She-Hulk Head Writer Jessica Gao On Rejected Marvel Pitches And The Wong Cinematic Universe [Interview]

Jessica Gao is no stranger to comedy. The writer/producer has worked on animated hits like "Rick & Morty" and "Robot Chicken," along with live-action shows like "Silicon Valley" and Nickelodeon's "Big Time Rush." But this month, Gao is making her Marvel debut as the creator and head writer of "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law."

In case you've somehow missed the much-discussed trailers, here's the elevator pitch for the show: "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law" follows Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany), a successful lawyer who is thrown for a loop when she becomes a super-powered Hulk. Unlike her cousin, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), she's able to adapt to Hulk life quickly, and the trailers show her going green in the courtroom, at black tie events, and even during a romantic evening. The series also boasts an impressive slate of guest stars, as Jenn's foray into superhero law means she crosses paths with Tim Roth's villain Abomination, Benedict Wong's Sorcerer Supreme Wong, and even Charlie Cox's Daredevil.

In an interview this week, I spoke with Gao about all things "She-Hulk," from the impressive roster of guest stars to the comics that inspired the series to the rejected Marvel pitches that finally led her to this show. She also spoke about the process of adapting comic book humor for live-action, the show's unique mid-credits scenes, and her hopes for what "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law" ultimately means to Marvel fans who haven't always felt seen on screen.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

'We are in the era of the Wong cinematic universe, as it should be'

The show has a lot of guest stars to juggle, and I think "She-Hulk" being extra-meta makes that extra fun. Was there any one hero in particular that, as a writer, you were excited to give them the "She-Hulk" treatment?

Yeah, definitely. Wong, I was so excited to be able to bring into this show because I just love that character. I love that we are in the era of the Wong cinematic universe, as it should be. And Benedict Wong is so wonderful, such a delight to be around, and so funny. It was just so fun to be able to bring this character that we knew from multiple Marvel movies, but always very dramatic -– very kind of oppressing, dangerous elements, story-wise -– to now bring him into our show and just letting him have fun and be part of a silly thing where the universe isn't at stake.

And then, of course, it shouldn't come as a shock to anyone that I was thrilled that we could have Daredevil. I mean, dream of dreams on a legal show to have Daredevil, Matt Murdock.

Yeah. I'm excited to see that. Aside from John Byrne's "Sensational She-Hulk" and Dan Slott's "She-Hulk," are there any other comics that you were drawing from for the show?

Yeah, the very first issue of "She-Hulk" that Stan Lee wrote, definitely, and also Charles Soule's run as well.

'Everything worked out the way it was supposed to'

I know that you mentioned at the press conference that you got rejected from Marvel three times before. Are you able to share what those other projects were?

The very first project that I pitched at Marvel was for the "Black Widow" movie. And I had She-Hulk in my pitch, but so much of She-Hulk in my pitch that somebody actually commented, "It kind of feels like you're pitching a She-Hulk movie with Black Widow in it." So clearly there was a reason why I didn't get that job.

And one of the other projects that I pitched on was "Shang-Chi" that I didn't get. And I was like, "Really? You're not going to hire me to write the Chinese superhero?" But I really do believe that all of that was for a reason, because ultimately, at the end of the day, the thing that I really wanted was "She-Hulk" and those other projects weren't "She-Hulk." So I think everything worked out the way it was supposed to.

Yeah, definitely. I'm also curious, since you've written pretty extensively for animation, how was it bringing the comedy of, in this case, comics -– bringing comic comedy to live-action?

Yeah, right. [Laughs] I had to take a second to think through that.

[Laughs] Yeah, sorry. Lot of different formats! But bringing it all to live-action, essentially.

Yeah. You know, one great thing about working in animation is that you definitely tend to start thinking more visually, and I think that's very helpful in adapting comics, because there is such a visual language to comic books and there's a tone and a style to comic book language. I think all of that just helped me to translate that into this adaptation.

'Hey, we get you. And this is for us'

"She-Hulk" is so different from anything we've seen in the MCU, and inevitably everyone who watches the MCU is always getting retrospective and reassessing. What place would you like to see "She-Hulk" have down the line when people are looking back at it? What do you want people to remember it as? Which is not to say that it won't have multiple seasons or whatever you end up with!

[Laughs] Yeah. Don't curse the show before it comes out! You know, really what I hope that people take away from this show is that up until this point, the people who have watched Marvel movies and shows and felt like they like Marvel, they love Marvel, but they might not feel completely represented by Marvel. They feel like they still haven't been seen. I want those people to see this show and feel like, "Oh, finally, I feel seen. I feel this is so real and relatable to me, and I feel like now they're making something for me." I want this to be that point for them.

Maybe you can't say yet, but is there a certain scene or moment that you felt embodied that, or that even when you were filming it, you were feeling that way?

I mean, I would hope that most of the show is. But just from the pilot, the little things, like the bathroom scene, with all the women. These little bits and details that might, from the outside, feel like, "Well, that didn't really serve a plot purpose," but really it served a world-building purpose, to make things feel real and make things feel like, "Hey, we get you. And this is for us."

I will say I am loving the way that mid-credit scenes are done in this show. How was it to write something that was such a small snippet of comedy? How was that different than writing the rest of the show, to get those mid-credit scenes?

Oh, they were always part of each episode script, because if you let a room full of comedy writers get an extra joke in, they're going to take the opportunity to do it.

"She-Hulk" premieres on Disney+ on August 18, 2022.