Tatiana Maslany and Jessica Gao break down the MCU’s most out-there series
Cover | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | Oct. 27, 2022
She-Hulk: Attorney At Law
This story includes spoilers for She-Hulk: Attorney At Law.
Unlike with traditional TV or streaming shows, hype interviews for Marvel’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law were replaced with post-mortem debriefings. Given the show’s tone, it’s not surprising. She-Hulk wallowed in fourth wall breaking and narrative meta-comments as it unfolded. A good part of the fun was going in blind.
The approach, familiar to fans of She-Hulk comics (and Deadpool movies) but new to the MCU, culminated with a season finale in which the hero poked holes in the Marvel formula itself. Nothing too pointed, but edgy enough to show fans that Marvel is paying attention. Witnessing She-Hulk’s alter ego, Jennifer Walters, impishly asking when we can expect the X-Men to join the cinematic universe was particularly amusing.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law wasn’t only formally original — it also repositioned female roles within the MCU. While Marvel is far from the worst offender in the depiction of women as passive, they rarely drive the action (Black Widow finally came out 13 years after Iron Man). As enjoyable as it was to see Jen Walters banter with Mark Ruffalo’s Smart Hulk, the show never failed to highlight that She-Hulk is the one at the wheel here, no matter who the male guest star du jour is.
None of this would work without Regina’s Tatiana Maslany as the lead. A reliable screen presence since her big break in Orphan Black, the actor gets to flex her comedic chops after a series of rather heavy roles in the Nicole Kidman vehicle Destroyer and the HBO series Perry Mason, among others.
Because Maslany is so in-demand, I only had five minutes to chat with her. Still, more time than I had in 2017 when I squeezed two Saskatchewan-tinted questions in at a press junket for the movie Stronger — to Miranda Richardson’s mild annoyance.
Hi Tatiana, Jorge Castillo from Prairie Dog and Planet S here.
YAY! Hi! I used to read the Prairie Dog all the time.
Nice. Let me start by asking if breaking the fourth wall as Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk so often felt unnatural.
By the time we got to the finale, I felt comfortable with the fourth-wall break, but in the first couple of episodes it felt like a new skill, one that not many actors get to try out. I was daunted by it because ultimately you’re talking to nobody, and you have to do it as if you knew that person really well. We were always playing with who she was talking to — a best friend, or a vast audience she didn’t know and was trying to bring to her side.
Even given the series’ tone, the finale is quite out there. Did you have any concerns?
No, because I felt what we were doing was so irreverent, so in the spirit of She-Hulk, for her to go to the top [of Marvel] and try to try to wrestle her story back, it seemed natural to me. I loved it. There were some nerves around it from other people, but for me it was a no-brainer.
What’s the most Regina thing about She-Hulk?
There’s a self-deprecating humour to She-Hulk. She feels very connected to me. Here’s a weird connection: isn’t Deadpool from Regina?
Yes, he is.
She-Hulk and Deadpool talk to the fourth wall… There’s something about Regina and the fourth wall.
If there’s a second season [a given, but not ordered yet], what aspect of She-Hulk/Jennifer Walters would you like to explore?
I just want to be surprised, because that’s what drew me to this character in the first place. Things like the finale, where I was like “what? We get to do that?” As long as we get to flip [the formula] on its head and she stays a weirdo, I’m happy.
My time is up. Lovely to talk to you again, Tatiana.
Say hi to the city for me! I miss it.
She-Hulk: Attorney At Law’s creator, showrunner, and head writer Jessica Gao might not yet be in the collective cultural subconscious, but odds are you know her work — Gao wrote the classic Rick and Morty episode, “Pickle Rick”. She also locked horns with MCU head honcho Kevin Feige and lived to tell the tale (Feige agreed to be portrayed as a robot in She-Hulk but had issues with incorporating his trademark baseball cap into the design. The writer stuck to her guns and a compromise was reached).
Gao imagined season one as an origin story: the first episode, the physical origin; the rest, her emotional and mental transformation, concluding with Jennifer Walters’ acceptance of this new persona and her pursuit of life-Hulk balance.
Was the She-Hulk finale a hard sell for Marvel? You not only break the fourth wall, you deconstruct the MCU.
Not at all. I initially approached the finale thinking we had our fun but now we have to do a typical Marvel ending. It was a real struggle because it wasn’t right. It was Kevin Feige himself who said, “There’s no reason to make it a typical Marvel ending. This isn’t a Marvel movie.” That was both permission and encouragement.
Were you surprised with the level of creative freedom you had?
I was very surprised because of Marvel’s reputation — they have, and exert, a lot of control over their projects. There weren’t limitations placed on us at the writing stage. The approach was always “let’s come up with what we would love to see”, whether or not we thought it was possible. The real surprise was the things they said yes to.
Did you always know that the sexist trolls ultimately revealed as She-Hulk’s villains would mirror the reaction of the actual ones, almost in real time?
That was very fun to watch unfold. We started our writers’ room three years ago. Even back then, we could predict exactly what they would say and how they would react. This is how unoriginal these trolls are.
The final episode’s big reveal is the introduction of Skaar, Hulk’s son. What are the mechanics behind that? Does Kevin Feige tell you, “You need to do this to move the MCU forward”?
Early on we played around with the idea of a fun cameo at the very end, even as a post-credit sting. That’s very dependent on who’s available and willing to do it. We can’t commit to it at script phase because we don’t know. Then we thought, maybe we can tease a new character. Ultimately Kevin decided that Skaar would be that character.
What She-Hulk characters did you particularly enjoy writing for?
I’m sure it says something about me that Luke Jacobson [the acerbic superhero costume designer] is the easiest character for me to channel. I also love writing for Madissyn [the party girl who strikes a friendship with Wong, the Sorcerer Supreme]. The writers’ room’s favourite was Titania [She-Hulk’s main antagonist, played by Jameela Jamil]. ■