What You Don't Know About Iman Vellani

Iman Vellani found out that Marvel was casting for a television version of "Ms. Marvel" via the oddest of sources: her auntie's string of text messages forwarded via WhatsApp. While she wasn't sure if the casting call was legit, her curiosity was piqued: Vellani is a long-time fan of the character and her comic books and felt she had to jump at the opportunity to play Kamala Khan (via Elite Daily).

Vellani and Khan share a lot of similarities. Both are Muslim and Southeast Asian, have strong ties to their family members, and are proud of their ancestry and culture (per USA Today). Vellani was born in Pakistan but spent most of her life in Canada and has happily celebrated her roots in both countries. 

Vellani didn't have much acting experience before landing the role, but Marvel was interested in her quickly. Fast forward two years later, "Ms. Marvel" debuted on Disney+, and Vellani's star is only rising.

Iman Vellani was born in Pakistan

"Ms. Marvel" star Iman Vellani was born in Karachi, Pakistan, but as Elite Daily notes, she and her family moved to Markham, Ontario, when she was only a year old. While Vellani is proud of the country she was born in, she admits that she hasn't visited frequently ⁠— and the one time she did go, things didn't go well for her. She said, "I went [to Pakistan] once when I was 5 for a wedding and all I remember is getting food poisoning, so not the best trip."

Despite that, Vellani is connected to her roots. Ahead of her debut as Ms. Marvel, Vellani told Variety that she feels that being on the television show in the first place means a lot to other people, especially those of Pakistani ancestry. She explained to the publication, "The fact that the show is being made and they're including this character in the MCU is [what's important]. I don't really have to go out of my way and talk about being a Muslim and being Pakistani — it all comes out in the show."

Iman Vellani was obsessed with comics as a teen

Iman Vellani is admittedly a major fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, naming Iron Man as her all-time favorite character. As she said to Canada's CBC while growing up, "I just had the fattest crush on Iron Man, and I wanted more Iron Man." Vellani quickly developed a strong interest in comics and soon spent every bit of extra money she could earn on buying even more.

She eventually discovered an Ironheart comic that featured Kamala Khan, also known as Ms. Marvel, on the cover. She was enthralled to see someone who looked like herself in a comic book and soon became a big fan of the character, even dressing as her for Halloween.

Her fandom ended up serving her well when she auditioned for the role of Ms. Marvel years later. As she later told Elite Daily, when Vellani received the audition information from Marvel, she immediately knew which comics they were getting the material from.

Iman Vellani was scouted by Marvel in 2020

Iman Vellani first found out she might have the opportunity to audition for the role of Ms. Marvel from a curious source: a string of text messages forwarded to her from her aunt, who had received them on WhatsApp. She admitted to the Canadian news site CBC that she wasn't sure the messages were real, but she decided to send a remote audition just in case. 

In an interview with Elite Daily, Vellani revealed that she quickly heard from Marvel. The entertainment giant sent her script material to pull from for a video audition, and two days after turning that in, Vellani found out that she was going to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, her screen test took place in February 2020, and Marvel ended up shutting down or pausing production on several projects at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Vellani finally heard back from Marvel in June 2020. She sent one more screen test over Zoom and learned she got the part on her very last day of high school.

Iman Vellani sees herself in Ms. Marvel

The first time Iman Vellani ever encountered Ms. Marvel was on the cover of a comic book. In May 2022, she opened up to USA Today and revealed that the moment was genuinely transformative, sharing that someone who looks like herself isn't always at the top of one's mind when imagining a superhero. As Vellani put it, "I felt so seen. When you think of comic book readers, you never think of the brown girl, and I was that."

Vellani then went on to share another way in which she identifies with her television counterpart: They both began their superhero journey as a fan. As she told the outlet, Kamala Khan represents the best parts of superhero and comic fandom. Vellani explains, "Kamala just represents everything about nerd culture. She's a fan just like us, which is why we root for her when she gets her powers."

Iman Vellani is proud to represent Pakistanis on the small screen

While being interviewed by Canada's CBC, Iman Vellani reflected on her journey as a Pakistani and Southeast Asian when it came to her role in "Ms. Marvel." As she said, being able to represent her Pakistani and Southeast Asian culture in such a way has been a big deal, especially as both Vellani and her character Kamala Khan are Muslim. She said, "Film and TV literally shape how we see people in this world. And so, you know, when you're only representing Muslims in a certain type of light, it gets very one-note."

Vellani also explained that if there was one thing she appreciated about the opportunity, she has been afforded the chance to show the world that Southeast Asians, Pakistanis, and Muslims all have unique stories, just like everyone else. As she said, "I'm so glad that Marvel's providing space for a character like Kamala to exist and to just take up space and tell a very specific story about a very specific girl."

Imani Vellani has a favorite Iron Man movie

As a longtime fan of all things related to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's not surprising that Imani Vellani has strong opinions about the universe and who her favorite character is — plus which movie she thinks is the best of all of them. While chatting with Elite Daily via Zoom, Vellani revealed a few opinions about the MCU, including that she believes the first movie in the Thor series has been misunderstood by many people and that the first Iron Man movie is the best one of them all.

Vellani also shared that despite their obvious differences, she relates a lot to the character of Tony Stark. She said, "Obviously, Tony Stark, a middle-aged white dude, and me, a 16-year-old brown kid — they're not the same thing. But I related to a lot of his inner conflict of what does it mean to do the right thing and be a good person? And how can you be a good person when you've done so much wrong, and how do you eradicate those errors?"

Funnily, when asked if she wanted to meet "Iron Man" actor Robert Downey, Jr., Vellani got shy and admitted that she didn't think she could handle doing so. However, when pushed, Vellani added, "I'm very serious."

Imani Vellani's family is very important to her

Like Kamala Khan, Iman Vellani is very close to her family. She told USA Today that showcasing that close relationship with "Ms. Marvel" is a very attractive part of the show, as she feels it mirrors her own life. While discussing Kamala Khan and her relationship with her family, Vellani shared that Khan's relationship with her family is a big part of the comic series, which makes it extra special to share on the show.

She explained, "They live together and they care about each other. I wanted to see that growing up, just the importance to showcase children of immigrant parents who don't neglect their culture but are proud of it." Vellani went on to add that for herself and Khan, family is easily the most vital part of their lives. Vellani described herself and her character as "very open" with their families and said this mirrored the experiences of many Southeast Asian families.