Welcome to my favorite scene! In this series, IndieWire talks to the actors behind some of our favorite TV performances about their personal best moment on screen and how it came about.
After five months of filming “Ms. Marvel ”, Iman Vellani entered the set of her favorite scene for the first time.
The actress who made her debut as the protagonist of the series was deliberately excluded from the set of AvengerCon, the Avengers convention her character Kamala Khan attends in episode 1.
“The whole time it was built no one let me get on that set,” Vellani recalled in a Zoom with IndieWire. “They wanted me to see it the day we were shooting. Our directors Adil and Bilall were filming BTS footage of the whole show, and they have that whole moment on camera when I first saw it and I was blown away. It was so obviously made by nerds who love the universe so much, and that was me looking at it. It was the best set ever.”
AvengerCon is jam-packed with images and details flying into “Ms. Marvel” — but that’s part of how the scene pays homage to the lifeblood of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: its fans, including Vellani.
“The whole scene was really the heart of the show in a lot of ways because it was an homage to the whole fandom and we wanted to encourage and recognize the amount of work being a fan takes,” he said. “It’s a lot! You have to do cosplay and theories and fan art and break 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 all the Easter Eggs. It’s so validating when you understand an easter egg because all the work you’ve done as a fan, it all shows here.It was fun for me because I was shooting it on set and I can point out every single thing that was happening in the background, things that probably didn’t even made the cut but they made me so happy.
It’s also the scene where Kamala tries on her great-grandmother’s bracelet for the first time and experiences superpowers, bringing the MCU’s larger-than-life heroics into the room with her imaginary fans.
Vellani sat down with IndieWire to talk about attending AvengerCon as a budding superhero and fan, her favorite hidden gems of the scene, and how she fits into the arc of “Ms. Wonder.”
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’m very aware of what it’s supposed to be like, and I’ve always wanted to see one, so I had this very heightened version of what it was going to be like that was super over the top, and weirdly, that’s exactly what it ended up being.
Where did this fall into the shooting schedule?
The last thing we shot. We literally finished episode 6 and then went back to episode 1 just to film the AvengerCon scene because this set was finally done, and that was right before we left for Thailand to shoot episodes 4 and 5. It was weird to turn the 6 into the supersuit and then go back to the Captain Marvel cosplay costume, but honestly, immediately I was snapped back to the Kamala state of mind because we all turned into kids running around that set. The crew, the 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. He made filming so much fun.
Tell me about your favorite details you’ve seen or things people might have missed.
There are a lot of good books. I think there was one made by a former SHIELD employee or something, that was about his time in all those battles. There are some really, really great “things the Hulk punched” stuff, like a refrigerator with a huge punch in it. There’s… oh my god, Mr. Tree! I think it’s one of my favorite things. The MCU has expanded so much these last few years, but I think our show really brought a whole new perspective – and that era of fans, real-life civilians having to deal with the aftermath of these huge heroic battles. That’s another reason everything AvengerCon was so fun, because we were making stuff up on the spot, trying to figure out what the general public would actually know about these superheroes; like they know who Groot is? Probably not, but they know it looks like a tree, so that’s okay, it’s called Mr. Tree. That’s one of my favorite things – like Rocket too, obviously we don’t know his name is Rocket, so I think it is “trash pandas”. It’s just the smallest detail and it makes the world so much more real… It’s just such a new perspective on the MCU and very familiar because it’s the world we actually live in.
How did you prepare for that specific day?
I didn’t do any preparation. It was a ticket that was given to me, mostly because they didn’t let me see the set. I think the most important thing was to keep that very childlike innocence alive – and I don’t mean to belittle Kamala at all. Marvel is literally nothing without its fans and I have so much reverence for these comics and 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 shooting for so long that I was almost desensitized to everything at this point, but AvengerCon just rekindled a spark so quickly. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen “Iron Man” before, because that movie started it all and it’s my favorite. We just wanted to keep his fascination and his obsession with the Avengers alive, because it’s so real and so shared with real-life Marvel fans. The scene represents nerd culture and then Kamala represents all the fans at the time.
What do you think was the biggest challenge other than not seeing the set?
Just pay attention! It was a distracting set. I don’t remember having really had much difficulty. It’s also the first scene where Kamala gets her powers, so that was interesting because everything we established beforehand… we had to make sure we kept continuity. It really was like Kamala’s first time hearing the noor inside her body – it goes around her arms and they have this really cool show where she travels around her body – so it was a little tricky, because we wanted to feel like it was really activated from the bracelet, not from the bracelet. As for the physicality, there were a few things we had to play with, but other than that I just remember having the most fun in my entire life.
What was the funniest part of shooting this scene?
Many of our cast who weren’t in the actual scene still wanted to come to AvengerCon and film. Rish Shah who plays Kamran, Saagar (Shaikh) who plays Kamala’s elder brother were both dressed. They went to the costumes and wore costumes with masks; there’s like a cardboard box Iron-Man and Captain America floating around AvengerCon — those are our actors. So we had a lot of fun between takes for them as well. Then there’s a little montage in the beginning before all the drama unfolds where Bruno (Matt Lintz) and Kamala are just hanging out all over AvengerCon having fun, and they literally just film Matt and me having fun all over the place. AvengerCon. We were eating all the popcorn and trying all the things – none of it was scripted. We were literally just picking things up, trying them on, and the camera was just on us. That was probably the funniest moment, just that little montage where we had to play.
I tried to stop to see all those details but there are so many of them and they fly away.
I honestly think our directors are having so much fun too. I’ve never seen 30-year-old men act like five-year-olds before, but they probably shot a lot more takes than we needed. They really just wanted to capture every single angle of AvengerCon. The set was amazing.
Obviously this is the topic of our entire conversation, but what makes this your favorite scene?
I proved myself and I think that was the most important thing. I had so much imposter 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 across the audition. That’s how I felt, and I think AvengerCon was the first real moment where I thought, “I know my stuff. I Know I know my stuff. That scene… that’s it. He made me so happy and is one of our dearest memories on set as was the entire crew.
If you could go back and do it again – re-film the scene or attend AvengerCon again – what would you do? What would you change maybe?
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 did cosplay in high school, it was pretty convincing to see all those extras on set dressed in such – and I mean that very fondly – ridiculous clothes. There were household items on people’s bodies, but that’s why it was so amazing because it was homemade. If I had to do it again, I would really like more interaction with some of the extras because I want to highlight their costumes more. I don’t even know if everyone got to see all the amazing people we had on set, because I was constantly looking at everyone between takes, constantly distracted by Iron Mans and Black Panthers. Everything around us made AvengerCon that much more real and it all comes down to the extras. They did a great job too, and being just nerds their energy was really, really contagious.
“SM. Marvel” is now streaming on Disney+.