Feature Article

How Marvel's Avengers Actor Has Embraced Her Role As Kamala Khan

After Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Rage 2, and Fallout 76, Sandra Saad is lending her talents to Marvel's Avengers as Kamala Khan.

The beta for Marvel's Avengers didn't particularly blow me away, but I did enjoy the snippet of story I got to see. Specifically, I love Kamala Khan, who's the focal point for the campaign. Not only does she have my favorite combat mechanics, but she injects both a wonderful playfulness and human element into the story.

Kamala is a nerdy teenager who likes to tell cheesy jokes, but she's also struggling to come to terms with being labeled as a freak for having the superpower to enlarge and stretch her body (which she calls embiggening). Marvel's Avengers is about Earth's Mightiest Heroes learning to become a team again, but the beta also showcases that it's just as much the origin story for an ordinary girl who becomes the second Ms. Marvel--a symbol of inspiration for Inhumans and teenage superheroes. This is the aspect of Marvel's Avengers that I'm most intrigued to see unfold, and that largely comes from actor Sandra Saad's performance as Kamala.

Saad does a wonderful job bringing the young hero to life and, after playing through the Marvel's Avengers beta, I got to sit down and talk with her about her performance, how she prepared for the role, and what someone like Kamala means to both her and the wider superhero fan community. I was immediately surprised by how much Saad already is so much like Kamala--I can see why she was cast. "That's what I've been told," she said, laughing. "That I'm pretty similar to her character DNA already, so I didn't have to go very far in my study."

She continued: "Forming the character from my own personal experience was really nice because my personal experience is a lot like Kamala's. I was a lot like her at 16. I had a lot of the same struggles as a first-generation American girl. I'm just as awkward and quirky, apparently."

Seeing a superhero story about a group as notable as the Avengers through someone like Kamala is incredibly important, says Saad. Too often, people of color are relegated to background roles in superhero narratives where they can run the risk of being portrayed with negative stereotypes. And that can be harmful to the emotional and mental development for kids of color and how they perceive themselves. "When you grow up, you see your people being put up in the media in a certain way," Saad said. "And at some point you get old enough to understand it for what it is. But when you're a kid growing up with that, it's disheartening and you're like, 'Wait, but is that really what my people are like? Is that real?' And it's confusing."

She continued: "I can't tell you how many auditions I've been on for stuff like 'woman whose husband gets blown up in front of her.' It was super sad at first. And then I was just like, I don't want to do this anymore. I would rather not be successful then do this to my people because I know that's not what we're like, and that's not all we are. When you have a character like Kamala Khan, a person who looks like Kamala Khan can look up to her, can see people like them being reflected in a better light. And there's just something about that that empowers a young person."

To that end, Saad wanted to ensure that Kamala was done her due justice. "I think I took on that heavy responsibility [of becoming Ms. Marvel] really quickly," Saad said. "I was like, 'Oh my God, I'm going to play an Avenger. What do I do? Okay, I'm going to read the comics.' And I delved into that. Nice and slowly actually, because there's only so many of them--there isn't 50 years of history behind her yet. That was really nice. And then having my time with the script and with the director was also really helpful. [Creative director/writer] Shaun Escayg is really great about spending his time with the actors and talking through the characters with each one of them. And then in that way we can kind of create our own Crystal Dynamics version of the character and not just the ones that you're used to."

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Amusingly enough, Saad has been able to draw inspiration from being cast as Kamala in order to inform her performance for what it would feel like for Kamala to meet the Avengers and take on new challenges. Coming from a background in comedy and television and movies, Saad is a relatively new voice in the video game industry in comparison to fellow Avengers actors Jeff Schine (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Travis Willingham (Thor), Nolan North (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Laura Bailey (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow), and Troy Baker (Bruce Banner), all of whom have been a part of numerous video games and many of whom have worked together on past projects. Meanwhile, though Saad has voiced characters in a few notable video games (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Rage 2, and Fallout 76) she doesn't have the same amount of experience doing the other things that go into creating a character, like motion capture.

"They're mega mo-cap superheroes already," Saad said. "This is my first mo-cap game. I've done other games. I auditioned for film and TV, and I came up in comedy. That's where I come from. But you step onto this mo-cap stage where everyone's already a superhero on that stage. And I'm like, 'What's a mo-cap? Explain this to me.' And everyone's super cool and super inviting and super giving with their knowledge. It fit like a glove."

And once she got the hang of the mo-cap, Saad says that Crystal Dynamics afforded her a ton of creative freedom in defining Kamala's idle animations, as well as how she stands, walks, runs, fights, and (most importantly) embiggens. "I think I just did whatever I wanted," she said. "There was a lot of like, 'Hey, what do you think it feels like to embiggen? Do that.' And thankfully it worked out. Crystal Dynamics does a really good job of showing me the abilities and showing me the stuff that they've come up with. And that really helps inform what the movements are supposed to be. There's only so much a human of my actual size can do, but I try."

When you have a character like Kamala Khan, a person who looks like Kamala Khan can look up to her, can see people like them being reflected in a better light.

In order to avoid spoilers, I couldn't get too much out of Saad about Kamala's story and her arc as a hero in Marvel's Avengers. But Saad did confirm that we can expect to see more scenes like the one in the beta between Kamala and Bruce, when Kamala momentarily breaks down as she deals with her situation as an Inhuman and Bruce comforts her--it's a heartfelt moment for the two heroes who seemingly see themselves as having kindred experiences on account of their respective superpowers. "I'm not going to give anything away, but she does have special moments with everyone because it's an Avengers story," Saad said. "It's not just the Hulk and Kamala story. She relates to all of them just from her own abilities. And just from knowing everyone's abilities already, you can see how they all relate to her as her heroes. But the Hulk, as you know, he's a monster who has this thing about him that he can't really control and Kamala does, too. She has this new power and she's like, 'What do I do with it? Is this weird? How do I even use it? Do I use it for good? Is this a disease? What is it?' And so in that way, you can see that they both have a lot of similarities."

Saad also told me that she has had the chance to play the game and even after spending all her time shaping Kamala, she's not sick of the teenage hero. Ms. Marvel is her go-to. "For me, there's nothing like fwipping your limbs out from your body and swinging and stuff," Saad said. "It's so much fun."

You can see and hear Sandra Saad's performance as Kamala Khan in Marvel's Avengers when it releases for Xbox One, PS4, PC, and Google Stadia on September 4. Next-gen versions for Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 will be available when both consoles come out later this year.

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jordanramee

Jordan Ramée

A GameSpot associate editor, Jordan regularly covers the Apex Legends, anime, and Xbox news beats. It's best not to mention "indie games" in his presence--he'll start talking about his favorites and won't stop.

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