Talk about trying to find the right work/life balance! In the latest Disney+ Marvel series, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (premiering August 18), Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) has one doozy of a dilemma in that regard. On the one hand, she’s navigating life as a lawyer — the career she’s worked so hard for. And on the other hand, when pressed, she’s forced to navigate life as a 6-foot-7-inch She-Hulk. There’ll be no question about what she’s feeling and how she’s dealing — we’ll get to see her break the fourth wall and speak to viewers directly, something that was “very, very tricky” in figuring out how often to do it, according to head writer and executive producer Jessica Gao.
“If I had my way, she’d be breaking the fourth wall every other sentence,” Gao admitted during the show’s virtual panel as part of the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour. “I’m definitely on the ‘let’s turn it up to 11’ side of things and everybody else had to pull me back a little bit more from it. But I will say the show is very meta and self-aware in the same way that the [John] Byrne [comics were] very meta and self-aware. And it is present in the show, but it’s not overpowering.”
As director and co-executive producer Kat Coiro pointed out, She-Hulk is something of a fourth wall-breaking originator, having done so years before Deadpool and Fleabag. “Back in the comics, she was always very meta and she was always taking control of her story and her narrative, and I think that’s something Jessica really captured amazingly in the show, the essence of that spirit.”
After becoming She-Hulk, Jennifer is made the face of the division for superhumans at her law firm. “To have this thing happen to her that sort of derails everything, it is a bit of an identity crisis,” according to Maslany. “What I find really compelling about this story is how, depending on who Jen presents as, when she’s She-Hulk, she’s treated very differently than when she’s Jen. There’s a lot of having to really affirm her intelligence when she’s Jen and assert her role and try to get respect. Whereas when she’s She-Hulk, there’s this inherent awe inspired by her.”
Coiro likened that to “a very extreme level” to the issues that people, especially women, deal with. “Just dressing up changes the way that you’re perceived,” she explained. “Your status in your job changes the way that you’re perceived.”
After all, while people may see Jennifer differently and she may not move the same way when she’s She-Hulk, she retains her consciousness. Added Gao, “it completely changes the dynamics of every relationship she’s in: her relationship with her co-workers, her relationship with her friends, her relationship with her family.”
Among those relationships is that between Jennifer and her cousin, Bruce Banner/Smart Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Maslany shared that the tech used — it’s a CGI-heavy series — “actually informs the character” in a way. “She-Hulk and Hulk sort of feel like outsiders. They do kind of feel like they don’t fit in the world, like we’re sort of in these little gray suits with the camera in front of our faces,” she explained.
Coiro noted several “life-imitating art moments” for the two as well. “He’d been playing this role for a decade. Hulk has been Hulk for a long time, you were new to it. But then he came in and was so open to this new genre and so deferential to you because you’d be doing it.”
As Gao added, addressing Maslany, “when we watched you guys, it really felt like ‘Oh, these two are cousins who have been bickering for years at every family reunion and we put them together.’” That led to, Coiro shared, “additions to the script. I remember the first day you guys were together and playing off each other and we were like, ‘Oh, we need to see more of this!’ And it led to building out the montage that’s in the trailer a lot. That was really based on your guys’ chemistry and your energy having fun despite all of these technical things you had to grapple with.”
But while the two do have the Hulk journey in common, “you can’t expect two people to go through a similar situation but react the exact same way,” Gao said. “That’s the crux of their relationship in this series: seeing that there are some things that they can relate to each other, but ultimately they are different people who are experiencing it in very different ways. And also, there is a double standard to how the world perceives her because she is a woman and because she is the female Hulk. The way everybody treats her is also very different than the way the world has treated him.”
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, Series Premiere, Thursday, August 18, Disney+
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