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Aramis Knight On His Friendship With Iman Vellani, The Ms. Marvel Series Finale, And Hollywood Greats - Exclusive Interview

Aramis Knight most recently took on the role of Red Dagger in the Disney+ series "Ms. Marvel," but the actor has been in the spotlight since long before he became an MCU vigilante. From the time Knight was six, the young actor scored guest roles on shows like "Boston Legal," "Cold Case," and "Rendition" before achieving a more prominent three-episode role as a child serial killer in "Dexter" in 2008. From there, he starred in the movie "Crossing Over" with Harrison Ford before snagging a small cameo on "The Dark Knight Rises" and reuniting with Ford in "Ender's Game." In 2015, he won the role of M.K. in the popular series "Into the Badlands" before making his way to "Ms. Marvel."

During an exclusive interview with Looper, Aramis Knight dished on the "Ms. Marvel" season finale, the show's CGI and stunt work, and how his friendship with Iman Vellani (who plays Kamala Khan) developed on the show. He also revealed which of his "Ms. Marvel" costars he shared a house with during reshoots. The actor even went down memory lane to his time working with Harrison Ford on "Ender's Game" and Christian Bale on "The Dark Knight Rises."

Getting the action right

Red Dagger and Kamala have a huge number of heavy action sequences and car crashes. What were those scenes like to film, and is that at all stressful to do in the moment?

They were amazing. A lot of that stuff is practical. There's a bit of special effects involved, but we were shooting in Thailand, and we shut down three or four blocks of this abandoned block and turned it into Karachi. We were actually being chased by a semi-truck, and it was stressful at times. But the stunt team, they're the best in the business, so we knew we were in good hands.

How much of that was you versus the stunt team?

All of the hand-to-hand combat is me. I have a Wushu background, so I've trained in Wushu for about five years or so now. All the hand-to-hand combat is me. Most of the wire gags and the falls are my double, and then I had a riding double because I'm not able to ride a motorcycle — especially with Iman on the back. I had a few different doubles, but most of it's me within the chase sequence.

Kamala and Red Dagger have an interesting history in the comic books. Were you a fan of the comics before the series, or did you research the character after getting the role?

I actually researched the character before getting the role when I had gotten the audition. I got the audition [and] I knew it was a Marvel Disney+ show. I heard through the grapevine that it was probably "Ms. Marvel." When I realized that they were looking for South Asian actors, it became obvious. Then I looked up the comics, and as I was sifting through them, I stumbled upon Kareem. I was like, "Oh, this must be who I'm going for."

From comics to Disney+

Your characters have some romantic entanglements in the comics. Is that something you'd like to see explored in the show, or do you prefer a platonic relationship between Kamala and Red Dagger?

For now, it's platonic. They definitely have good banter [and] good chemistry in general as friends — a lot of that is born from Iman [Vellani] and I being such good friends, being on set, being silly, and having fun with one another. There is some chemistry there, but for now, they're just allies. They're work buddies at the moment. Kareem is definitely a very, very trusted ally of Kamala, and it's possible that the series goes in that direction. But for now, they're just work friends.

Is there anything that you brought from the comics into your portrayal, or did you want to keep a fresh lens?

I wanted to keep somewhat of a fresh lens because it's not a character like Spider-Man or Iron Man where there's almost 100 years of history now. These comics have been around since — when were the first Spider-Man comics, like the forties, fifties? — a long, long time ago. There's so much information to go through to create a character, but with Red Dagger, there [are] not very many Ms. Marvels. It's a practically new character, just in the last few years. It definitely felt like a clean slate. It felt like we had real creative freedom.

What are some of your favorite things about working with Iman, and do you have any interesting stories from set?

Oh, man, I've got a lot of interesting stories. Working with Iman is amazing. [We're] such good friends. I've been getting this question a lot, and what I've been saying is it doesn't even feel like we're on a TV show together, because all of us [became] such good friends. We're so close in age [and] became very close — not in a cliché way that's for a sound bite or anything; we're actually very good friends. Now that the show is out and realizing, "Oh, wow, this is how we all came together," it's crazy, because I don't see them as actors. I don't see Iman as Kamala, I see Iman as Iman.

Now that the show is out, it's a little bit strange because it's been our little secret for so long. But everyone on the show, we're all such good friends. Rish [Shah] and Matt [Lintz] and I, we rented a house together in Atlanta for re-shoots, so we were living together for a while. Laurel [Marsden] just moved here, and Iman is obviously my great friend — and Saagar [Shaikh]. We all became one big happy family.

A marvelous finale

You're slated to appear in the season finale. Can you tease anything about what we might see from Red Dagger or the story as a whole?

Yes. You really see Kareem solidified as an ally for Kamala. You see the trust that they built over Episodes 4 and 5, and it definitely comes to fruition. He said, "If you're ever in any sticky situations, I'm just a call away."

Entering the MCU can be a pretty nerve-wracking thing. What was your experience like joining the franchise, and what has the fan reaction been so far?

I actually was never super nervous about it. I find that as an actor ... A good example of this, or an analogy for this, would be like if a painter comes into your home and asks if he should take down the photos before he paints your wall, you're going to question him as a painter. When I was going in to test for this Marvel show, it was amazing. I knew it was for Red Dagger. I knew it was potentially life-changing. But going in there, I knew myself, and I knew what I had to offer. I knew what I had to bring to the series. For that reason, I lacked nerves. It was weird. I felt very, very locked into the character, and I felt like it was right for me, so there [were] very little nerves in it at all.

Getting the accent right

What have been the most challenging and rewarding aspects of taking on Red Dagger?

The most challenging is definitely learning a new dialect — [it's] really difficult. In general, learning an accent and being respectful to it and the work takes a lot. But then you add in costumes, and you add in locations, and you add in acting and ever-changing Marvel scripts. It's a tall order. I remember my agents calling me and telling me that they wanted me to test, and then there was a "but." I'm like, "Well, what's the but?" They're like, "Well, you got to speak Urdu, and you got to speak in a Pakistani accent. Do you think you could do that?"

I was like, "Well, you know I've done it before. My grandma's from Pakistan. My grandpa's from India, which is a somewhat similar accent." I knew that I had it in me, but I'd never done it very seriously and as a job. There was a bit of pressure in that, but again, I tried to take as much pressure off myself as possible.

Did your grandma give you any notes or anything?

My grandma actually passed away just weeks before ...

I'm so sorry.

No, it's okay. It was very divine timing. I had never played a Pakistani character before this role. My grandma passed away, and then just weeks later, I got the call that I'm representing a culture. She's from Karachi. She was born in Karachi, so [it was] really, really special. [It was a] special year.

Red Dagger's future

The door is wide open for "Ms. Marvel" characters, and the Khan family is already slated for "The Marvels" film. What direction would you like to see your character go in the future, and are there any upcoming MCU projects that you'd love to be a part of?

I definitely have a few projects I'd like to be a part of. I was a part of something recently, but creatively it's shifted around a little bit, so I don't know if it's actually going to pan out, and I don't even think I'm allowed to say what it is. But I would love to see a Deadpool-Red Dagger crossover.

That would be cool.

Us two together would be very, very cool. We're both sarcastic, both a bit of a wise guy. That'd be a really fun mashup.

In a similar vein, which MCU heroes are you dying to team up with, and which villains would you love to face off against?

"Moon Knight" would be incredible because I'm a huge Oscar Isaac fan. Can I bring back the Green Goblin?

You can do whatever you want. [laughs]

Hell yeah. I want Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin. That's what I want. It could be Red Dagger versus Green Goblin, and we can face off for who wore green better.

When Batman calls, you answer

You had a credited cameo in "The Dark Knight Rises." How cool was it to join such a beloved franchise as a kid? Did you get a chance to interact with any of the iconic actors like Christian Bale or Morgan Freeman?

Yes. I worked with Christian, and I worked with Anne Hathaway. I never met Morgan Freeman. It's actually crazy how that role came about. I was doing a movie called "Ender's Game" at the time, and we were just weeks out from going to Alabama for Space Camp. I got a call from my agent that John Papsidera, who's an absolutely legendary casting director, had a small role in "The Dark Knight Rises," and he was casting "Ender's Game." He loved me [and] he cast me as Bean. He was like, "There's this small cameo, and I think you're perfect for it."

It was practically an offer, and when I went and did it, I was only 12 years old. I was pretty oblivious to the fact that I was getting directed [by] Christopher Nolan, and I was in the presence of Christian Bale. I didn't quite understand the magnitude of what I was doing, but it was good at the time because, again, I'd be a lot more nervous going onto a set like that now.

What is that experience now, looking back — how do you think back about how you were directed by Christopher Nolan?

I don't remember Christopher Nolan too well. I was only on set for two or three days or something, and I was very young. But I do remember Christian Bale and Anne Hathaway quite well, and they were both very, very lovely to me, especially Christian Bale. I don't know if he saw something in me that reminded him of himself because I know he was a child actor as well. But he was specifically very warm and kind to me.

Speaking of "Ender's Game," what was it like working with Harrison Ford, and did he give you any tips about the industry or life?

That was actually the second time I worked with Harrison. I did a movie called "Crossing Over" when I was a kid. It was a big flop, but it was a pretty cool movie — [that was] when I was six or seven years old. I had previously met him before "Ender's Game," so when I figured out he was attached to "Ender's Game," I was super excited to see him again, and he totally remembered me. It was a really cool moment.

In terms of advice, I was 12 years old, so I don't know that I was quite seeking advice yet, but overall, he was a very lovely guy. [He was] very quiet, but also extremely intellectual and super nice — always extremely warm to us.

Space Camp: every kid's dream

Do you have any favorite moments that you can remember from that film, and do you still talk to any of that cast?

Oh, my God, yes. Khylin [Rhambo] is still my best friend, who played Dink. Me and Asa [Butterfield], we always meet up whenever we're in the same place. Moises [Arias] — I actually connected with him recently. [I] hadn't seen him in forever, and then I ran into him at this event thing, and we've been hanging out a bit. Suraj [Partha] is still one of my good friends who played Alai ... We all still keep in touch. Memories on that movie ... I feel like I grew up on that movie. I truly came back a completely different person.

The best memory I can think of is we all went to Huntsville, Alabama, when we went to NASA Space Camp. For a week and a half, we were there, so we were all bunking there. We were learning drills and ceremonies. We were doing flight simulators. There was this one day where they set up this whole excursion in the forest where they threw us all into the back of this van and dropped us off in the middle of the forest, and basically told us to find our way back. It was this whole set-up thing with actors, and they were capturing us. It was absolutely insane.

It was fully interactive. I remember some of us getting captured, hiding in the bushes, and being kind of scared, not understanding fully how much of it was set up, what of it was real. But our director, Gavin Hood, was very much into the idea of mirroring the stories in the film to our real life. I think that's why, ultimately, we were sent to Space Camp. 

Me being a 12-year-old amongst kids who were 15 to 20, I was very much thrown into the same position that Bean was thrown in, constantly being underestimated, constantly having to prove yourself, having to puff your chest and speak a bit louder for people to hear you. All of that was super, super real because we were all creating real dynamics amongst ourselves. I think that translated to the movie.

Getting badass in the badlands

You also had a major role on "Into the Badlands," so what are some highlights from that experience, and what was it like working with actors like Orla Brady, Oliver Stark, Nick Frost, and Stephen Lang?

That show shaped me into the actor that I am today. Daniel Wu is still a huge part of my life — big mentor for me. We talk weekly. Whenever I feel I need advice, I normally reach out to him. 

"Badlands" totally shaped me. I'm so thankful for that show. As a kid growing up, I never wanted to be a Disney kid. It was never really my thing. I was always a little [quieter] than Disney called for. I don't think I fit into a cliché enough to be on a Disney show, and as a 13- to 14-year-old actor coming off a movie like "Ender's Game" that didn't do quite as well as we thought it would ... We all thought we would never have to audition again after that movie. It was kind of dry for me after that.

I had a lot of pressure coming down on me, people saying ... Mind you, I'm only 14, 15 years old at this time, but there was still pressure coming down on me to expand my horizons for the things that I'm willing to work on. When "Badlands" came along, and I got M.K., it was like a middle finger up to everyone who told me not to do what I wanted to do — because what I wanted to do was be on a show like "Into the Badlands." 

It ended up working out, and I was on that show for four years, learned martial arts, lived in Ireland, lived in New Orleans. That was like college for me. 15 to 19, I was on that show, so [those were] defining years for me.

You even played a serial killer in "Dexter." How did you get in the headspace of a killer at such a young age, and what was it like working on that set?

I literally don't remember "Dexter" at all. But the fact that you brought that up — I didn't even remember. I don't remember at all what I did on "Dexter." I was very young.

That's so funny.

I remember having fun. I did a couple of episodes, or maybe it was just one ... I was super young. I know that's a really [good] show, though. I should watch it again.

Maybe it's better that way, because that seems like a bit of a traumatizing experience for a little kid to play a serial killer. Maybe it's for the best.

I don't think I quite knew what was going on anyway.

True crime blues

You're not done with true crime, though, because the true crime reference in "Ms. Marvel" just happened, and then [you have] your upcoming movie "Baby Blue" with Dylan Sprayberry. What do you think is so interesting about this genre that draws people to it, and what can you tell us about the supernatural element of the genre in your upcoming film?

I love horror in general. "Baby Blue" is something that was super special to me, because it's the first thing I've produced myself, actually. I had Adam Mason and Bradley Pilz call me up, and they wanted to make this found-footage style thing with UCLA film students. It's very smart how we filmed it because we walk around with a RED [camera], and it's documentary style. But it's still extremely cinematic because we're using a very nice camera, and we're supposed to be filmmakers.

It's actually a very, very new idea, and I literally cast all my friends in it. Dylan, Khylin [Rhambo] is in it, Ally [Ioannides is] in it, my friend Cyrus [Arnold] is in it, Sal Lopez. It was my first time I've bridged the gap between actor and producer. It happened so naturally. I didn't even mean for it to happen. Then suddenly, in the middle of making a movie, I realized, "Oh, s***. I put this whole thing together." 

I never gave myself that much credit. The years in the industry ... Eventually, it makes sense that you go to the more business-aspect side. That's definitely something I'm going to continue doing. Thank you for bringing up "Baby Blue." No one's asked me about that.

Really? I love Dylan Sprayberry, so I had to ask about it.

Oh, yeah, he's my bestie. It was his birthday last night. I was up way too late for how early I had to wake up.

When work is also play

What is it like getting to work with your friends like that?

Oh, it's amazing. We've been able to do it a couple of times, thankfully. That's what it's all about. All of us are very, very tight. I've known Dylan [Sprayberry] forever — literally forever, since we were six [or] seven years old. Khylin [Rhambo], I've known him since I was 12. Ally [Ioannides] was on "Badlands" with me. She was also in "Baby Blue."

It's amazing. It's a dream. Ultimately, all of us want to trend towards being filmmakers, being in control of our destiny and our own stories, because a lot of the time as an actor, you're at the mercy of others telling you when you can work and when you can't, and what you're working on. Whereas, if we get into producing and directing the way that we have been on a small scale, eventually, we're going to have a lot more money to make things that we really want. 

It starts from everywhere. We started with short films, did a few music videos, and then "Baby Blue" was our first full-length feature that we produced.

Breaking Bad with Hollywood's best

Is there an actor or director from any time period that you would have loved to work with or that you would like to work with in the future?

[Marlon] Brando, Christoph Waltz. Who else? [I] would love to work with Tobey Maguire. Director-wise? The Safdie bros, I think, are some of the best out right now. Ari Aster would be awesome. Basically, any A24 movie — that's what I want.

Do you have a favorite movie or TV show of all time?

"Breaking Bad." I have to go with "Breaking Bad." I also love "Entourage." A recent show I really loved was "Dave." But "Breaking Bad" is definitely the best TV show I've ever seen. 

[For] movies, I'll give you a top three. "Sunset Boulevard," "Inglourious Basterds," and maybe "Ex Machina" or "Sorry to Bother You." "Sorry to Bother You" is one that I saw recently. If you haven't seen that movie — oh, my God.

I will add it to my long queue. [laughs]

Oh, my goodness. [It] had me actually gasping in the movie theater — absolutely incredible movie.

A dream DC role in front of Marvel execs

Is there a role that's been done before, or that's never been done, or that's currently being done, that you would love to take on?

I've got a really good story for you now. We're at dinner in Thailand. All of our Marvel producers, Sana [Amanat], all of the creatives on our show are sitting around, and all of our cast [is] there. We're all going around talking about dream roles, and everyone's giving their dream role. It gets around to me, and I wasn't really thinking about it. It was one of those moments where I was like, "Oh, s***, it's my turn. I better have a good answer."

Immediately, Damian Wayne pops into my head, and me not even thinking about it, I say, "Damian Wayne," and the table gets all silent. Everyone's like, "Whoa, dude. You really are brave to say that you want to be Damian Wayne at a table full of Marvel producers." But honestly, that's me in a nutshell. I'm so honest. I treat everybody the same ... Just because they're my bosses, I'm not going to kiss up to them.

I heard that Kevin Feige is actually a big DC fan.

I'm sure he is. We've never spoken about it. Kevin is so nice, though. He always seems nervous whenever we talk. Mind you, I only see him at events and certain times on a Zoom call or something. But he's always so nervous when I talk to him. Meanwhile, I'm thinking, "Wait, I'm supposed to be nervous talking to you because you're the one who pays me, and you're the one who gives me a career. Why are you being so humble?"

That's amazing. Is there anything else that you wanted to talk about with the show or anything upcoming?

No, not really. I've got some stuff coming up, but hopefully we'll talk again about it. When it's more materialized, we can all talk about it.

The season finale of "Ms. Marvel" airs Wednesday on Disney+.

This interview has been edited for clarity.