Marvel Studios’ “She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” dares to be bold and different by being the first legal comedy with meta-commentary in the MCU. Unlike some of the high-stakes and coming-of-age dramas that we’ve seen in the past, head writer Jessica Gao brings some levity and a sense of awareness to a world that’s full of superheroes and supervillains through the eyes of Jennifer Walters aka She-Hulk (Tatiana Maslany).
ThatsItLA joined their fellow journalists to talk to Gao and director Kat Corio about Marvel Studios’ “She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” at the virtual press conference last week. During that time, they talked about their love of the character and adjusting the comedic tonal shifts with the larger cinematic superhero landscape that is the MCU.
For Corio, her love of comics stems as far back to when she was a kid and how being the only female character in a line of male comics resonated with her. “I remember very vividly, being a little girl and seeing the cover of a She Hulk comic in amidst the sea of male comics,” she said. “And just not knowing who she was or what this was, but knowing that I was moved by it. And that the idea of being large and in charge and, you know, taking control.”
But taking control isn’t something that happens overnight. For Gao, it took three rejections and a couple of years of developing the “She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” script to make her dream come true. “I was elated ‘cause it was a dream job. But also, I’d been rejected by Marvel three times on previous projects. So, I was like, “I guess fourth time is the charm.” It worked,” Gao said.
“But you are perfect for She Hulk because Jessica actually pitched herself by being like, “I know more about She Hulk than anyone,” which is the facts,” Ginger Gonzaga, who plays Nikki, Jennifer Walters’ best friend said. “And so, the universe waited for the one that was right for you.”
“It was the right project. I’m glad they rejected me so many times,” Gao jokingly added.
Coming from TV comedy, a legal and slice-of-life comedy like “She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” is perfect for Gao, who not only knows the material, but was also looking for a place where you can explore the character in ways that the films couldn’t do. “I think the beauty of television is, unlike the movies, we actually have time and space to really, like, sit with the character and learn more about them,” Gao said. “And really get to know them as a fully fleshed out person. And what’s great about Jen Walters, She-Hulk, is that she, because of Tatiana Maslany, makes this feel like a real human being.”
Because Gao wanted “She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” to be something more than just a legal parody set in the MCU, she wanted to share the female experience in ways that are honest but also with an MCU twist. “You feel like she’s lived a life, she has life experiences, she has relationships, she has a family and she has friends, you know? And also, that she changes, like, she might feel different in the morning than she does in the evening. She might feel different today than she does yesterday. Like, this is a real person who actually feels things and processes things and, like most people, has highs and lows.”
“I would say that each episode really has a distinct flavor. And we pulled from so many genres. You know, the easy answer is that it’s a half-hour legal comedy. But it also has huge cinematic scope and elements of drama, action, and suspense,” Corio said about the multiple genres “She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” has. “It really is a little bit of a peek behind the curtain at the every day, sometimes even mundane life of a superhero, which we do get to experience in this long-form series.”
Doing something that was so different from the usual MCU fare that we’ve been getting was what drew Gao to adapting the John Bryne run. But it also helps to have a great cast that embraces the material. “You know, it was just so, like, lighthearted and fun and refreshing. So that was always kind of a foundational element. And for me, because I come from TV comedy, like, the comedy was kind of, like, a priority,” she said. “But then, what’s great about having such an incredible cast is, then it feels like you’re cheating a little bit as a writer. Because they come in and they really just imbue this, like, 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.”
“We were always looking for that balance between really honoring the comedy that was on the page and that the actors were bringing on the day. But also making something that fits into the MCU visually and feels cinematic,” Corio added. “And so, it was just always, you know, going back and forth between those two things and finding ways to slot them both in.”
Of course, “She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” wouldn’t be much of an MCU series without its obligatory cameo. And while we can expect to see Abomination (Tim Roth) and Wong (Benedict Wong), one of the biggest surprises is that Daredevil (Charlie Cox) makes an appearance. “It was nice not to keep Daredevil a secret anymore, as well. That was a huge relief,” Corio said of the “She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” San Diego Comic-Con trailer.
“While we were watching the trailer, because Kevin was standing next to me, like, we had spent weeks fighting over what should go on the trailer and what shouldn’t,” Gao added. “And so, it was just the two of us sniping at each other over, like, over our respective positions and the pieces that were in the trailer. “
But the one thing that fans and audiences can expect to see is Jennifer Walters breaking the fourth-wall. It’s something of which the character has been known to do long before Deadpool made it popular. However, visualizing it in a way that didn’t feel like a copy was another issue they had to figure out. “It went through a lot of evolutionary steps. 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, like, that’s more behind the scenes? You know,” Gao said. “At one point, there was an iteration in the scripts where, instead of really talking directly to camera, there were, kind of text boxes that were editor’s notes, like the comic books, how there were editor’s notes in comics.”
“And she was actually interacting with the editor’s notes that would be onscreen. I mean, we did eventually scrap that idea,” Gao added. “But I mean, we went through a lot of different versions of how she would do it.
“Ultimately, it was about finding the balance, you know, 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,” Corio said.
And it’s not that hard to connect with a character like Jennifer Walters, who is played brilliantly by Tatiana Maslany. “There is nobody else. There was nobody else. There was really no other discussion. And, you know, from her previous work, we knew that she had a range and could embody so many elements of the human experience,” Gao said of choosing Maslany to play the lead role. “And what’s so interesting and different about Jennifer is that as Tatiana said, she maintains her sense of self and yet her sense of self is influenced by the way she presents when she changes, it’s a different way of walking through the world. And so it required a nuance of performance that really only Tatiana could give.”
“We talked about how important it is for this character to be human first. And truly, from day one, the moment she stepped into this role, it immediately was right before your eyes, you’re like oh, ‘this is a person. Before, like a second ago, this was just words on a page and now I’m seeing a real person who I believe has lived this entire life, has all these relationships, and has all these feelings,” Corio said. “And then on top of that because I only knew her as a dramatic actress, and on top of that, she’s super funny.”
And Maslany was so perfect for the role not just because of her acting ability but a sense of the character’s trajectory as well. “The other wonderful thing about Tatiana is that she has such a good instinct for characters and for the story because they really go hand in hand. And there have been so many times where’s she’s kind of like pinpointed something, you know, that didn’t quite feel right just like instinctively, but also intellectually,” Corio said. “And it was always right. Like it always forced us to work together to like get it to a better place that was more real and that was smarter and better. And like for that, I’m eternally grateful.”
Not only did Gao want “She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” to be funny, but she also wanted it to be authentic as well. One particular scene she fought to keep was the sanctity of the women’s restroom and how they look out for one another when one appears to be in distress. While some executives may not have understood about this truth, it was something that was important for Gao to have in the show.
“That scene was so important to me and there were so many times that it was on the chopping block because a lot of people didn’t understand it. And I was like this is the single most important scene to me in this entire episode because truly, the women’s bathroom in any club, bar, strip club, I don’t care, like any public women’s bathroom is the most safe, protective, and supportive environment,” Gao said. “it’s the truth, you know? And women are so often depicted as being catty, and bitchy, and, you know, that could be possibly be true outside of the bar, but the moment you’re in the inner sanctum of the bathroom, like women just wanna help each other.”
“She-Hulk: Attorney At Law” debuts exclusively on Disney+ on August 18, 2022.