At just twenty-two years old, Aramis Knight has already built an impressive name for himself with the epic martial arts action series Into the Badlands high on his resume. Now he breaks his way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the Red Dagger in Ms. Marvel. The masked Pakistani vigilante is still somewhat of a new character to the Ms. Marvel comics as he was only just introduced in 2016. This gave Aramis Knight a wider range to make the character all his own when first introducing him in the MCU. Although the young actor was born and raised in America, his grandmother is Pakistani while his grandfather is Indian, bringing his role in Ms. Marvel close to home.
Much preparation went into developing the Red Dagger for Ms. Marvel, including extensive martial arts training, learning the Urdu language, and developing a Pakistani accent. Following his series debut and first meet-up with Iman Vellani’s Kamala Khan, we sat down with Aramis Knight to discuss his journey in the MCU and how Ms. Marvel gave him the perfect chance to honor his Pakistani heritage. It was far from easy, as Knight details the most challenging aspects of playing the Red Dagger, even for an experienced martial arts performer like himself, and the responsibility that comes with South Asian representation in mainstream media. This interview is one part of three with fellow Red Dagger leader Waleed played by Farhan Akhtar and series director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.
Spoilers for Ms. Marvel follow!
So let’s start at the beginning, how did you first get involved in Ms. Marvel and what was that process like?
Aramis Knight: Originally, when I auditioned, I didn’t hear anything about it for a few months. I was actually in Colorado visiting family and I got a call from Sarah Finn saying that they wanted me to test, but I also got the curveball that they wanted me to speak Urdu as well as have a Pakistani accent. So there was a lot of pressure involved in the test. There was also a martial arts test. Somehow, when I showed up there, I just kind of knew it was mine, it felt right. When I got the call that I was actually involved in the show, I was just speechless.
I was actually the first person who was on board for [Ms. Marvel] and I didn’t even know which character I was going to play. I wasn’t sure that I was going to be Red Dagger yet. But I really wanted to be Red Dagger because he’s already iconic in his own ways, and I wanted to play with a new dialect. I thought it would be a good challenge for me. It was really a dream come true.
Your grandmother is Pakistani, what does it mean for you to be in this show that is a celebration of Pakistani culture?
Aramis Knight: It means so much. Just prior to me booking the show, my grandmother had passed away, so it was really incredible timing because I know how proud she would be. My family in Pakistan is watching it just completely shocked that someone in their family is representing their culture in a way that’s never been done before. It was and still is just such an honor.
Did you read the comics in preparation for the role or did you prefer to leave the character more up to your own interpretation?
Aramis Knight: Yeah, definitely. I think the comics were the only baseline that we had for these characters because they are still quite new. So there wasn’t a lot to go off from. I do feel like we’re creating these characters in the show even more than what people know from the comics because there just aren’t that many of them. I think the comics now are going to be based on what we have brought to the characters [in Ms. Marvel], which is really cool. Then there were hours of dialect training and stunt training. A lot of hard work went into this, especially for me having to completely learn a new dialect and be someone from across the world – it takes a lot of training.
Kareem’s main skills are with daggers of course, how much training did you have to do in order to prepare?
Aramis Knight: I had an amazing trainer, Bryan Cartago, who was also my stunt double in the show as well. He did some of the wire gags for me and some of the more dangerous stuff. Coming in, I already had a martial arts background. I was trained in Wushu for five years, so I was able to bring a lot of those skills over to Ms. Marvel. I was on a martial art show before this [Into the Badlands], but I wasn’t a martial artist before that at all, but I’m quite good now. Going back to the auditioning process, they did a whole martial arts test with us as well. I kind of already knew that I had a really good chance and then after the martial arts test, I was like, “Yeah, I have a really really good shot.”
From what we have seen so far, most of your scenes are with Iman Vellani. What was it like working with her?
Aramis Knight: We are such good friends that not only does it make the days on set very enjoyable, but the chemistry is also just totally effortless. We lived right next door to each other in Thailand [while filming], our apartments were literally next door so we hung out all the time and became so close. Being able to work with your friends is the best thing. Having to work with someone you don’t like would be terrible. We all became super close, like a big family as corny as it sounds. We’re still very close and talk all the time.
How did your Ms. Marvel cast grow into a family-like unit?
Aramis Knight: We hung out every single day. To be a part of a show that has such a young cast – all of us are of similar ages – was just incredible. We had so much fun both off and on the set. Actually, during reshoots when we back went back to Atlanta, we were there for about two and a half months, so Matt Lintz, Rish Shah and I rented a house together and lived with each other during reshoots. That’s how close we got. It didn’t feel like we were on a show together anymore, it just felt like best friends or roommates.
Finally, what do you hope that audiences take away from Ms. Marvel as a series?
Aramis Knight: I hope that we’re able to represent a group of people who haven’t been represented a lot. In mainstream television, South Asian representation has been next to none. So to do this on a show that involves superheroes and is a Marvel Studios project, that magnitude is amazing. I hope that I’m able to give young South Asian boys their next Halloween costume as well as a hero that they can really look up to and see themselves in.