When Hannah John-Kamen learned she was to be Marvel’s next supervillain, she let out a yelp, hung up the phone and cranked up Do My Thang, Miley Cyrus’ empowering paean to self-determination.
The singer’s song Wrecking Ball might have been a better fit, given the British actress’ shock-and-awe introduction in Ant-Man and The Wasp as Ghost – an ethereal entity who passes through walls but packs a vicious punch.
“I was back in London and I got the call, and it was all my agents together,” the 28-year-old says.
“I remember I literally just screamed. I was in my apartment, I was walking around, going, ‘Oh my God, oh my God!’.
“I was so excited, And then I just blasted out Miley Cyrus’s song Do My Thang. I don’t know why, it was just on my playlist, and I blasted that out and just danced.”
In Hollywood, a role in a Marvel film that lasts until the end credits can be a key to the kingdom, offering follow-up appearances in spin-off films and all manner of “Avengers” mash-ups.
John-Kamen – who has credits in Game of Thrones and Black Mirror as well as parts in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Tomb Raider and Ready Player One – is ready for superstardom.
The daughter of a Nigerian forensic scientist and Norwegian former fashion model from northeastern England, she still pinches herself when she thinks about working with Steven Spielberg.
She says taking direction from the iconic director on the blockbuster Ready Player One, in which she played sinister gamer gang leader F’Nale Zandor, was “absolutely amazing”.
She says: “There’s no feeling like when you’ve done a take and he’s so happy and he’d go, ‘Now that’s a movie moment!’. And you’ve got that coming from Spielberg.
“I mean, it’s nuts. We would sing show tunes together. We’d sing Singin’ in the Rain, we’d sing Guys and Dolls.
“In between takes, we’d sit. Sometimes we’d get the lyrics printed and we’d just sing.”
Spielberg, according to John-Kamen, has a “wonderful voice” and a joy about him that makes his film set a “fun playground that you get to go in and play”.
Ant-Man and The Wasp, which goes on release around the world this week, is the sequel to 2015’s hit film Ant-Man, the 20th release in Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and the first to feature a woman in the title role.
Starring Paul Rudd as Ant-Man and Evangeline Lilly as The Wasp, it is also only the second MCU film with a female principal adversary, after Cate Blanchett’s Hela in 2017’s Thor Ragarnok.
John-Kamen’s Ava/Ghost – an anti-capitalist saboteur turned supervillain in the comics – acquires her mysterious powers in a lab accident that makes her cells intangible.
“It’s a male character in the comics … but to be the first person to take it off the page and actually give her life, it was an honour,” John-Kamen says.
The actress says it was important not to play Ghost as a traditional villain – no dastardly plans for taking over the planet – instead giving a nuanced performance that emphasises her tragedy.
“I’m doing this for a reason, as an objective,” the actress says.
“The stakes are high. I don’t think you just wake up in the morning and go, ‘Ha ha ha! World domination – that sounds fun!’.
“So I definitely approached that with the mind of going, ‘OK, she’s the good guy and everyone else can go to hell’.”
Executive producer Stephen Broussard said Marvel was looking for someone less recognisable and was taken with John-Kamen’s “intensity, her vulnerability and with her sense of humour”.
Her previous training as a dancer coupled with the desire to fully flesh out Ghost’s threadbare backstory made her perfect for the role, he says.
As is Marvel’s custom, John-Kamen was initially told very little about the part but enjoyed “every single minute” of the audition process, which eventually took her to Atlanta, Georgia, to meet director Peyton Reed.
“You think with an audition you’d be like, ‘Oh my gosh, I was so nervous. Oh my goodness, I was shaking.’
“Of course, there’s a high anxiety but I remember just getting in there and going, ‘Oh, OK – I feel really relaxed’,” she says.
“I’m really excited about this material and what we can do, and I’m excited to show you what I’ve come up with.”