it all shows itself here. That was fun for me because I was filming it on set and I can point out every single thing that was happening in the background, things that probably didn’t even make the cut but just made me so happy.”
It’s also the scene where Kamala first tries on her great-grandmother’s bangle and experiences superpowers — bringing the larger-than-life heroism of the MCU into the room with its fictional fans.
Vellani sat down with IndieWire to talk about attending AvengerCon as a fan and budding superhero, her favorite hidden gems of the scene, and how it fits into the arc of “Ms. Marvel.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
IndieWire: What did you feel when you first read the scene on the page?
Iman Vellani: I was super excited. I’ve never been to a convention before. I’ve streamed them online, I am very much aware of what it should look like, and I’ve always wanted to go to one — so I had this very heightened version of what it was gonna look like that was super exaggerated, and funnily enough, it was exactly what it ended up being.
Where did this fall in the shoot schedule?
Last thing we shot. We literally finished Episode 6 and then went back all the way to Episode 1 just to film the AvengerCon scene because this set was finally ready, and it was right before we left for Thailand to film Episode 4 and 5. It was weird filming 6 in the supersuit and then going back into the Captain Marvel cosplay outfit, but honestly, immediately I was taken right back to where Kamala’s state of mind was because we all turned into little children running around that set. Crew, cast, everyone was constantly distracted filming that thing, because the longer you stare at the set, the more details you notice, the more Easter eggs you notice. It just made filming so much fun.
Tell me about any of your favorite details that you saw, or stuff people might have missed.
There’s a lot of cool books. I think there was one made by a former S.H.I.E.L.D. employee or something, talking about like his time in all those battles. There’s some really, really great “Things Hulk has punched,” like a refrigerator with a massive fist in it. There’s — oh my god, Mr. Tree! I think that’s one of my favorite things. The MCU has expanded so much in these last few years, but I think our show really brought a whole new perspective — and that was of the fans, of the real-life civilians who have to deal with the aftermath of these massive heroic battles. That’s another reason why everything about AvengerCon was so much fun, because we were making stuff up on the spot, figuring out what the general public actually would know about these superheroes; like do they know who Groot is? Probably not, but they know he looks like a tree so okay, his name is Mr. Tree. That’s one of my favorite things — like even Rocket, we don’t obviously know his name is Rocket so I think he’s “trash panda.” It’s just the greatest little detail and it makes the world just so much more real… It’s just such a new perspective of the MCU and a very familiar one because it’s the world we actually live in.
How did you prep for that specific day?
I did zero prep. That was a note I was given, mostly because they wouldn’t let me see the set. I think the biggest thing was keeping that very childlike innocence alive — and I don’t mean in a way to belittle Kamala at all. Marvel’s literally nothing without their fans and I hold so much reverence for these comic books and for the MCU, so going into filming and seeing AvengerCon I just wanted to make sure I remembered how much I loved the Marvel Universe. We’d been filming for so long I was kind of desensitized to everything at this point, but AvengerCon just reignited a spark so quickly. I’m pretty sure I rewatched “Iron Man” before, because that movie is the start of everything and it’s my favorite. We just wanted to keep her fascination and obsession with the Avengers really much alive, because it’s so real and so shared with real-life Marvel fans. The scene represents nerd culture and then Kamala is representing all the fans in that moment.
What did you feel was the biggest challenge beyond not having seen the set?
Just paying attention! It was a distracting set. I don’t remember really having a lot of difficulties. It is also the first scene where Kamala gets her powers, so that was interesting because everything we established earlier… we had to make sure we were keeping the continuity between that. This was really like the first time Kamala feels the noor within her body — it goes around her arms and they have this really cool show where it travels around her body — so that was kind of tricky, because we wanted to feel like it was actually activated by the bangle, not coming from the bangle. Physicality-wise there were some things that we had to play with, but other than that I really just remember having the most fun of my entire life.
What was the most fun part of doing this scene?
A lot of our cast members who weren’t in the actual scene wanted to still come to AvengerCon and film. Rish Shah, who plays Kamran, Saagar [Shaikh] who plays Kamala’s older brother, they were both dressed. They went to costumes and they got costumes with masks on; there’s like a cardboard box Iron-Man and Captain America floating around AvengerCon — those are our actors. So we just had a lot of fun in between takes for them too. Then there’s a little montage at the beginning before all the drama goes down where Bruno (Matt Lintz) and Kamala are just going around all of AvengerCon having fun, and they literally just film me and Matt going around all of AvengerCon having fun. We were eating all the popcorn and trying out all the stuff — none of that was scripted. We literally were just picking things up, trying them on, and the camera just happened to be on us. That was probably the most fun, just that little montage bit where we just got to play.
I tried pausing to see all those details, but there’s so many and they just they fly by.
I honestly think our directors are also having so much fun. I’ve never seen like 30-year-old men act like five-year-olds before, but they probably shot a lot more footage than we needed. They really just wanted to capture every single nook and cranny of AvengerCon. The set was amazing.
Obviously this is the theme of our whole conversation, but what makes this your favorite scene?
I proved myself to myself, and I think that was the most important thing. I had so much impostor syndrome when I got cast — I was like “Do they know I don’t know how to act? I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m just a fan who happened to stumble into the audition.” That’s how I felt and I think AvengerCon was the first real moment where I was like, “I know my stuff. I know I know my stuff.” That scene… it’s everything. It made me so happy and it’s one of our most cherished memories on set as an entire crew.
If you could go back and do it again — film the scene again or attend AvengerCon again — what would you do? What would you maybe change?
Whoa. I don’t know, I feel like it’s one of those really perfect scenes. Our costume designer Arjun Bhasin did an incredible job bringing those cosplays to life. As someone who cosplayed in high school, it was quite validating to see all those extras on set dressed up in such — and I mean this with a lot of endearment — ridiculous outfits. There were like household items on people’s bodies, but that’s why it was so amazing because it was homemade. If I had to redo it again, I would really like more interaction with like some of the extras because I want to highlight their costumes more. I don’t even know if everyone got to see all of the amazing people that we had on set, because constantly in between takes I just was eyeing everyone, constantly distracted by the Iron Mans and the Black Panthers. Everything around us just made AvengerCon so much more real and really it’s down to the extras. They did a wonderful job too, and just being nerds their energy was really, really infectious too.
“Ms. Marvel” is now streaming on Disney+.
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