Marvel’s Avengers Behind the Performance - Sandra Saad / Kamala KhanThe actor that brought Kamala Khan to life talks comics, mo-cap and Troy Baker’s annoyingly perfect hair.
Marvel’s Avengers features a cast almost as legendary as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes themselves. As the admitted ‘rookie’ of the group, Sandra Saad perfectly captures the youth and enthusiasm of Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel - the budding hero tasked with bringing the disbanded Avengers back together.
In fact, Saad admits she has more than a little in common with our protagonist. We spoke to her about her experiences of working on the game and what this role meant to her.
How did you prepare for the role of Kamala Khan?
I did a lot of research on Ms. Marvel comics. As well as whatever I stumbled on like the Hulk comics.
Most of them are online, as the Marvel Games team gave me access to Marvel Unlimited and other digital comics, but there’s only so much screen time a person can take, right? So I went to the comic book stores and bought… well, basically whatever I found. Anything with a cool cover (laughs).
I also read a lot of Captain Marvel comics and books where Kamala appears.
Did you realize how critical the role of Kamala Khan was going to be in the story?
Not at first. To be honest, I didn't really believe it when everyone told me.
When I grew up, I didn’t have anyone to look up to who looked remotely like me. Or that I could look up to in this way. I mean, she’s a first-generation immigrant Super Hero and that’s amazing.
When they told me, I was like: ‘is this allowed? Who allowed this?’ (laughs).
So no - and it’s really only just settling in.
You clearly have an affinity with the character. Did the team give you a lot of leeway in how you portrayed her?
Well, I think the team understands that I am very similar to Kamala in so many ways. I’m pretty excitable, I’m a first generation American, I’m a fan girl myself… So I didn’t have to go very far to look for inspiration (laughs).
The team were like, ‘Being a bookworm and reading about Kamala is important and great. But you don’t have to do much acting - you are her already!’
So do you geek out like her too?
Oh yes! I'm also a musician, and a lot of my heroes are also musicians. I love Frank Zappa, Rami Malik, and Jack White. Like, a lot.
In my eyes, these people are brilliant - they are my Super Heroes.
I definitely had that talk with Shaun Escayg, Creative Director for Marvel’s Avengers, and asked, “What would I geek out over like Kamala?” and thought, “Oh man - if Frank Zappa was alive and put in front of me… I wouldn’t know what to do! Or Robert Plant, or Jimmy Page.”
So Shaun basically said, okay, put ‘the Zappa guy’ in front of you for a second! That fed into the performance.
I love Marvel very much, and as a real-world fan of the Avengers, it’s not a stretch to imagine ‘this is what it’s like to stand in front of Thor.’
So Thor is your Frank Zappa.
(laughs) Yes. Or Iron Man - I’m kind of torn between them both!
As one of the newest actors in the cast, you must have felt a bit like Kamala we imagine.
Oh, for sure! I am the new kid on the block, Kamala is the new kid on the block - so there is that similarity in the script.
For example, this was my first time on a motion capture stage, and I didn’t know any of these people - but they all know each other. Troy Baker, Travis Willingham, Laura Bailey, Nolan North… all these guys are friends, they’ve done this a million times and they’re so good at it.
While I’ve done other things in the past, I had never been on a mo-cap stage before. I understand the weight of just how cool this is. People around me are putting me in this crazy suit, this headcam… and I’ve never seen this before. Other than on TV or YouTube.
Mo-cap can be an interesting challenge for actors. How did you find your first experience with the technology?
I think there’s a lot of imagination in it. I actually did a lot of studying on mo-cap before we started and that’s when I realized that this isn’t just ‘motion’ capture - it’s full performance capture.
They’re capturing my facial movements, my body movements, my voice… everything. So I had to imagine that there’s this whole world around me. You know, when I throw a punch, I have to imagine that my fist lands all the way over there (laughs).
Did the other actors give you some advice?
Well, Troy loved to pull me aside and be, like, “Hey kid, come here. Let me give you some words of wisdom.” And it is! It’s always like a nugget of gold.
I was talking about going out for a run, and he was like, “Hey kid, come here. Let me show you how to set your foot on the ground properly.” And your natural response is to think sarcastically ‘”ok sure”… but he was right! He’s always right. Every bit of advice was always something I’ve never heard before.
On top of that, his hair. Always perfect. Always. So, you know, he just wins.
Nolan North too. You’d expect Nolan to be a guy with a whole lot of wisdom to share. And he is - I watched him on set talking about all the cool stuff he’s been through with amazement.
Every once in a while, he’d pull me aside and say “I think you’re doing really, really well - and I’d like you to know.”
And that is just… you feel like (feigns hyperventilating) wow!
Sounds like you’re a fan of your fellow cast members. Hey - another similarity with Kamala!
Oh yeah, I definitely have that fangirl side of Kamala - although, to be honest, I didn't think that it would happen between me and the other actors.
It quickly came on because you realize: oh, these guys are really good at what they do - and they're all very willing to share their experiences and nuggets of wisdom.
Was there a particular scene or memory of working with them that stands out?
Honestly, whenever I’m on set with those them it’s amazing. The first time I did a scene, it was like, I don’t think it’s going to get better. I’ve peaked! Then I’d come in the next day and say it again.
That said, there is one scene that stands out. My very first scene with Troy is one I’ll never forget. Kamala wakes up on Bruce’s examination table, and she’s like, ‘what are you doing, why are you examining me, what’s happened?!’
And that one has stuck with me because it’s such a strong scene. It set up such a great connection between him and me - and such a great connection between Bruce and Kamala.
That wraps up our Behind the Performance interview with Sandra Saad and how she became Ms. Marvel. If you haven’t caught up, be sure to see our Assembling Marvel’s Avengers - Kamala Khan blog for insights into how our dev team at Crystal Dynamics tackled this challenge with Marvel Games.
We’ll have more incoming cast interviews soon, but until then, be sure to give Sandra a follow if you’ve enjoyed her performance as our protagonist in Marvel’s Avengers.
Marvel’s Avengers is out now for PS4, Xbox One, Steam and Stadia.
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