Why Breaking the Fourth Wall and Including Daredevil Were Musts for ¡®She-Hulk¡¯

Eric Goldman
TV Comics
TV Comics Marvel MCU

The MCU is about to get greener with the arrival of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. The new nine-episode Disney+ comedy series introduces the Hulk¡¯s cousin, Jennifer Walters, into live-action for the first time, played by Emmy winner Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black).

Like in the comics, Jennifer is a lawyer and the series finds her pushing back on her cousin Bruce (Mark Ruffalo) telling her that she has to put that life aside to be a superhero, as she joins a new division of law firm Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway (GLK&H) focused on superpowered-related cases.

Fandom spoke to Maslany, her costar Ginger Gonzaga, Head Writer Jessica Gao, and Director Kat Coiro (who helmed the first four episodes, along with episodes 8 and 9) about the series, Jen trying to balance her new powers with her lifelong career goals, the character¡¯s ability to break the fourth wall — and what it would be like for her to meet Deadpool — and how She-Hulk¡¯s cases bring her into contact with familiar faces like Abomination (Tim Roth), Wong (Benedict Wong), and Daredevil (Charlie Cox).

With Great Power
Comes Great Legal Minds

Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk in 'She Hulk: Attorney at Law'

All Marvel fans know that with great power comes great responsibility, but Jennifer Walters raises a good point. Yes, she now has these amazing abilities that she can use as a superhero but is she required to also just dismiss the career she¡¯s worked so hard for for so many years?

Said Jessica Gao, ¡°One of the biggest themes of this first season is about acceptance, because I think it’s very unrealistic to expect a normal average everyday person to suddenly out of the blue get imbued with superpowers that they didn’t ask for and get the ability to turn into a Hulk and just think that they were going to be able to just handle it right away and immediately step into the role and take on all the responsibilities that come with that. A regular person would need the time to really grapple with it emotionally, and there’s probably going to be highs and lows.

Kat Coiro noted that for Jen, ¡°So much of her identity is based on her career. And she’s made a lot of sacrifices for her career. She¡¯s up to her ears in student debt, she has probably sacrificed a lot of her social life. And she does good work, and she believes in it. So the idea of being handed something that changes her life and blows up all her plans is not appealing to her.:

As Tatiana Maslany put it, ¡°Suddenly she’s thrust into this whole other identity and people sort of look to her for all the expectations that you put on a superhero. But she really has a full life outside of it. And she very much has worked her butt off to get to where she is as an attorney.¡±

Adding to Jen¡¯s issues is that her new employers at GLK&H make it clear they hired her because of her superpowers, which they think make her a great calling card for their new superhuman legal division, insisting she physically be She-Hulk even in the courtroom. Said Maslany, ¡°She¡¯s always having to assert her place in her workplace and justify her existence there. So when she’s brought in only because she¡¯s She Hulk, it’s this conflict of ¡®Am I not enough?¡¯¡±

THE FOURTH WALL IS FOR BREAKING

Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Smart Hulk in 'She Hulk: Attorney at Law'

A question many comic book fans wondered when the show was announced was whether She-Hulk would incorporate Jennifer Walters breaking the fourth wall, something that was a major part of the John Byrne run on the comic that helped define many aspects of the character. And yes, for the record, she was speaking to the audience before Deadpool would do it (or even before that character existed).

As it turns out, this is indeed part of the series, something Gao said was integral to her. ¡°For me, breaking the fourth wall is quintessential She Hulk. John Byrne’s run is the one that made me fall in love with her. And I think it’s the most iconic run. So there was no scenario where I would have made a She-Hulk show without including the fourth wall [breaks].¡±

Instead, Gao explained, ¡°It was always a question of how much and how are we going to do it. That went through so many different changes from the beginning, because it was my favorite thing about her. I just couldn’t get enough. I wanted it in every single scene and it was in every single scene. And then I was told, ¡®Okay, you really overstepped the limits of what we want to see.¡¯ So then we really pulled it back. And it was about finding the balance of how much to include, so that it didn’t feel intrusive to the story. But if I had my way I would have just had infinite fourth wall breaks.¡±

Maslany said speaking to the camera in this manner was an interesting challenge, remarking, ¡°It was super fun to do. It’s a daunting thing, because you’re creating a relationship with people who you don’t actually see. But you have to hope that they understand you and that you’re drawing them in.¡±

(L-R): Ginger Gonzaga as Nikki Ramos and Tatiana Maslany as Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk in 'She Hulk: Attorney at Law'

When it came to sharing scenes with Maslany while she is speaking to the audience, Ginger Gonzaga, who plays Jen¡¯s best friend and paralegal, Nikki Ramos, laughed, ¡°It is strange. It¡¯s one of these things where I’ll hear her talking and I have to remember she’s not talking to me. Because a lot of times, especially if we’re improvising, she might be improvising to me. But in this case, she’s talking to the audience, her other friend.¡±

Maslany said she felt Jen speaking to the audience, ¡°Is about her awareness. It’s about her awareness of all of the mechanisms that are operating around her. That there’s a writer, that there’s people reading the comic. And similarly, I feel like our show does that in that she’s so aware of everything that’s happening around her. That is kind of her superpower and it’s manifested in that direct to camera address.¡±

With Ryan Reynolds set to return for a third Deadpool movie, this time from Marvel Studios, it¡¯s fun to imagine what Deadpool and She-Hulk would make of each other and their shared ability to acknowledge and speak to the audience. Both Gao and Maslany felt it might become a bit of a fourth wall breaking showdown, with Gao saying, ¡°I imagine that Deadpool would probably be a little bit competitive with her and I always imagine it as the two of them fighting for the camera and really physically pulling the camera back towards them.¡±

Maslany imagined it slightly differently with them each having their own cameras to address, looking back over her shoulder at the camera on her to demonstrate, as she said, ¡°I would love to see them both have cameras like this; that they’re both trying to dominate the camera and fight each other for fourth wall supremacy. I would love that.¡±

CASES (AND FAMILIAR FACES)
OF THE WEEK

Benedict Wong as Wong in 'She Hulk: Attorney at Law'

She-Hulk stands out not just from most of the other MCU series but from many modern streaming series in general by embracing a case of the week format. Though there is a serialized spine to the series, the brunt of many episodes involves a storyline that is resolved by the end of the half hour or so it runs.

Gao, whose credits include Rick and Morty and Silicon Valley, noted her own background in half hour TV comedies, which tend to be episodic, observing, ¡°What I like about episodic television is that when you watch each episode, you can feel like you watched a complete story; a beginning, middle and end. And even if there is a seasonal arc, you can watch one and just be like, ¡®Okay, I watched it, it felt whole, it didn’t feel like it was a long movie that was chopped up into pieces.¡¯ Of course, there’s always going to be the Marvel element of having a plot throughline that runs through that was an undercurrent through the whole season. But I really wanted people to be able to just enjoy one [episode] and feel like, ¡®Oh, that was a good story.¡¯ I wanted people to be able to walk away from each episode and easily be able to tell people what that episode was about.¡±

Maslany noted that, ¡°In the same way that Jen is like, ¡®No, no, I’m a lawyer,¡¯ I feel like she also keeps dragging the show into ¡®No, we’re in the courtroom. We’re in the legal procedural.¡¯ But then you color it with all of these goofy characters and you make the cases about absurd superhuman grievances. And that is the comedy of it. To see, like, Wong, come into this world and in such a different tone than his character has been in the past¡­ Like, he’s like watching The Sopranos. That’s his whole focus. And that, to me, is what’s so great about the show.¡±

Gonzaga revealed that she was continually surprised by the guest stars, recalling, ¡°I guess I thought going in, ¡®Oh, we’re She-Hulk. We¡¯re this new thing.¡¯ I wasn’t realizing that we wouldn’t be isolated and that we would get all of these other things.¡±

Gonzaga added that along with familiar faces, the show got to introduce, ¡°These guest stars for a certain episode that are in the comic books, but they’re not in the MCU yet, and they’re weird and silly and bizarre. And they¡¯re some of my absolute favorite characters.¡± While she couldn¡¯t discuss who she was speaking of yet, she did add, ¡°There’s two [characters] that I really love. One in particular gets an amazing set. And he’s such a brat. But his set is remarkable!¡±

Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil in 'She Hulk: Attorney at Law'

Coiro revealed that when it came to including a heavy case of the week element, ¡°That is something that came very directly from Kevin [Feige] himself. We have a lot of outlandish elements in the show, and a lot of things that feel very different and totally strange and then all these outrageous characters. And so the idea of grounding it in something that an audience is used to, a procedural law show, was something that was very important to all of us.¡±

One character fans are particularly excited to see is Daredevil, with Charlie Cox reprising his role as Matt Murdock, who just so happens to also be a lawyer and a superhero. Coiro said they knew from early on they wanted him on the series, explaining, ¡°When you are grounding a show in reality, and that reality happens to be in the MCU, where a superhuman law firm exists, you kind of have to have Daredevil and I think everybody on the creative team knew that the expectation is going to be the other lawyer [superhero] has got to show up, right? It was definitely a wish from the beginning that wasn’t hard to incorporate. And it’s what I love about the premise of the show. Yes, we have a ton of cameos, but they’re really not gratuitous because we’re operating in a world where superheroes need legal help too, so the possibilities are kind of infinite.¡±

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law premieres August 18 on Disney+.


Eric Goldman
Eric Goldman is Managing Editor for Fandom. He's a bit obsessed with Star Wars, Marvel, Disney, theme parks, and horror movies... and a few other things. Too many, TBH.