She-Hulk: Jessica Gao Talks Fourth-Wall-Breaking, Early Pitch & More
As we loom closer to the premiere, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law writer & showrunner Jessica Gao had a few more things in mind for the court-themed comedy. The series stars Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer Walters, the cousin of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who was accidentally infused with his blood following a car accident giving her his Hulk powers. Following her transformation, Jen tries to acclimate to her new life as She-Hulk and finds out how difficult it is to separate the superhero life from her professional legal one. The Emmy Award-winning Rick & Morty writer opened up about their initial pitch to Marvel, how their fandom of the comics carried into the show, and inspirations that include Fleabag and Better Call Saul.
"The first thing I ever pitched on was for the 'Black Widow' movie, and I actually had She-Hulk in my pitch," Gao told Variety. "She was my favorite character from the comics, and I just wanted to see her in the MCU. At one point, I think it was [Marvel executive] Brad Winderbaum who said, 'It kind of feels like you're pitching us She-Hulk movie with Black Widow in it.'"
When it came to conceiving the She-Hulk series itself, "My pitch for the show is pretty close to the show that you're watching. All the kinds of key foundational elements were there: Emil Blonsky/Abomination was always in the pitch," Gao said. "Bruce was always in the pitch. I didn't know if I could use them. I didn't know what their relationship was to Abomination anymore. But I thought you know what? This is what I want — so I'll just pitch it. Thankfully, they liked all of it. When I went in, it definitely skewed a lot more heavily towards Blonsky's trial. In my original pitch, it was an actual trial, and it spanned multiple episodes. When we got into the writers' room, inevitably, things change as you're developing the show and as you start writing. And one thing that we all realized very slowly was none of us are that adept at writing, you know, rousing trial scenes."
As far as Gao's own introduction to the character, "John Byrne was the run that made me first fall in love with the character, and so her characterization is really heavily pulled from [that]. But I mean, honestly, we cherry-pick from every run, starting from even Stan Lee's first issue. Byrne's run, Dan Slott, Charles Soule — we picked elements from each. We might pull a villain from this one, we might pull a premise from that one, a supporting character from a third. Because Byrne was the one that really introduced the fourth wall breaking and the meta nature of everything — that, to me, is essential She-Hulk."
One thing Gao addresses is how much the Disney+ series will have Maslany's Jen break the fourth wall. "Oh, we discussed it to death, just over and over. There were two shows that I referenced in my pitch, and it was 'Fleabag' and 'Better Call Saul,' hopefully both for obvious reasons," Gao explained. "I love fourth-wall breaking, and if I had my druthers, it would just be nonstop — and it really was kind of nonstop in the early phases. It was so much that Marvel was like, 'OK, calm down, this is too much. She can't just be talking to the audience the entire time.' I might have really overdone it because, at a certain point, they even asked me to do a version where there was no fourth-wall breaking, but there was still kind of a meta kind of nature to it. I really love editor's notes in comics, and so for a span of probably several months, there was going to be editor's notes that kind of popped up in little text boxes on the screen, and then she would actually acknowledge the editor's box and argue with the person who was writing the notes. Then we scrapped all of that and decided, OK, let's just let her break the fourth wall: But you know, not as much."
For more on Gao on approaching She-Hulk as a series, other inspirations, CG, and Captain America's virginity, you can check out the entire interview here. The series also stars Tim Roth, Benedict Wong, Jameela Jamil, Josh Segarra, Ginger Gonzaga, Jon Bass, Mark Linn-Baker, and Renée Elise Goldsberry and premieres on August 18th on Disney+.
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