As if dealing with life as a 30-something lawyer and single woman wasn’t enough stress for her, Jennifer Walters has an added dimension. She’s also a 6-foot-7 green Hulk.
The new series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, filmed in Atlanta, begins streaming on Disney+ Thursday. Starring Tatiana Maslany as the titular figure, who works on superhuman-oriented legal cases, and Mark Ruffalo as her cousin Bruce Banner, aka Smart Hulk, it was created by Jessica Gao. Kat Coiro directs six of the nine first-season episodes.
Coiro had been in talks with Marvel before the studio announced the series to see if there were any projects they could work on together, so when She-Hulk was announced, it was a logical fit. “I come from half-hour world, and it’s (Marvel’s) first foray into half-hour programming, and (working on it) was a match made in heaven,” she says.
A long-time Marvel fan, she watched all the movies after she landed the job, in chronological order, binge style. “It was fun to watch the content evolve. You don’t really have anything like that in the history of cinema. I think this series is the next step in the evolution.”
The tone of the show is comedic, yet grounded in reality. That was important to Coiro. The original source material, introduced by writer Stan Lee and artist John Buscema in 1980, was tongue in cheek, witty, self-aware and self-referential, she feels. The series’ writers wanted to embrace that and approach it from a comedic point of view. Coiro’s job was to honor that view but to bring in some of the spectacular, bigger set pieces that audiences are used to in the Marvel world. Some scenes needed cinematic grandeur.
The director views the character of Jennifer, who got her powers after a blood transfusion from Banner, as a relatable modern woman — juggling career, friendships and family while trying to date. At the same time, of course, she’s realizing her own Hulk abilities.
Coiro and her team worked hard to differentiate Jennifer from Banner’s Hulk. “He is this blocky, not very human-feeling monster, and she is an exaggerated version of herself. Both sides of herself can operate in the real world.”
In the series, Jennifer and Bruce have an almost sibling-like, big brother-little sister relationship.
“As cousins, they have this closeness and banter you can only really have with family,” Coiro says. “Then you add the layer of sharing this Hulkness — and it’s just the two of them — and they get even more bonded. Tatiana and Mark have to wear these uncomfortable suits that they both say makes them feel disconnected from other actors, and they used that to bond and get closer. They had a playful energy that we harnessed.”
One aspect of the series that particularly pleased Coiro was being able to tell a comic-book story through a female and inclusive lens. For She-Hulk executive producer Wendy Jacobson, it was important to build a team comprised of a lot of women.
“Part of the reason was that there is something about She-Hulk that speaks to women in a unique way,” Coiro explains. “There is a wish fulfillment. I think every woman who looked at the script picked up on not having to be polite to the jerky guy at the bar who is hitting on you. As a normal woman, you feel like you have to be polite or your life might be in danger. When you walk home in a dark alley, your life might be in danger. She-Hulk is this wish fulfillment of being able to Hulk out, kick butt and not worry about those things that all women worry about and men might not even think women worry about.
The behind-the-scenes conversations were intriguing, Corio says, as the creators assembled lines of universality that would speak to anyone who has walked through the world as a woman. The world now is made up of all kinds of people, the director says, and while these kinds of stories have traditionally been told by a smaller, less inclusive pool, she admires Marvel for being open to evolving with what fans want and with what is happening in the world.
“You hope the series gives people who haven’t always felt seen in these more traditional comic-book stories a place to be recognized,” Corio says.
Before the team cast the show, it seemed a daunting challenge to find the right lead actress.
“Who are you going to find to express this duality of human nature who can juggle all of these technical aspects?” Coiro wondered. An Emmy winner for Orphan Black, Maslany rose to the challenge, though. “The role is about 60/40 or 70/30 in terms of being a Hulk, so a lot of these times she is in this CGI paraphernalia,” the director says. “But she still has to be funny and heartfelt and humorous. Once we cast her, I wasn’t worried about anything because she is a skilled technician and a very vulnerable, engaged actress.”
Others in the cast include Atlantans Steve Coulter as Holloway and Tess Malis Kincaid as Jennifer’s mother.
Best known for television series such as Modern Family and Dead to Me and this year’s feature film Marry Me with Jennifer Lopez, Corio loved filming in Atlanta. She and her family were supposed to be in the area for eight months of prep and filming but decided to stay and set up their family’s residence here.
“My husband I had been in Los Angeles for almost 20 years. We have three children and we loved Los Angeles; we never in a million years thought we were not going to go back,” she says. “But when we moved out to Atlanta, we enjoyed the lifestyle. Our daughter got into horseback riding, and our son joined some travel soccer teams. It’s really easy to fly anywhere you need to go. It’s almost like stepping outside of this very high-paced life, but in a place that supports our careers and choices.”
Jim Farmer covers theater and film for ArtsATL. A graduate of the University of Georgia, he has written about the arts for 30-plus years. Jim is the festival director of Out on Film, Atlanta’s LGBTQ film festival. He lives in Avondale Estates with his husband, Craig, and dog Douglas.