[This story contains spoilers for Ms. Marvel.]
Now that Ms. Marvel’s critically acclaimed first season has concluded, Rish Shah wants to make it clear that Kamala Khan’s ClanDestine crush, Kamran, had the purest of intentions all along.
When it’s revealed at the end of episode two and the beginning of episode three of the Disney+ series that Kamran actually belongs to an exiled group of beings from another dimension, it’s perfectly reasonable to question the authenticity of Kamran’s prior interactions with Kamala. Was he genuinely interested in her, or was he serving as an undercover agent in order to locate Kamala’s family’s bangle for the sake of his ClanDestine family’s return home? For Shah, it was never a question as he always portrayed Kamran’s affinity for Kamala as real.
“As far as I’m aware, he was never duping her. He was never trying to play Kamala. And prior to some of the changes that were made later on in the script and during the reshoots … [his sincerity] was probably a bit clearer. But in my mind, that was always the case,” Shah tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Shah is also defending Kamran’s dangerous display of newly acquired superpowers in the season finale, “No Normal,” as the 17-year-old has had no time to make sense of what’s happening to him.
“He feels slightly betrayed by the one person he trusted and leaned on, that being Kamala. She was there when his family died, and he’s unable to handle that information and process it in the best manner. And it’s not intentional. He’s just a lost boy who’s unable to handle the situation he’s been thrown into,” Shah says.
In a recent spoiler conversation with THR, Shah also discussed the unusual way he learned about Spider-Man: No Way Home’s biggest secret involving the team-up of all three live-action Spider-Man actors.
Since my name is Brian, I’m going to be very upset if you reverse course and call me Bruno during this interview.
(Laughs.) I kept forgetting to call Matt [Lintz] Bruno on set because Brian just got imprinted into my mind. So even if I wanted to, I can’t say the word Bruno anymore.
So when this audition came your way, what were circumstances like for you at the time?
I gunned hard to get that audition. I mean, my team obviously made it happen for me — and for them, it was just making a phone call — but I bugged them for years prior to somehow be involved within the Marvel universe. So when this came around, I was ecstatic, and I immediately recognized the dummy side from the comics because I’ve read them before. So I was like, “Oh man, I feel like I’d be great for this. I love it, and I’m really passionate.” It was obviously a really long process, but it worked out. It’s funny because whenever you do an audition, you’re like, “Yeah, I’d be great for this.” But then when you get the job, you’re like, “Oh crap. This is really nerve wracking.” But it was an amazing process.
Did you and Iman Vellani read together?
We did, yeah. We screen-tested together over Zoom, but they hadn’t told me that Iman was going to be on the call. They just said we have a reader. So I assumed it was going to be someone from their [casting] office. But then I saw Iman and I was like, “Oh, okay. So this girl is Ms. Marvel.” And she was a ghost online at the time. I remember looking her up afterwards and not finding anything. I’m pretty sure she didn’t even have her surname on the Zoom call. It just said Iman. So I was like, “Who is this girl?” because all I knew was that she was from Canada.
But I have to say that we had a great chemistry read. From the get-go, it was just so easy with her. I remember just making small talk in between scenes and asking about Toronto and what she’s up to … It’s weird to think how long ago that was now. It’s been such a long process. But I also screen-tested with Matt, who plays Bruno, and that was fun. We had a great dynamic as well, and then eventually, we had a very similar scene [to our chemistry read] in episode five. So that felt like a full-circle moment when we filmed it and when we finally watched it the other day.
How was the good news delivered?
I think it was exactly a week after my screen test. I was in bed, and I was woken up by my agent. He messaged me and he was like, “Ping, ping.” And I just remember thinking, “You don’t say ping-ping to someone who’s just lost out on their dream job.” (Laughs.) So I jumped on this Zoom call, and then I got the news. And because I was screaming from joy, I’m pretty sure I woke everybody up in my household. I was with all my closest people and everyone I love, so we all just celebrated together. It was a really sweet moment.
From what I can gather, the comic book version of Kamran is markedly different from Ms. Marvel’s incarnation. So were you encouraged to revisit the comics, or did they prefer you to focus on the scripts?
There definitely is a difference. In the comics, he is a villain. He’s manipulative, and he uses Kamala. Whereas in the show, he’s actually coming from a very pure place and a very genuine place of just wanting to belong and feel at home, and he has this immediate connection with Kamala across multiple fields. And then, obviously, by the end of the show, he’s able to share the connection of the Noor by having these powers and newfound abilities.
So I wasn’t asked to go back to the comics — and I don’t think anybody would, to be fair — but obviously, a lot of inspiration throughout the show, in general, was taken from that source material. So it is very true to the comics in a lot of ways, but I think Kamran was reimagined to hopefully be a bit more likable. (Laughs.) He definitely has a skewed moral compass and he’s definitely a bit more unsure of where he stands, but he does make that decision really early on to betray his family and protect Kamala. So that’s quite a big decision, and hopefully, that shows that he’s actually a good guy with good intentions.
In the comics, I believe his powers stemmed from his Inhuman lineage.
Yeah, exactly. He’s definitely been reimagined, but it’s for the better. I trust the decisions that Kevin and the whole Marvel team make. So whatever they said to me, I was like, “As long as I get to my powers, I’m down, man. I’m just excited to be here.” So I think it looks awesome. What I did really like was that a lot of the coloring and the rendering is very true to Kamran from the comics so it was nice to see them bring that color back in. Even at the end of episode five, when the Noor pulsates out of him and causes the explosion on the DODC drone, that’s very similar to some of his abilities in the comics and that bioluminescence. So that connection is pretty cool.
As you mentioned, Kamran meets Kamala and they hit it off in every way, however, he was undercover, essentially. So I was relieved when it turned out he genuinely cared for her by protecting her from his fellow ClanDestines at the wedding. Otherwise, it just comes off as mean to lead Kamala on and manipulate her like that. Were you also relieved that his interactions were genuine despite the false pretenses?
It’s funny because originally, Kamran was never undercover. It might come across that way, but he genuinely happens to be at this high school and he happens to meet this girl who he can connect with. It’s not really clarified how Kamran tracks her down at the end of episode two and helps her, but as far as I’m aware, he was never duping her. He was never trying to play Kamala. I don’t think he said to himself, “I’m going to bump into Kamala now and take her on a date so I can get to know her and find out about this bangle.” So I think he was always coming from a place of love and genuine interest. And then by the end of episode two, it happens to be that his mother has been tracking this bangle for years, but Kamran has just been trying to find a home and fit in. And prior to some of the changes that were made later on in the script and during the reshoots and everything, I think that [his sincerity] was probably a bit clearer. But in my mind, that was always the case.
That’s fascinating because I always believed he was being a loyal ClanDestine. When he and Kamala bonded over Bollywood films, I thought that he was appealing to her interests, interests that the ClanDestines discovered through reconnaissance.
Yeah, I played it as genuine in my mind, but it’s nice that it’s up for debate. It’s always interesting when you have a character with a bit more complexity to them and their intentions, so it’s nice that it can swing both ways. Hopefully, it’s more engaging and interesting. But in my mind, he was genuinely just connecting with someone. Iman said this before about Kamala, but she hasn’t been able to spend time in her high school life around someone else who is able to just openly and confidently talk about their culture, specifically. So I think Kamran has felt the same way.
I even entertained the thought that his people called the cops about the house party just so Kamran could whisk Kamala and her friends away. Of course, house parties get broken up all the time, but I really went down the rabbit hole of him being a secret agent.
(Laughs.) Wow, I love that. I just played it as him genuinely trying to have some fun and get to know this girl who he thinks is interesting. I mean, she’s so lovable and bubbly, and Kamala probably isn’t like most girls that Kamran has met before. Despite having traveled around with the ClanDestines and trying to go back to their own realm, I think he finally feels like he has a moment to breathe and a moment of just safety and comfortability and security with somebody else. When she says to him, “Maybe this can feel like your home one day,” I think that really, really touches him. I think that he finally feels like he might have this opportunity to belong.
His mother, Najma (Nimra Bucha), transfers her power over to him before she dies, and he’s having a tough time containing it. And then the way he wields his power is concerning, to say the least. So what did you make of his behavior with these newfound powers?
First of all, he’s trying to figure out what’s going on. He wasn’t expecting these newfound powers to be gifted to him, and he doesn’t know who to turn to for help right now. He’s been abandoned by his family because he made that decision to protect Kamala, her friend, and himself in doing so. But then there’s the whole other problem of controlling his powers because he doesn’t want to harm people. He’s genuinely trying to contain these abilities, and unfortunately, it’s kind of spilling out of him. It’s such a large amount of energy, such a large amount of Noor. It comes straight from the Veil into him, and unlike Kamala, he hasn’t had time to figure them out. Bruno is still helping Kamala on her journey of harnessing these powers and wielding them correctly and safely.
And for Kamran, he’s just like, “Oh crap, this is happening, and I’m being chased and hunted down.” So it’s a lot all at once. And by the end of the episode, he feels slightly betrayed by the one person he trusted and leaned on, that being Kamala. She was there when his family died, and he’s unable to handle that information and process it in the best manner. So I think that his rage intrinsically causes an absolute outburst of not only frustration and anger, but it also results in this huge pulse which causes all of this destruction around him. And it’s not intentional. He’s just a lost boy who’s unable to handle the situation he’s been thrown into.
His mother basically disowned him the last time they saw each other. Will he ever be able to make peace with that?
I hope so. By the end of the season, it’s really interesting how we see him accept help from his sworn enemies, the Red Daggers, namely Kareem [Aramis Knight]. They obviously have known about each other their whole lives, and the fact that he is willing to do that shows that he’s taking a step in the right direction towards a positive change. It’s probably a stupid comparison, but it’s a bit like Bucky [Sebastian Stan] going to Wakanda to calm down and regain his control and his confidence. So hopefully, Kamran can also align himself in the right way and really find out who he is and what he stands for. What’s beautiful about this show is everything Kamala has learned on her journey, and she imparts that wisdom onto Kamran. In episode six’s dome sequence, she tries to calm him down, and she does manage to get through to him. So hopefully, he’s taking a step in the right direction.
So when did you learn about the Brie Larsen cameo? As one might expect, was that page missing from the script?
(Laughs.) That was missing from the script. I heard little whispers here and there, but there’s all sorts of things going around, so you never really know what to believe. Even just being at Trilith Studios, people try and peek their head into what’s going on next door. We had Spider-Man: No Way Home and Loki next door at one point. So there was always something interesting happening, and finding out that Brie was going to be on our show was unbelievable news, obviously. We were all so excited, and even I just saw it for the first time. I got goosebumps from it, and it just got me so excited to see Iman in The Marvels. When that movie comes out, I’m going to be championing her in the front row. It’s already set up so beautifully.
Did you put on a disguise so you could visit those other stages?
(Laughs.) I didn’t, no. We would pretty much just roam around the lot during lunch breaks or whatever, but I remember seeing the three Spider-Man stunt doubles having lunch outside in costume at one point. It was a really hot day, and they were having sandwiches. And I was like, “Oh, cool. So I guess that’s a thing.” In moments like that, I would just pinch myself because everything was happening at these studios. So it was really surreal and an absolute honor to just be a part of this web, pardon the pun, and this franchise.
Speaking of disguises, you wore one during episode one’s AvengerCon, right?
(Laughs.) I’m genuinely such a Marvel fan. Walking around that set was incredible, and it felt like a real convention. There were people in the most incredible cosplay outfits, and the whole thing was on a scale beyond my imagination. So Saagar [Shaikh], who plays Kamala’s brother Aamir, and I were like, “Well, we don’t want to miss out.” So we threw on Iron Man [Shaikh] and Captain America [Shah] costumes, and you can actually see us in episode one. I think there’s a moment where we’re standing next to Bruno and Kamala. It was just a fun little cameo for ourselves to look back on, but we were surprised we made it into the cut. It’s kind of a Where’s Wally? situation. [Writer’s Note: That’s the British version of Where’s Waldo?] But that was a really funny day on set, because we were just waddling around and causing havoc.
And then the word “mutation” is uttered in episode six. Was that another page that was missing from your script?
That was only shared with very specific people. Obviously, it was a huge freak-out moment, and everybody’s brains exploded. We were all just trying to process that information and remain calm when we found out about it. I was on set when that scene happened, and I was just watching from a distance. So I could see the pure joy on everyone’s faces as that scene was happening, including the whole team in video village. But what an honor to be able to bring that into the MCU. That’s probably one of the most exciting things.
Did you, Matt and Iman enjoy playing this love triangle of sorts?
Big time, man. We’re all so close, and we spent a lot of time together. We were all stuck together for Christmas, actually. Iman and I couldn’t go home because of COVID, and Matt, bless him, stayed with us, so we ended up just binging The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars on Christmas day. We even did a New Year’s celebration together, and moments like that really bonded us as a group. Our dynamic is amazing, and hopefully, our friendship really translates onto the screen. All of us just have such love and respect for each other, and working alongside each other was never anything but fun.
At the end of episode six, there’s a debate regarding Kamran’s car and who has the most rightful claim to it. So who do you think is most deserving?
That’s a tough one. (Laughs.) If it’s not Kamala, it’s going to have to be my boy Bruno. I feel like Kamran owes him one for costing him Circle Q. So I feel like a nice Porsche could hopefully put a bit of a smile on his face. It’s a little bit of compensation on Kamran’s end.
If you could walk into Kevin Feige’s office right now and have him add Kamran to another Marvel project, what are you choosing?
Oh my gosh. It’s like you’re a genie right now, and if I were to ask for a wish, it would be to have Kamran interact with Bucky in some way or form. I feel like he could learn a lot from the Winter Soldier, so that would be really cool. But having said that, I would also love to learn from Kareem, the Red Dagger, because he’s probably a good person to help Kamran control his powers from the Noor.
Overall, what genre or type of role have you been dreaming about since your earliest days?
I just want to keep doing work that challenges me and makes me so out of my depth, to be honest. My upcoming projects are very different, and I’ve been really lucky to be in some that have a very different feel and genre to them. So I hope to keep doing things that I can find truth in. I know that’s a vague answer, but I just want to keep challenging myself and pushing forward. Damage, which is coming towards the end of the year, is a limited series, and it’s extremely different from Ms. Marvel, as is my other project, which is currently untitled and directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson. And that feels like a subverted Hitchcockian drama, so they all just have a really different feel. So hopefully, I can keep pushing in that direction.
Lastly, do you have some idea of when you might play Kamran again?
I would love to call up the Marvel offices and bug them with questions, but unfortunately, it’s not something I can do. But if and when that ever happens, I would play Kamran again in a heartbeat. I wouldn’t even blink. So I hope I get the opportunity again. This story has been so heartfelt and so passionately told by the entire team behind it, and there’s all these wonderful characters. So Kamala has a very supportive community around her, and I hope all of us get the opportunity to come and play again. It was really the experience of a lifetime for a lot of us. I can only speak for myself, of course, but it was a dream role and I would absolutely kill to play Kamran again and again and again.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Ms. Marvel is now streaming on Disney+. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.