Ms. Marvel is a marvelous high point in what is turning out to be a heavy summer. Experiencing the origin story of Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) on Wednesdays is a weekly infusion of TV happiness that makes my Disney subscription worth every cent.
Episode 3 gives us the series of deliciously diabolical villains the ClanDestine, who all retain superhero strength and a youthful glow even though they were adults during India’s partition back in 1947. BGN had the honor of meeting Adaku Ononogbo, the actor who plays Fariha, one of the ClanDestine, via Zoom about her distinctive role in the summer’s hit Marvel series.
I read that a goal of yours is to be a sci-fi fantasy action hero.
Oh yes, a hero/anti-hero villain. All of the above. I gravitate to films that transport you into a different world in different genres. Just to get to play in those settings is something I’ve always loved.
What has been your career strategy so far to attract these kinds of roles?
I started acting in 2006 paying my dues doing background work on shows in New York, like Law and Order. Then I started booking day player roles. I realized actors have to find and make our own path. Sci-fi action and fantasy are the genres that I wanted to excel in. I fit those roles so well and love to play in those roles. I love to be a fan and watch those types of shows.
So I said to myself, “Let me get some weight training, some stunt training.” I’m not a stunt woman, but I just want to be able to hold my own and be teachable. I went through several agents who weren’t quite right and finally, I found my lovely agent Helen Kelly, who’s out in the UK. That’s where I’m originally from. Three weeks after signing with her I booked Cursed. God said, “Yes, now is the time.”
It took me about 10 years from getting into the union [SAG-AFTRA] to booking a role on a network. It was ten years of doing background work and doing independent projects. Hustling. Being a teaching artist as well. And then I finally booked Jessica Jones and it was amazing.
I shared a scene with Carrie Anne Moss and two other lovely actresses as well. And then I did Law and Order and FBI and then, of course, Cursed came along. My agent was like, “You’re gonna have to learn how to ride a horse.” I was like, “What?!?” I was so happy that I found my agent. We have such a good working relationship. She gets me and she gets it and really pushes for me.
There’s a lot of great fight choreography in Ms. Marvel, and you played a year of college basketball. How has your training schedule evolved as you work towards action hero status?
When you’re younger and playing with your team, you can eat anything under the sun. Playing college basketball, the training is built-in. As we get older, lifestyle changes and fitness doesn’t happen as easily. I have to now watch myself and watch what I eat. I bake my own sourdough bread. It’s a lot better on my stomach. I’m African. My mother is from Trinidad and my dad’s Nigerian, so we eat a lot of rice and a lot of bread. I have to be mindful.
I work out mainly at home because of COVID, and I run. If I need to run in a scene, it’s just never one time. It’s about 20 times, going back to [position] one, and then we start again, and it has to look as fresh as the first time. So I try my best to stay relatively fit. I’m not a size two and I don’t plan to be. I just want to be able to do what I need to do on screen.
What are the most challenging aspects of learning fight choreography?
One challenge was that we didn’t get as much time as we would have liked for rehearsals. I’m not sure if it was because of COVID, but we didn’t get a lot of time to do fight training or rehearsals. So we had to learn very quickly. You would just have to pick it up. I loved my double, Janelle Stevens. I would record her during the fight, and then I would go home or go back to my hotel and look at it and then emulate what she was doing.
If you could play any other superhero who would it be?
I’d love to play Storm.
What is it like being a part of the MCU?
I’ve been a fan since Blade, and I love Ironman. Being a part of something that is so huge and its canon is one of the highlights of my career. Marvel is one of the companies that are at the forefront of inclusivity, and I love that about Marvel. It took a bit of time but you know, we’re getting there.
I love Ms. Marvel because I’m learning about a part of the world I didn’t know much about. I never knew about the partition in India after WWI.
I know. I didn’t know about that either.
It must be so wonderful to work on a project that gives a look into the Muslim religion in America in ways we haven’t seen on TV. How are you enjoying learning so much about a new culture and what is that like?
I love to learn about cultures. I’m Christian, and I also enjoy learning about different religions. I also get a glimpse of this important story in global history. It’s astonishing how people in that part of the world persevered. The partition still affects us today and is one of the complex reasons why there’s still so much infighting, and it’s sad. It’s also bad. I’m from the UK, and they’re known for dividing and conquering. So, it’s nice to learn where people come from and how they view the world. If we can learn, understand and be open, you, we’ll have a better life with each other.
What right now is bringing you the most joy?
Being a part of Ms. Marvel is amazing. It’s enabling me to make my stamp on the industry and to show little Black girls and boys that if they give themselves permission to dream and they stick with it, they can do and accomplish anything they want in life, regardless of where they came from. This project took me safely to Thailand during COVID — just to be able to go there and see how the beautiful Thai people live and how generous they are. It’s been a joy to experience different cultures, and I just love it. Being where I am in life now, I’m more peaceful and joyously comfortable in my skin.
Ms. Marvel streams Wednesdays on Disney +.
What's Your Reaction?
Jeanine is a Writer, Actor, member SAG/AFTRA, AEA, Podcast host, Producer, CEO VisAbleBlackWoman Productions, Certified Health Coach and Conscious Dance facilitator. Jeanine's mission, centering Black women's stories to preserve our legacies.