“I remember very vividly, being a little girl and seeing the cover of a She-Hulk comic amidst the sea of male comics,” says Kat Coiro, Director and Executive Producer of new Marvel series She-Hulk: Attorney At Law. “Just not knowing who she was or what this was, but knowing that I was moved by it and that idea of being large and in charge and taking control.”
Large and in charge is certainly right. She-Hulk: Attorney At Law tells the story of Jennifer Walters, an attorney specializing in superhuman-oriented legal cases. She leads the rather complicated life of a 30-something woman who also happens to be a green 6-foot-7-inch superpowered hulk.
Created by Stan Lee and John Buscema, the character was introduced back 1980, in ‘The Savage She-Hulk’ comic series. The character went on to become a member of the Avengers in 1982 and was featured in the ‘Fantastic Four’ series beginning in 1984.
For the series, the role of Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk went to an actor that has a pretty vast experience playing multiple roles in one show: Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany.
In fact, for Maslany, it was that duality between Jennifer and She-Hulk that she found compelling: “It was her conflict with it that I found most interesting,” she says, “like her resistance to it. She’s built this life for herself that she does not want let go of. She’s worked so hard to be a lawyer and she has to constantly prove herself. So she’s on this path and then when this thing happens to her, she has to contend with a whole other perception being placed on top of her and expectations societally of how she should be and who she should be.”
Ah yes, the ‘thing’ that happens to Jennifer Walters is a car crash while on a trip with her cousin Bruce Banner (yes, that Bruce Banner). When she tries to help during the aftermath of the accident, his blood is mixed with hers and she becomes poisoned by the same gamma rays that created the Hulk.
As soon as he realises, Bruce whisks Jennifer off to his remote zen retreat in Mexico to go through, what he thinks, will be years of training just like he did to control his Hulk-ness – though a Rocky-type montage isn’t exactly what happens. As Maslany explained, Jennifer resists the changes, leading to a pretty frustrated Bruce and good-natured bickering and one-upmanship (or should that be one-upHulkship?) between the two.
Mark Ruffalo, who plays Hulk/Bruce Banner in the Avengers movies reprises his role for the series. “It is easy when Mark comes to set, “ says Maslany. “Mark and I are doing these kind-of sibling scenes, where we’re ripping each other, but also love each other very much. It was a very easy dynamic to bring to camera because it just was right. It just made sense.”
The two discover that Jennifer has a discipline over her green side that Bruce hasn’t seen before. She doesn’t Hulk out at the slightest hint of rage and she’s able to be herself even when going full green. She has no ‘other guy’ to contend with and she soon wants to go back to work and try to live as normal a life as possible. Which isn’t easy when you’re a Hulk.
“What’s so great about the show is that it has all those huge Marvel elements to it [but] we also deal with She-Hulk swipe dating,” says Maslany. “We deal with her helping her dad carry stuff into the garage. It’s those little sweet moments that really made me excited to do this show.”
Normal for Jennifer is her life as a lawyer and she’s keen to get back to that and to her friend/paralegal Nikki, who is there to offer Jen sage advice in both personal and professional matters.
“I would hang out with Nikki in real life,” laughs Ginger Gonzaga who plays her. “Shamefully, I do feel like I’m kind of cheating on this show. I feel like Nikki’s pretty similar to me. She’s very free. She’s that person who can get away with anything and encourage you to do whatever.”
When Nikki finds out about Jennifer’s greener element, she does all she can to make sure she can balance the two… and still have a good time
“I love that they’re female friends who actually care about each other and love each other and have some sense of emotional maturity to their life,” continues Gonzaga. “It’s a really good balance because Jen is kind of by the book. She’s safe. She knows what she’s doing with her life. Nikki is reckless and free, but in a fun way. So, I can kinda light fires and I encourage Jen to become She-Hulk, which is why, if She-Hulk ever saves the world, you can actually thank her good friend, Nikki. There is, behind every superhero, a catalyst best friend that’s encouraging you to get in a lot of trouble [haha].”
Jennifer’s penchant for living by the book and her insistence on sticking to her normal life as much as possible gives the show a pretty unique element in the MCU: mundanity.
“It really is a little bit of a peek behind the curtain at the everyday, sometimes even mundane life of a superhero, which we do get to experience in this long form series,” explains Coiro.
That normality, plus the medium of television as a whole, means we can really get to know who Jennifer is outside of her Hulk-ness. Which we think she’d probably appreciate.
“I think the beauty of television is, unlike the movies, we actually have time and space to sit with the character, learn more about them and really get to know them as a fully fleshed out person,” says Jessica Gao, Head Writer and Executive Producer of the series. “What’s great about Jen Walters, She-Hulk, is that she, because of Tatiana Maslany, was able to immediately make this feel like a real human being. You feel like she’s lived a life, she has life experiences, she has relationships, she has a family and she has friends. This is a real person who actually feels things and processes things and, like most people, has highs and lows.”
It’s not just Jennifer who has to tackle the balancing act of being a superhero and a bassass female lawyer. The show itself called for a mixture of heart, humour, action and drama.
“It was one of the biggest challenges of the series,” Coiro nods when asked about balancing humour and action. “Action and CGI take a lot of rigid preparedness and comedy is the opposite, where you want looseness and you want to be able to play a little.
“We would rehearse in advance so that then we could come in and set up all the technical things, we could have some semblance of looseness. Definitely, the biggest challenge of the show was balancing all the technical aspects, all the action, all the stunts with comedy, which traditionally is just people in a room talking with cameras pointed at them.”
A lot of the humour from the show comes from Jennifer breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience. “She was doing it long before Deadpool or Fleabag,” laughs Coiro.
Indeed, writer/artist John Byrne infused the character with her fourth-wall-breaking sense of humor in his ‘Sensational She-Hulk’ comic series that ran from 1989- 1994 and that run of comics has had a big influence on the series.
“It was the John Byrne run that made me fall in love with this character,” nods Gao. “It was just so lighthearted and fun and refreshing. That was always a foundational element. For me, because I come from TV comedy, the comedy was kind of a priority. But then, what’s great about having such an incredible cast is that it feels like you’re cheating a little bit as a writer because they come in and they really just imbue this humanity and this realness to these characters. Where you were like ‘Oh, I was kinda focused on jokes, but you guys made her a real person’.”
Though a fun element to the series, the fourth wall element came with its own headaches… “It went through a lot of evolutionary steps,” Gao remembers. “A long journey of, like, how much should she talk to camera? Is she talking directly to the audience? Is there another meta element? Is she talking to somebody else that’s more behind the scenes? We went through a lot of different versions of how she would do it!”
“Ultimately, it was about finding the balance to where breaking the fourth wall does connect to the audience and draws us in but not so much so that we’re not connecting to her story and the world that we’ve built,” adds Coiro.
Actually, for Maslany, Jennifer’s ability to break the fourth wall is a bit like an extension of her impressive ability to take control of the situation. Whether that’s of She-Hulk or us as an audience. “I think that there’s something about She-Hulk’s awareness. Where she’s able to go from being Jen to She-Hulk with seamlessness. Her consciousness stays the same. She’s aware of the audience. It’s like an extension of her superpower. She’s like, ‘I know I’m talking to the camera. I know you guys are watching this’. There’s something about that super hyperawareness that is who she is.”
“I feel like the audience gets a Nikki experience with that because she’s referring almost to a friend,” Gonzaga adds. Actually, it’s Jennifer’s self-awareness that Gonzaga hopes audiences take away from the show… “Yeah, I hope that people gain a She-Hulk level of self-awareness. Cinema has such a power. It’s such a fast track to empathy.
“Also, I hope that [audiences] feel really seen and can relate to She-Hulk because Nikki wants so badly for She-Hulk to embrace being special, being different, owning that power, taking up space, being kind of unapologetic about who she is. I want that for the world. So I hope you can see that in She-Hulk… while laughing [haha].”
For the star of the show, she’s “curious” about the conversations audiences will have about the series and their reactions to a female superhero. “I think people can have a real visceral response to a woman superhero, which we’ve already felt online,” Maslany explains. “It’s interesting to me that there is such a visceral response and I’m curious about the question around why. Whether it’s laughter or all of that, there is so much else going on that challenges people and that I think we really like hit [that] in a wonderful way near the end of the season. I’m so excited for people to see that.”
“I hope that people who love Marvel will just see like ‘oh my god, this is a whole new area of Marvel that I now get to enjoy’,” Gao adds. “I hope that the people who didn’t feel like there was a place for them in the fandom of Marvel, they didn’t get represented, that they didn’t really get to see themselves reflected, now feel like they get to finally see that.”
She-Hulk is out now on Disney+