Teyonah Parris dreamed of being in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But looking back, she didn’t believe it was possible.
“There was a bit of me that was like, ‘Okay, good luck,'” she tells Variety. “I thought it was never going to happen because you don’t see those representations there. I didn’t know I would have the honor of being one of the few to start being that representation. I do wish that it was already there and that I was just continuing it forward. I wish those images in that representation had been there before me in the superhero space in a more vast way.”
Portraying Monica Rambeau in Disney Plus’ “WandaVision,” Parris had her biggest year yet opposite Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen and Kathryn Hahn. The daughter of Air Force pilot Maria Rambeau (played by Lashana Lynch in “Captain Marvel”), Monica is one of the few Black women superhero characters in the MCU, which came with an immense amount of pressure.
In the middle of Emmy nomination voting, Parris is in contention for her first nomination for supporting actress in a limited series, along with her co-star Kathryn Hahn as the villainous Agatha Harkness. Depending on how the six-women nomination field plays out, if nominated, she will continue an eight-year streak of Black actresses nominated in the category that’s seen Regina King (twice for “American Crime”) and Uzo Aduba (“Mrs. America”) pick up statuettes. If she’s lucky enough to be one of three Black actresses in the running for a nom — which includes contenders Renée Elise Goldsberry (“Hamilton”), Weruche Opia (“I May Destroy You”) and Letitia Wright (“Small Axe”) — it will be just the second time three Black woman have been nominated in the category in the same year (first was 2015 with Angela Bassett, Regina King and Mo’Nique).
Some other history has already been made with Parris’ involvement in the hit Marvel series. In a pivotal moment of the seventh episode of “WandaVision,” we see Monica take her first superhero stance during a confrontation with Wanda Maximoff (Olsen). Not many people see themselves reflected on their TV screens, a feeling Parris knows all too well, which made the scene even more vital. “I knew how special it was to even be able to take that stance,” she recalls during filming. “It was a dream come true and I knew it was a big deal. To be exposed to people who don’t have the same walk of life as you is super important and I was ready.”
While her co-star Hahn has racked up lots of the series acclaim and pop culture attention, there’s an opportunity for multiple actresses to be nominated from the same series (i.e., “Hamilton” and “Mare of Easttown”). Given the show is contending heavily in the leading categories for Bettany and Olsen, a double-dipping acting nom is possible. The awards landscape has been progressing, seen with the Emmy winners last year and Oscar nominations this year. “I do feel there’s a change happening, and I’m happy to be part of an industry in this moment where we are feeling a shift with awards,” she says. “I want to do the work and tell beautiful stories that change people’s minds about themselves, about their community and other people’s communities.”
This isn’t the end for Monica Rambeau, as shown in the post credits scene of “WandaVision.” She’ll appear in the “Captain Marvel” sequel, titled “The Marvels. The film will be directed by Nia DaCosta, who also helmed the upcoming “Candyman” reboot, in which Parris also stars. Taking place after the events of “WandaVision,” the feature film is on track to be the first all-female superhero film for the MCU. When Parris signed onto the project, she had no idea where Monica would land, and if it would go anywhere beyond the Disney Plus limited series.
Very secretive on the details of “The Marvels,” Parris was able to share what DaCosta can bring to the film. “First of all, I’m just such a fan of her as a human. Then you have her visual, very artistic eye on how a film feels with her. With Monica, we’ve established who she is in “WandaVision,” and in “The Marvels,” we have an opportunity to further understand who this woman is. Having a woman of color at the helm of furthering this story of one of the few super-powered female, African American beings, I think it’s really special.”
“The Marvels” will also will star the first Muslim superhero, Ms. Marvel, played by Iman Vellani, along with Oscar winner Brie Larson reprising her role as Carol Danvers a.k.a. Captain Marvel. “Little Monica had a relationship with Carol Danvers, and we’ll get to see what happens with that relationship, and how or if, it brings them to the present,” Parris says.
Parris’ arrival in Hollywood was no coincidence. It was an effect of hard work and a passion for acting that began in Hopkins, South Carolina, under the guidance of a father who is an electrician and a mother who is an office manager. Coming from a “non-artistic family,” Parris is amazed by the support she received from her family stating, “to not have an understanding what this acting thing is, but give your full support behind your child’s dreams — I’m so deeply appreciate to them.”
Parris was also heavily influenced in her younger years by the likes of Angela Bassett and recalls watching Halle Berry accept her best actress Oscar for “Monster’s Ball” (2001), not fully understanding the gravity of Berry becoming the first, and currently only, Black woman to ever win a lead actress award. But awards aren’t a focus for her. “I want to affect change with my artistry. I try to put artistry on the pedestal, with the storytelling and the journey of these characters, and not the accolades that may or may not come after.” She’s hinted at that with many of her roles thus far, like her memorable work as Ernestine Rivers in Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk,” where she showed the depth of skill upon delivering a line as simple as “unbow your head, sister,” a crucial moment opposite Kiki Layne and Oscar winner Regina King.
If “WandaVision” brought her to the mainstream, then “The Marvels” could set her into the stratosphere. While the superhero genre has had trouble being embraced in the awards conversations, Disney Plus made significant headway last year with “The Mandalorian,” and could expand on that in a bigger way when nominations are announced on July 13. Says Parris, “I’m ready for this moment.”