At some point, most working actors today will start to think of where they might fit into one cinematic superhero universe or another. But even though Erin Kellyman had broken out in another massive franchise — playing resistance fighter Enfys Nest in Solo: A Star Wars Story — she hadn’t dared daydream about what Marvel property she could join, let alone what character she would play.
“That was never in the cards for me at all,” Kellyman tells ET over Zoom, beaming and shaking her curly head as if still in disbelief. “I just didn’t expect– I don’t know what I was expecting of myself. Definitely wasn’t this.”
As would soon become clear, it was very much in the cards. Producer Zoie Nagelhout had seen Solo and, coming up on two years ago, Kellyman was asked to audition for an undisclosed role in an unnamed Marvel project. “I auditioned, and then tried to just push it down and not think about it, because I didn’t want to get disappointed.” One callback later, she got the call from Nagelhout and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier director Kari Skogland.
“That was when they told me more about the character, and I was like, ‘Oh my god. I’ve been auditioning for this crazy character and had no idea!’ And then I booked it,” Kellyman recalls. “It didn’t sink in straight away. It took a few days, for sure. Also, it’s one of those things where you feel like they might just change their minds. Maybe they’ve got something wrong, and they don’t want me. But it was incredible. It was so, so surreal.”
The project is, of course, The Falcon and the Winter Solider, one of Marvel Studios’ first streaming series, and the role is Karli Morgenthau. Over the first two episodes, Karli is introduced as the super-strong leader of the Flag Smashers, although beyond the group’s mission statement, not much has yet been revealed about who she is as an individual. Kellyman got the full rundown during the first call, though.
“They broke down the whole thing. I think Kari may have done it on accident, because we were talking and then she was like, ‘Oh, I should probably stop talking now,'” Kellyman laughs. “Once I learned more about her and realized what she was fighting for and understood her more as a character, it was, like, a no-brainer. Why would I not want to play this character? She’s frigging awesome.”
In the pages of Marvel comics, Karli is actually Karl Morgenthau, the son of a wealthy diplomat who becomes the anti-nationalist superhero Flag-Smasher. That the role had been reimagined and gender-swapped for the MCU was immediately appealing to Kellyman. “It was really brave of them to make the change and make the Marvel show more inclusive in that way,” she says.
“It’s so important. I feel like young women and girls are going to have this character to look up to and relate to now, which they wouldn’t have done if it were played by a man. Or not in the same way, at least,” she explains. That, by essence, makes Karli a very different character from Karl. “Our experiences are very different. I’m never going to know what it’s like to be a middle-aged white man, so already our outlooks on life immediately are going to be very different and so then our actions after that are also going to be different.”