While the various previews and teasers for Disney+’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law have offered some sense of the program, its Comic-Con International: San Diego tease offered of the most talked about glimpses of all: Charlie Cox’s latest return as Daredevil. Any concrete details about the character’s appearance in the upcoming program is, of course, locked behind Marvel Studio’s well-known veil of secrecy — or, as head writer Jessica Gao put it when talking to reporters at the Television Critics Association summer press tour on Wednesday, “First and foremost, we’re not allowed to tell you anything about that.” Nevertheless, she, six-episode director Kat Coiro, and star Tatiana Maslany were able to offer some other insights about the series, debuting later this month on the platform.
(Photo by Marvel Studios)
Described as Marvel’s first half-hour comedy, Maslany stars as Jennifer Walters, a hard-working attorney whose life is upended when she receives an infusion of her cousin’s blood. That relative happens to be Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) — aka the Incredible Hulk — and she receives hulk-like powers in kind. The change in her abilities proves to be suitable to her boss, a high-powered lawyer looking to open a branch of his firm dedicated to the burgeoning field of superhuman law. His plan, however, doesn’t sit well with Jennifer, who just wants to be a great attorney and has little interest in representing superheroes or being one herself.
“She’s worked very hard to get where she is as a lawyer,” Maslany explained. “And this thing derails her and it is an identity crisis.”
Unlike Bruce in his early days, where he and Hulk seemed to be of two minds, She-Hulk is always Jennifer Walters – whether she’s hulked out or not. But inhabiting two vastly different bodies presents a different sort of identity issue.
(Photo by Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios)
“Depending on who Jen presents as, she’s treated very differently,” Maslany said. “There’s a lot of affirming her intelligence when she’s Jen. When she’s She-Hulk, there’s this inherent awe inspired with her and Jen has a conflict with that.”
Coiro added it is “an extreme version of what every woman goes through” when making any sort of appearance in public.
“The world perceives her in a different way,” Gao said. “So much of identity is how the world perceives you and she can see in real time how people treat her differently. It changes every relationship she’s in.”
That includes friends like Ginger Gonzaga’s Nikki, cousin Bruce, work associates like Josh Segarra’s character, and various potential romantic partners — as teased in earlier trailers for the program.
In many ways, She-Hulk is an altogether different sort of Hulk story from the ones Marvel has told with Bruce in the movies thus far and Gao believes it is an inherent quality in chronicling the life of She-Hulk.
“What is a women’s experience going into all of this? You can’t expect two people to go through this and react the same way. That’s a crux of the series. Also, there’s a double-standard because she is a woman. It is different from the way the world treated [Bruce].”
And as glimpsed in the trailers, there are positives and negatives to that difference. How it will play out in the full series remains to be seen, though.
Meanwhile, Maslany said the actual work of being Hulks bonded her and Ruffalo in a very peculiar way.
“Hulk and She-Hulk don’t feel like they fit in the world,” she said of the characters. That sensation was reflected on set whenever the pair worked in motion capture suits that recorded their movements, but left them feeling at odds with the world. “We’re in these grey suits that inform the characters; we’re not in these cool [superhero] suits and we don’t feel cool.”
Gao added: “It mirrored what was happening in the script. But it was also a testament to how present you and Mark were. Being very real and with each other. Watching you guys, it really felt you were cousins who bicker at every family reunion.”
That dynamic led to new scenes, including moments in the training montage seen in the trailers.
The gray, skin-tight mo-cap suits are now a standard practice when a character is realized via computer graphics, but Coiro said it was important to her to “stay true to their performances.” That philosophy remains on display in the scenes glimpsed so far — even if the visual effects have been a source of criticism ahead of the show’s debut. The director suggested part of the intensity in that critique online may be connected to “our culture’s belief in their ownership of women’s bodies,” she also acknowledged the often-tough job VFX artists have in making the Marvel world come to life on tight deadlines and budgets: “We stand in solidarity with them.”
Maslany agreed: “I’m deferential to the artists and how quickly they must [work]. I can see the character’s thoughts [in the visual effects], and I’m in awe of what they do.”
Gao added, “It’s a massive undertaking. To have a show of this scale where the main character is CG, it’s an overwhelming and ginormous thing to take on.”
(Photo by Marvel Studios)
Returning to the physical aspect in playing Jen and She-Hulk, Maslany said, “[She-Hulk’s] largeness is fertile ground to play with it comedically. You can laugh, but it is the truth of every woman walking into a space … the fun for me was finding the way she moves through space.”
That sense of movement included Jen’s lack of a fighting style.
“She’s not really a fighter, so it’s a fun physical vocabulary to come up with. She’s not aware of how long her limbs are,” Maslany explained. A 6-foot-7 double was on set to offer some insight into how a much taller woman might navigate a certain set, and “she was awesome,” Maslany said.
“The duality of [She-Hulk’s] two bodies, I find compelling. Because our culture is so fixated on women’s bodies whether aesthetically or politically,” she continued. “What we do in this show is touch on it through Jessica’s hilarious brain. It’s really deep even at the same time it’s goofy.”
According to Coiro, “the lightheartedness makes it deep.”
One aspect of that lighthearted approach is Jen’s ability to break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience. Although it is only teased in the most recent trailer, Gao said, “if I had it my way, she’d be breaking the wall every other sentence.” Finding a good balance of fourth-wall-breaking and maintaining the program’s reality was tricky, but Gao noted it was the challenge writer and artist John Byrne faced when he first depicted Jen talking to the audience in the late 1980s/early 1990s Sensational She-Hulk comic book.
“The show is very meta and self-aware the same way the Byrne run was self-aware, but it’s not overpowering,” she said.
(Photo by Patrick Harbron/Netflix)
And how did Charlie Cox fit into that meta and self-aware milieu?
“Our tone is so different, and to see Charlie work in that tone is incredible,” Maslany said.
“It has the vibe of an old Howard Hawks movie,” Gao teased.