Many stories told in the Marvel Cinematic Universe tend to deal with heavy topics like the potential destruction of everything we hold dear at the hands of Thanos and Kang the Conqueror. However, what also makes the MCU so special are the moments of laughter, hope, and fun that keep that darkness at bay. With She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, Marvel is looking to dive deep into that well of happiness and shed even more comedic light on the MCU and its characters.
IGN spoke to She-Hulk stars Tatiana Maslany, Mark Ruffalo and Ginger Gonzaga, director Kat Coiro and head writer Jessica Gao, and they shared why the laughs held in this 30-minute legal comedy are exactly what the MCU needed.
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She-Hulk made her way into the comic book world in 1980 with The Savage She-Hulk and, as Gao says, “she was always a lot of fun.” This made She-Hulk the perfect candidate for a comedy series set in the MCU, and the plan to make it a lighter, funnier tale was decided early on.
“She-Hulk was always going to be a comedy,” Gao said. “Not just because I have a background in TV comedy writing, but if you know her from the comics, she’s always been a lot of fun. The most iconic race, the John Byrne race, was so irreverent and fun and self-aware and meta, that’s where she broke the fourth wall. So, for me, that’s the main She-Hulk and she naturally lends itself well to comedy.
One of the most important parts of making this plan happen was, obviously, finding the perfect actor to play Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk. After countless auditions, Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany was cast, and she opened up about how nervous she was initially about auditioning for the role, but the script’s humor and uniqueness made it so that everything goes well.
“It was like every page where I laughed and there was this very specific sense of humor that made it seem like it could only come from a brain like Jessica Gao’s, and it was such a question of character,” Maslany said. “It really didn’t fall into those tropes of a great superhero story, it was really about a person going through their own things when this other thing happened to them and they kind of wanted to completely ignore it.
“She worked very hard to become a lawyer. She has a good group of loyal friends around her, people she loves, and yet she has a rigidity and stubbornness. Her mind is so set on how she wants her life to be that when this thing happens to her and she can’t process it, she kind of denies it.
It also probably didn’t hurt that Mark Ruffalo, the actor who has played Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk since 2012’s The Avengers, was going to be a key part of the show. According to Coiro, the storyline and “incredible instant chemistry” between the two Hulks helped the show find its footing.
“The real secret of comedy is to allow actors to play, and to allow improvisation and looseness. Mark and Tatiana had this amazing instant chemistry with each other. And a lot of what you see in this first episode is actually influenced by their dynamics, and there are definitely moments that weren’t on the page and look, it takes great material to allow the actors to do that, so that’s part of the evolution going from the scenario to the shooting.
These comments were echoed by Maslany and Ruffalo themselves.
“He was so much fun playing with him,” Maslany said of Ruffalo. “He really is like a big kid in the way he approaches this role in a way that maybe hasn’t been seen every time he plays the Hulk. There was something about the tone of this show that let us kind of be like two big babies running around in little gray suits and yelling at each other. Yeah, and he’s very in the moment. He is very attached to the connection. He’s very much about connection and presence, and so he’s like my ideal actor to work with.
Just like babies, Ruffalo has a self-proclaimed short attention span. He’s been doing this acting for a while now and realizes he can get bored pretty quickly if something doesn’t feel “fresh”. She-Hulk, among other things, ticked that box and gave Ruffalo a chance to take roads he’d never taken before.
“I haven’t done a lot of TV and I’ve mostly done movies and I have a very short attention span,” Ruffalo said. “I get bored quickly. And it’s probably my fear of being bored and [She-Hulk has] kept it fresh for me and I think it keeps it fresh for everyone. And that’s just another iteration and we get into his private life and just the goofy stuff, like how doesn’t he bang his head through doors? And how does his furniture keep from collapsing every time he sits on something? Or what does he like when he’s frazzled and all those sorts of things that we’ve never been able to explore before.
“The great thing about Marvel is how much work has already been done on their personal lives, on these other characters, on their relationships with these other characters through all the years of comics. So that gives you just this huge opportunity to explore so many different avenues. And that’s another one and a personal family relationship that’s very close. It’s amazing how much they fall into each other and how it’s familiar and yeah. And now we’ve established that. Now there’s just a whole other way to go because of it.
This supposedly “fresh” feeling sparked a period of adjustment for other MCU characters who might appear in She-Hulk, and Coiro explained how the team encouraged them to embrace this new style of MCU storytelling.
“All of the actors who came from the existing MCU world had a little adjustment period where they realized they were really the same characters in a new genre, because this is the first time Marvel has done a forensic comedy. half an hour,” Coorio said. “And the most common question I got was like, ‘Am I going too far?’ And my answer was always like, ‘No, you can go further. You can play.’ It really is a straight-up comedy in many ways.
This is what happens on a superhero’s day off
As mentioned earlier, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law seeks to focus more on the day in the life of superheroes when they’re not saving the universe. This new series is very much a left turn from standard MCU fare, and in some ways it’s billed as a breath of fresh air.
“I think it’s fun for people who are used to doing one thing to then be able to kind of take a break from the very dramatic and sometimes dark, and then really take a break and play into the tone of our show , because they have the advantage of knowing, on our show, that the world is not going to end, that the universe is not at stake. So you have the time and the space to let this character breathe and show sort of what happens on his day off when he’s not saving the world.
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“For me, my favorite type of humor is to take these huge, big concepts. These high conceptual things, extraordinary things, like superheroes and saving the universe and being an Avenger and really distilling that down to a real-world, grounded storyline where, rather than focusing on the spectacle of those big action things that happen in movies, we focus on a slice of life, just normal stuff.To me, the juxtaposition of those two things are comic gold. It’s my favorite kind of area to explore.
Ginger Gonzaga, who is set to play Jennifer Walters’ friend Nikki Ramos, also talked about putting the spotlight on ground-level heroes because it tends to make them much easier to relate to. As much as many of us would love to, most of us aren’t soaring through the skies or transforming into big green superheroes.
“I keep saying we’re hilarious humans and being a person is really awkward and weird,” Gonzaga said. “And so I love comedy. I love The Office. I love Arrested Development. I like comedy when it has so much to do with the humanity and character of the person. Because Jen doesn’t want to be a superhero, somehow we’re able to do that and still have all those really human moments that are funny, even though we’re dealing with a superhuman .
To find out more, see our review of the first episode of She-Hulk, all the burning MCU questions the series has already answered, and a look at the history of She-Hulk and how she got her powers.
Francesca Rivera is a video producer at IGN. You can follow her on Twitter @fbrivera.
Adam Bankhurst is a reporter for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamBankhurst and on Tic.