[This story contains spoilers for She-Hulk: Attorney at Law’s second episode, “Superhuman Law.”]
Apparently, the fourth time’s a charm for She-Hulk: Attorney at Law head writer Jessica Gao.
Marvel Studios’ latest Disney+ series, centering on Jen Walters’ (Tatiana Maslany) transformation into She-Hulk, was the executive producer’s fourth pitch at Marvel. Of the three previous rejections, one of them, for Black Widow, was basically Natasha Romanoff’s version of Grosse Pointe Blank. But those previous misses were actually the best thing that could’ve happened to Gao.
“I just figured, ‘What’s a fourth [rejection]? I’ve got the armor. I don’t care anymore. I’ve got nothing to live for except for this project.’ So the [She-Hulk] show that I pitched to them that day is basically the show that we made,” Gao tells The Hollywood Reporter.
In She-Hulk’s second episode, “Superhuman Law,” the MCU finally acknowledged the Bruce Banner/Hulk recasting that took place following the Edward Norton-led film, The Incredible Hulk (2008). And according to Gao, Mark Ruffalo, who took over for Norton as of 2012’s The Avengers, put the finishing touch on the recasting nod.
“[Writer Jacqueline Gailes] was like, ‘You gotta have him say, “I’m a completely different person now,’” and Mark actually added the ‘literally.’ So if the ‘literally’ had been in there, I wonder if [Marvel Studios] would’ve flagged it, but I’ve been continually surprised by how willing they are to let us poke fun at things and really point out these things,” Gao shares.
In a recent conversation with THR, Gao also discusses her unique relationship with Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige, while also explaining her show’s influence on Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Cheetos and chopsticks is quite the life hack. Have you been using this method for a long time?
Oh, I only eat Flamin’ Hot Cheetos with chopsticks because it’s genius. It keeps your fingers clean!
As one might expect, did you pull out all the stops for your pitch?
Of course. You have to. When Marvel comes knocking, you have to drop everything and then devote weeks of your life convincing them to give you a job. [She-Hulk] was actually my fourth time pitching at Marvel. I’d been trying to get in the door for years, and so by the time She-Hulk rolled around, I’d already been armed with three Marvel rejections. So I just figured, “What’s a fourth one? I’ve got the armor. I don’t care anymore. I’ve got nothing to live for except for this project.” So the show that I pitched to them that day is basically the show that we made. I mean, there’s little details here and there that got dropped along the way, but at its core, it’s the same show.
“I’m a completely different person now. Literally.” When that nod to Hulk’s recasting was scripted, did part of you expect the powers that be to come along and put the kibosh on it?
So the line was written by Jacqueline Gailes, who’s a very funny writer. She was like, “You gotta have him say, ‘I’m a completely different person now,’” and Mark [Ruffalo] actually added the “literally.” So if the “literally” had been in there, I wonder if they would’ve flagged it, but I’ve been continually surprised by how willing they are to let us poke fun at things and really point out these things.
The fourth-wall material is so fun since it engages with Marvel fans and their various behaviors like cameo fixation. When you wrote a lot of the cameo talk, was that when all the WandaVision cameo theories were happening in high volume?
No, that particular line about the cameos actually came much later. As we were going through post and looking at the episodes, it really felt like there were a lot of cameos. But this was always a cameo-heavy show by nature, just because the half-hour legal comedy format allowed us to pull in a lot of people for a case of the week or a singular lawsuit that gets resolved in one episode. So there was always the danger of feeling like it’s a cameo-of-the-week show, and in the grand tradition of She-Hulk, when she notices something, she’ll point it out to the audience.
Are you quite pleased that your Jen Walters beat Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool to the punch as far as breaking the MCU’s fourth wall?
Yes, because, as any good comics reader will know, she did it first in the comics. So it’s really, really nice to have that also be canon in the MCU.
Did you have to begin with Dr. Bruce Banner in human form because Shang-Chi’s tag showed him in human form?
No, he was in human form in the Shang-Chi tag because of our show, and the reason we had him in human form was because of the nature of the accident. We knew that we wanted him to bleed onto Jen, which is how she got his blood. Hulk would not bleed; you can’t pierce Hulk’s skin, certainly not through a dinky car accident. So we needed to have him be in human form in order to have his Gamma-radiated blood get onto Jen and into her system, and we had to come up with a reason for why he was human.
So you and Kevin Feige had debates about the trailer?
(Laughs.) Yeah, I probably fight with Kevin more than any person at Marvel, but it truly is a testament to what an egoless, wonderful person he is that he constantly puts up with me arguing with him. He really lets me bully him in a way. I’m very mean to him, and he really allows it. So it’s really nice because there is no other president of a studio who would really put up with me the way that he does.
Are you proud of the fact that you got Mark Ruffalo to say “bruh”?
(Laughs.) That was all Mark!
The series begins by asking this question, but in the real world, if someone acquired powers like Jen, do you think they have a responsibility to help others?
Yes, I do believe with great power comes great responsibility, and it’s very similar to having any form of privilege. You do have a responsibility to then help people and use that privilege.
To close on a couple items that are coming up, is Benedict Wong thrilled about the “Wonger” moniker?
I hope so because I am very confident that from now on, that’s all people are going to be calling him.
And does part of you feel guilty for spoiling The Sopranos for Gen Z/Alpha Marvel fans?
No, they’ve had over a decade to watch it, and if you still haven’t watched The Sopranos, one of the greatest shows on earth, that’s on you.
She-Hulk is now airing on Disney+. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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