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'She-Hulk: Attorney-at-Law' team on breaking the 4th wall & differentiating between Jennifer & She-Hulk
"She-Hulk was breaking the fourth wall way before Deadpool and way before Fleabag."
If you've ever read a Marvel Comics run of She-Hulk, then you know that attorney Jennifer Walters breaking the fourth wall is a formula feature for the character across comic runs. Up until the recent full trailers for She-Hulk: Attorney-at-Law, it remained a mystery if Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige would carry over the feature into the new Disney+ series. But audiences got a tiny taste of it with Tatiana Maslany's Walters looking into the camera while driving, and there's been plenty of chatter since by comic book fans as to how it will work in live action.
It's not exactly a tough creative decision to swallow though, because the comics and the upcoming series already have plenty of creative carryovers. Such as Walters remaining the cousin of Bruce Banner/Hulk who, after an accident gets a blood transfusion from her cousin, and voila, she gets his Hulk abilities too. There's also the similarity in looks from the comics to how she's been translated in all her green glory.
At the Television Critics Association press day for the series yesterday, Maslany and her fellow executive producers, series head writer Jessica Gao and director Kat Coiro, fleshed out for reporters (including SYFY WIRE) more of their "rules" for the show, including Jennifer's meta tendency to talk right to the audience.
"I always like to say also that She-Hulk was breaking the fourth wall way before Deadpool and way before Fleabag," Coiro said about the technique notably used by those two disparate but popular franchises. "Back in the comics, she was always very meta and she was always kind of taking control of her story and her narrative. I think that's something that Jessica really captured amazingly in the show; the essence of that spirit."
Discussing just how much of that fourth wall breaking everyone was comfortable with, Gao said it was "very, very tricky" finding the balance for all the creatives involved. "If I had my way, she'd be breaking the fourth wall every other sentence," Gao laughed. "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 [comic] run was very meta and self aware. It is present in the show, but it's not overpowering."
There's also the question of what happens to Walters when she becomes She-Hulk. Does everything transition over seamlessly, or do memories and experiences get lost like they did for Banner in the early years of his transformations? "When she changes between Jennifer and She-Hulk, she retains the same consciousness," Gao confirmed. "But even though it is the same person's mind, the world is receiving her in a different way and she moves through the world in a different way."
Gao said that provided them with a unique opportunity to explore how Jennifer's social and work circles change in reaction to her new She-Hulk abilities. "So much of identity is not just about your perception of yourself, but also how the world receives you and how the world changes," she explained. "As she changes physical forms, she can see in real time how people treat Jennifer differently as She-Hulk. It completely changes the dynamics of every relationship she's in: her relationship with her co-workers, her relationship with their friends, and her relationships with her family."
Coiro continued, "And with men, especially. Watching her cling on to this sense of self that she has worked so hard to develop and to see it changed by the way people see her is one of the things that fascinated all of us about this character."
"That conflict is so fun to navigate because Jen has had her life planned out for her, and has worked really hard to get to where she is as a lawyer. To have this thing happen to her that derails everything, it is a bit of an identity crisis," Maslany said. "What I find really compelling about the 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 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. Jen has a conflict with that because it's really at odds with how she wants to be perceived."
However, there is one person that the trio infer will have plenty of respect for her legal prowess, fellow attorney Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) who is appearing in this series and getting this own Marvel Studios Disney+ series with 2024's Daredevil: Born Again. Sworn to secrecy about the details of his appearance, Maslany did note, "I'll say that Charlie is amazing. He does some great work. You know, the tone of our show is so different and to see his character in the tone of She-Hulk is really fun."
Coiro backed her up, adding, "And to watch Matt Murdock and Jennifer Walters, She-Hulk/Daredevil, go toe to toe and match wits, I think, is something that people are gonna love." Gao agreed and said, "Charlie and Tatiana have such great chemistry together too. It's really really fun seeing them together. It really has the vibe of an old Howard Hawkes movie."
She-Hulk: Attorney-at-Law will premiere Aug. 18 on Disney+.
Looking for more sci-fi adventure in the meantime? Check out Battlestar Galactica, Heroes, Warehouse 13, Eureka, SYFY's Resident Alien, Sliders, Intergalactic and more on Peacock now.