Jessica Gao, head writer and executive producer of the Disney+ series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, was so focused on writing for Marvel that she kept pitching to Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, to no avail. Never completely discouraged from her mission, even though three project rejections tested her determination, her commitment to bringing the character of She-Hulk to the screen lead her to the position she’s in now, with a nine-episode comedy series about a 30-something attorney named Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany), who finds herself specializing in superhuman-oriented legal cases while also balancing life as a green 6-foot-7-inch superpowered Hulk.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Gao talked about how nothing can ever fully prepare you for working with Marvel Studios, how getting this job was something of a birthday gift, how everything clicked as she saw Maslany take on the role, why the character backstory ended up moving around in the episodes until it finally landed in the pilot, how the most memorable end credits scene came about, being proud of the fact that they’re able to have a show that’s not only sex-positive but horny forward, the fun of playing with familiar characters like Wong (Benedict Wong), the beauty of the friendship between Jen and her BFF Nikki (Ginger Gonzaga), the CGI, and already knowing where a second season would go, if they get to have one.
Collider: What has been the most surprising aspect of making She-Hulk, especially hearing that this has been a three-year journey that you’ve taken?
JESSICA GAO: It’s hard to say just because everything is new. There’s nothing that can prepare you for working with Marvel Studios, so every new element is surprising. One of the most surprising things is just how much goes into every second of it. Even up to the premiere, I was still working on the show. That, to me, is probably the most surprising thing. They really will keep working on things and keep tweaking things, until the very end.
You’ve said that you were rejected by Marvel three times previously, with two of those times being Black Widow and Shang-Chi. Were you determined to keep going back until something finally clicked? How do you not get discouraged?
GAO: How do you keep facing rejection? Initially, I started out because I was so laser-focused on trying to write a Marvel movie that I was willing to put up with any rejection. I was just thrilled that I got to pitch to Kevin [Feige], and that I got to meet Kevin. I was like, “Okay, well, if pitching and rejecting is how I keep getting to hang out with Kevin for an hour at a time, that’s fine.” But I will say, Shang-Chi was the third rejection, and at that point, I did get discouraged because I thought, “Well, come on, if you’re not going to hire me for the Chinese Marvel superhero, what are you going to hire me for then?” That would’ve been it. So, at that point, it really started feeling like, “Okay, let’s have some dignity here. Stop chasing this man who will not commit to you.” That’s what it felt like. I did get discouraged, but then, because I was so dead set on She-Hulk and I had been threatening arson to them over She-Hulk, when they finally announced that they were doing a She-Hulk show, I was like, “Well, this is the thing. This is the one thing that will pull me out and get me to go back on my loud declarations that I was done with them.”What was your reaction when you found out that they were going to give you this show?
GAO: I was thrilled. I was so happy. And it was two days before my birthday, so it really felt like the greatest gift. I had a really good feeling about it because I just felt like this project was meant to be for me. Even pitching it, it just felt different. I really, really felt like this was it. This was the one. And I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy.
So, when you go into Marvel and you pitch something and you don’t get it, do you just never hear back? Do they give you a really polite phone call, telling you that they’re going in a different direction? How do they handle that part of it?
GAO: They tell your agent. Your agent tells you. You’re just on pins and needles.
What was it then that clicked into place for you, once you had Tatiana Maslany on board? I can’t imagine anybody else doing this, but what was it like to see it go from words on the page to seeing her bring them to life?
GAO: Yeah, I feel the same way as you, now having gone through all of this. I truly can’t imagine anybody else playing this [character]. That’s a weird feeling because we wrote all the first drafts of the scripts without knowing who we were writing for. At that point, it could have been anyone in our heads. It was Schrodinger’s She-Hulk. But now, having worked with Tatiana and seen her as She-Hulk, I truly cannot imagine anybody else who could have been Jen Walters the way she was, and She-Hulk the way she was. Streaming Online
It really was day one, the moment she set foot on set. It was miraculous the way a few moments prior, there were just words on a page, and then, all of a sudden, it was a real person in front of us. And she also infused so much of herself into this character too. She brought so much more than what was just on the page. I think one of her many gifts is that she cares so much about character. She has such great instincts about character, and she immediately can be so present and inhabit this person that you just believe it. You can see the whole of a human being in front of you, and it’s not a character to you anymore. It’s just she is Jen. Jen Walters is in front of you, and she’s talking to you, and you’re her little friend that she’s telling all these asides to.