'It is about time': Marvel actor May Calamawy talks MCU inclusivity at MEFCC 2023

The Arab-origin actor plays Scarlet Scarab in Marvel miniseries 'Moon Knight'


Husain Rizvi

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Photo: Neeraj Murali
Photo: Neeraj Murali

Published: Wed 8 Mar 2023, 5:37 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Mar 2023, 6:02 PM

Egyptian-Palestinian actress May Calamawy was never a comics person. She read Archies, and that's about it.

The Bahrain-born actor started her acting career with short films and has also spent a year in Abu Dhabi. May landed her first major role in 2013 film Djinn, directed by Tobe Hooper. Set in the UAE, the film features a young Emirati couple who move into a high-rise apartment in Ras Al Khaimah and discover that their neighbours may not be human.

A few roles and guest appearances later, May was roped in to play the recurring role of Dena Hassan, Ramy’s sister in the Hulu comedy-drama series Ramy in 2018. Safe to say, it earned May her fair share of prominence as a rising actor.

But it was in 2021 that May accomplished her biggest feat — playing the first major Arab character and superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as she took on the role of Layla El-Faouly, an Egyptian archeologist and estranged wife of Marc Spector, played by Oscar Isaac, in Disney+ miniseries Moon Knight. She eventually turns into Scarlet Scarab at the end of the miniseries which premiered on March 30, 2022.

May was present at the recent Middle East Film and Comic Con that took place last weekend in Abu Dhabi. She returned to the city after eight years and feels "a lot has changed" since she was last here. "I can see almost all the changes because I remember when I was last here, I wasn't really acting at this scale," she said during a quick encounter at MEFCC 2023. "So I feel really good. But also, it feels like home in a way, and I feel really grateful that I can share it with the fans here."

We also had to ask about her love for Marvel films and characters, given that she now plays an important character that may turn more crucial when Marvel decides to conclude its phases. "I got into the Marvel films during Covid," she said. “That's when I watched all of the films. I am not going to lie, I was one of those people." But the miniseries and her performance garnered positive reviews compared to other productions Marvel has brought out in Phase Four, so we will give her that.

And with that, May believes these characters should go into the movies. "That's what I would hope for," she said.

In Moon Knight, May shares the screenspace with Oscar, the Hollywood hotshot who is known for his versatile performances in several films and TV shows. And he's become May's dear friend, she said, "I love to work with him, I learned a lot from him and he's an excellent actor."

"He understood his character so well and I just knew who he was (playing). Instantly, I could just feel the energy and he was always there as a guide for me if I felt stuck in anything," she added.

The MCU is finally getting diverse with more opportunities for Asian actors. In its newest phase we've seen Simu Liu, Awkwafina, and Michelle Yeoh ace their parts in Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, followed by Pakistani-Canadian actress Iman Vellaini's portrayal of Ms. Marvel in the miniseries, and not to mention how Angela Bassett made history as the first actor to nab an Oscar nomination for her performance in a Marvel film. She earned the nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her work as Queen Ramonda in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

"I feel like it is about time," May said. "Yes, I feel lucky and grateful that we are given the space but how can you expect it to be a universe without showing all the cultures, right?"

We had to ask May her favourite Marvel character. She said there's too many, but named Iron Man along with Winter Soldier and Wanda Maximoff. And we were happy to hear it.

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