'Ms. Marvel' Star Mehwish Hayat on How Iman Vellani Brings 'Authenticity' to Kamala Khan (Exclusive)

Ms. Marvel might have wrapped up its critically acclaimed first season on Disney+ last Wednesday but series actress Mehwish Hayat is still singing her co-star Iman Vellani's praises. In an exclusive with PopCulture.com, the award-winning Hayat, who is also one of Pakistan's most beloved stars, applauded Vellani for her "natural" presence and take on the Jersey City teenager Kamala Khan turned superhero, Ms. Marvel.

Though Hayat, who plays the great-grandmother Aisha to Kamala, shared one scene with her in the season finale, she was completely blown away by the Canadian actress's debut. "Oh my God, she is such a natural in front of the camera and she brings so much energy to the screen, on-screen and offscreen, both," Hayat told PopCulture.com. "When she's around, everything is just so fun and light, and I cannot imagine anybody else playing Kamala Khan other than her."

Hayat says the level of meticulous detail and charm Vellani brings to the character and series was one that left her in humble disbelief. "When we were shooting, I couldn't believe that she was working for the first time. She's a professional actor when the camera turns on, and she brings this authenticity to the character of Kamala Khan. She's just wonderful. I had a great time with her, on-screen and off-screen."

While the Karachi-born actress has been working in Pakistani films and TV since first breaking out onto the scene in 2006 and winning the Best Actress honors at the Lux Style Awards in 2018, Ms. Marvel is her first break in the United States — an honor the 34-year-old admits was a dream come true for her. "I have been working on a project which I'm producing as well for the last four years and I always thought that could be my first Hollywood project — and then this came along without me knowing," she said. "I always said, 'Why do we look at Bollywood?' Or, 'Why are we so shortsighted when it comes to spreading our wings? We need to look beyond our borders, but also look at Hollywood. Why can't we be working in Hollywood, or Iranian cinema, or OTT platforms that are there?'"

Admitting how it "just happened," when she was offered the role, she was humbled by it, especially as it was one that is close to her heart as both a Pakistani and Muslim. "[It's] not just any project, but the one that hits home — something that's so original and real to us, something that is a double treat as an artist. To be representing my culture, my people, and for me and all the other Pakistani actors that were involved in the show as actors, I think being given a global platform was such a humbling experience, such an overwhelming experience."

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Hayat says the Disney+ series helped open doors for not just other artists back home but the Western audience as well in seeing and acknowledging the "big talent pool" in Pakistan. "[It] gives them the confidence to cast more Pakistani actors in future projects. So I think it's an overwhelming situation for all of us," she said. The actress, who revealed she would love to work with Meryl Streep one day is ready to take on one of the biggest roles in her life thus far as former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated in 2007. While it is currently being written and in development, Hayat says it would be an "honor" to play the progressive figure. "I think she's an icon, and I think playing her would be an honor," she said. "There are so many stories that I want, so many characters that I want to play and I would love to do some action-based roles as well. So keeping my fingers crossed. I'm, as an artist, open to all kinds of roles that challenge me."

Ms. Marvel will return for Season 2 and its first season is now streaming in its entirety on Disney+. For more with Mehwish Hayat and all things Ms. Marvel, keep it locked to PopCulture.com for the latest.