The Inverse Interview

Iman Vellani Geeks Out

The Marvels breakout star goes deep on fan theories, the rules of time travel, and why she’s the Lorax of the MCU.

Interview by Jake Kleinman and Hoai-Tran Bui
Iman Vellani chats with Inverse about fan theories, the rules of time travel, and why she's the Lora...
Malike Sidibe/Inverse

The Lorax is one of Dr. Seuss’ most morally clear characters. The mustachioed “shortish oldish brownish” thing defended the trees — “those Truffula trees!” — and the ecosystem that relied on them. Those who chopped the trees, however, brushed him off: “Business is business! And business must grow.”

Iman Vellani can relate. Her trees? The Marvel Cinematic Universe. The businessmen? Anyone who tries to mess with MCU canon. “I am the Lorax of the MCU in a lot of ways,” Vellani tells Inverse.

One such way is the very geeky public debate she has with Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige over the correct name for the timeline where the main movies take place. Vellani’s sticking with Earth-19999, established in the early days of the MCU, while Feige has been pushing a shift to Earth-616 to match the comics. (Confused? We’ve got you covered.)

“I don’t want to back down from this argument because, you know, the Lorax still needs to protect the trees,” Vellani adds. “And yet, I still want to keep my job.”

“I am a part of the Thanos-was-right community.”

The 21-year-old Marvel super-fan turned Marvel star made her debut in the Disney+ series Ms. Marvel, where she plays Kamala Khan, an in-universe Avengers fangirl who winds up gaining superpowers of her own. But it’s Vellani’s obsessive knowledge of MCU canon, which comes up surprisingly often in red-carpet interviews, that’s made her a hero to her fellow diehard fans.

Vellani stars opposite Brie Larson and Teyonah Parris in The Marvels, which is currently in theaters, delivering a scene-stealing performance that seems to solidify her future in the MCU in more ways than one. Kamala Khan may be setting up a new superhero team, but for Vellani, anything seems possible. Could she one day be running Marvel Studios? Her deep passion and encyclopedic knowledge of this cinematic universe make her a surprisingly strong candidate for the job, assuming Feige ever decides to hang up his branded baseball cap.

So while we wait to see what comes next — Ms. Marvel Season 2? Young Avengers? World domination? — Inverse sat down with Vellani to geek out over the topic she knows best: the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

So Nia DaCosta, the director of The Marvels, has this theory she’s talked about where she says it’s Captain America’s fault that Thanos won because he refused to give up Vision in Infinity War when he says “We don’t trade lives.” Do you agree?

You know what, yeah. He dies anyway. Why not? You can blame this on so many people, like Star-Lord. But he’s had enough. Let’s blame it on Captain America.

Do you think Thanos maybe had a good point in general?

I am a part of the Thanos-was-right community. I mean, humanity, we’re kind of awful sometimes. He had a point, but he could have gone a better way. Why not double the resources? You know, just give us more; if you can do anything with the Infinity Gauntlet, just give us more. Make a whole new planet. Redo Titan. Why is he being so salty and just like killing everyone?

Yeah, seems like he had some personal issues to deal with.

I think so. He needed therapy.

What’s your favorite fan theory when it comes to Avengers: Endgame because you know, one of the big memes was that Ant-Man could have defeated…


Do you buy into Thanus?

I do. Any one of those holes could have worked. You know, nostril? I support it, 100 percent.

Editor’s note: In the lead-up to Avengers: Endgame, some fans speculated that Ant-Man might shrink down, find a way inside Thanos, and then quickly expand, murdering the supervillain in the process. The “Thanus” theory caught on as a viral meme.

Marvel Studios

Gosh, it was such a specific time in history in 2019 when Endgame was coming out. I remember the Russo brothers posted that one photo of the set, and people were like, “Oh, the ladder makes the shape of an A.” They were like making the word Endgame out of this one set photo. I still don’t know if that’s true. But I love when the community is like that, and they get so nerdy over every little piece of information that’s released.

Were you part of that? Back then you were still just a fan.

I had like one friend from high school and my English teacher. Those were the only two people I had in my life who I would go to and say, “Did you see the new trailer? We must break it down frame by frame.”

I think another one of the great Marvel fan theory moments was WandaVision, right? Everyone went really wild, especially with all the rumors that Mephisto would show up. Were you on the Mephisto train?

I love it. I remember there were theories about Mephisto coming up in an upcoming series. And I’m like, “Keviiiiinnn. Kevin tell me something. Tell me Mephisto’s in it.” And he doesn’t give me anything. He teases me, and that’s about it.

Were you rallying for Mephisto to show up in Ms. Marvel? He totally has a place in Jersey City.

He would upstage me. So no.

So the big public debate you and Kevin Feige have is over whether the MCU is Earth-616 or Earth-19999. I know you’ve talked about this before, but I’ll just start by saying that you’re right.

Thank you!

But anyway, what’s going on there?

Listen, I try not to bring it up anymore. Because like sure, whatever he says goes; I understand he’s the boss, and he’s my boss, and he's in control of my career. But at the end of the day, I speak for the fans. I am the Lorax of the MCU in a lot of ways. I don’t want to back down from this argument because, you know, the Lorax still needs to protect the trees — I don’t know where this is going, I’m so sorry — and yet, I still want to keep my job and not fight with Kevin on silly things. But in my head, I know I’m right.

And it really depends on how you look at it. If the MCU is its own universe and the comics is its own universe — and that’s how I see it — then we’re in 19999. But some people see the MCU as an adaptation of the comics, so it’s allowed to be 616. It’s just confusing.

“I’m the best.”

Yeah, and they doubled down on it recently in the Loki finale where they reference Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania as a little problem on Earth-616.

You know what, in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Spider-Man 2099 said 19999.

So Spider-Verse is more accurate to the actual lore?

OK, now we’re talking!

Speaking of Spider-Man, Marvel actually made a correction recently in terms of that time jump in Spider-Man: Homecoming. So do you remember when they were like —

Those stupid eight years...

Yeah, the “Eight Years Later.” Does that bother you?

It does. Yeah. I also want to be one of those believers that the kid in Iron Man 2 was Peter Parker, but then it doesn’t make any sense. I appreciate they’re course-correcting. You know, they’ve done it a lot. They went back in our show and recolored the Statue of Liberty because it was green, and then they’re like, “Wait, it was copper in No Way Home.” So they listen.

Do you think it was awkward when Captain America went back in time and returned the soul stone to the Red Skull? What do you think that conversation was like?

Gosh, I wish they were actually making a series about this because I would kill for that interaction. Yeah, I mean, it would be crazy. Obviously like, “Oh, I thought you died,” and Red Skull is going to be like, “Yeah, I was a Nazi, and now I’m the protector of one of the most treasured things in the entire galaxy.” And Captain America’s like, “I can’t deal with this. I’ve got to go to my Peggy.” I don’t think he’d have time for it.

Just sort of chucked it at him?

He might have just peeked, saw Red Skull, and been like, “Yeah, not today.”

Ring the doorbell and run away.

Yeah, exactly. Ding dong ditch.

Editor’s Note: Red Skull, the primary antagonist of 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, made a surprise appearance in Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame as the guardian of the Soul Stone.

Marvel Studios

In your opinion, what are the rules of time travel in the MCU?

Oh, my God. After my own show, I don’t know. I thought I knew. I studied Bruce Banner’s speech in Endgame. I was like, this makes sense. I appreciate them referencing Back to the Future and Hot Tub Time Machine. I appreciate them making rules. And then they just make new ones.

Yeah, they keep breaking the rules. They broke them again in Loki Season 2. They’re just like, “Oh, yeah, it doesn’t really matter, actually.”

Like what is happening? The center of time is just no time, I guess?

It’s the void, right?

I watched all of Loki, and honestly, this was my first time watching something and not trying to understand. Just vibe, you know? I really don’t have the time or the energy to stress about this time-travel business — or how the multiverse works.

Ms. Marvel travels back to Partition, which kind of creates that whole bootstrap paradox. So I try not to worry about it if the writers want to write it. I went literally crazy on Ms. Marvel. I was like, “This doesn’t make any sense! I cannot sleep at night!” But it’s fine. I want a Season 2.

Editor’s note: The Noor Dimension is a parallel reality revealed in Ms. Marvel where supernatural ‘Djinn’ reside.

Marvel Studios

Do you think there will be more time travel in your future? Because your bangle is basically a time paradox.

They actually called it the Quantum Band in The Marvels. So now I want to see the Quantum Zone. My headcanon is that the Noor Dimension is the Quantum Zone, which would make so much sense because Noor means light — or just energy.

On the show, when Nadjma talks about being a Djinn, she’s like, “This is one of many names.” So why can’t the same be true for the Noor Dimension? Why can’t it just be one of many names, like the Quantum Zone? That would be cool because all the energy in the entire Marvel universe is derived from the Quantum Zone. I think a lot of cool possibilities can come out of that if they just opened it.

What’s your favorite Iron Man line of all time?

“I’m the best.”

Something we should all abide by.

You know he comes across a little arrogant, but at the end of the day when I need to hype myself up, I just think of Tony finally flying for the first time.

What do you think of the theory that in Captain America: Civil War, at Peggy’s funeral, one of the pallbearers is actually the older version of Steve Rogers from Endgame?

No. Why would you want to go to Peggy’s funeral? It’s sad. It’s wasting time. Honestly, I think Steve Rogers likes to get shit done. I don’t think he's sentimental, really.

Editor’s note: After Captain America traveled back in time in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, some fans wondered if an elderly version of the superhero had been hiding in plain sight in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War as one of Peggy Carter’s pallbearers.

Marvel Studios

You don’t think he grew a sentimental side when you went back in time?

Only with Peggy, and the funeral seems like too much. Maybe I’m just projecting. I wouldn’t want to go to that funeral and then also see my younger self there. Like, what if that creates something or destroys time?

But then again, who knows what the time travel rules are?


Which MCU director would you want to work with the most out of anyone who’s ever made a Marvel movie?

Oh, I have so many. I mean, Jon Favreau, obviously. I met him at D23. And he’s the coolest. I love his movies outside of Marvel, too. Chef is one of my comfort films. I was talking about The Mandalorian with him, and he literally handed me this heavy token with the Mandalorian emblem on it. It’s the coolest thing. I carry that around everywhere.

Taika [Waititi]. I just feel like Taika would be vibes.

Destin Daniel Cretton. I love Short Term 12. So I think he’s very talented.

Ms. Marvel’s powers in the MCU are very different from her powers in the comics, although there have been some nods to her embiggening when she makes a big fist. Do you wish you got to embiggen more in the MCU?

OK, I don’t want her to embiggen in the way she does in the comics. I don’t think it’ll work. I love the comic books so much. And I’m actually writing a Ms. Marvel comic book right now. The big thing I wanted to highlight is how cool her powers are and how well they work specifically in the comics. You can do so much with it, and our artists are having so much fun taking our script and just going crazy with her powers. But I don’t think it’ll translate nearly as well as it does in the comics if we do that in MCU.

I do want to see her be more like Armor from the X-Men, like actually have the purple encapsulate her fully. Because I feel like a bobblehead sometimes if my head is still normal while I’m using my powers.

That might be the only thing. I want to see how big she can get. I want to see her make cooler shapes.

Kind of Green Lantern it?

Yeah. Let’s not compare...

Fair enough. Separate franchises. OK, one final question, and maybe one of the biggest mysteries in the Marvel universe: Do you think that Kang and Reed Richards are related?

I want them to be. I really want them to be. I think this could be the key to unlocking the universe. I mean, he’s his descendant from the 31st century, right?

It’s complicated.

He should be. That makes so much more sense. And they’re both geniuses.

If I don’t understand anything, I can just go back to the comics, and hopefully, it’s aligning. So yeah, I want them to be. I hope they are. I hope we see a Fantastic Four movie soon. And then Loki has that one scene of Kid Kang tinkering and having him be a builder. It’s so Reed Richards.

I definitely think they are. They are!

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Photographs by Malike Sidibe

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