Tatiana Maslany on Portraying a Female Hulk: "Our Culture Is So Fixated on Women's Bodies"
The "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law" story is, at its core, about a woman's experience, and titular character Jennifer Walters's femininity inspired the new Disney+ series's writers and stars to question how her life in green might differ from the traditional male Hulk's.
Tatiana Maslany stars as Walters in "She-Hulk," which premiered on Aug. 18. Walters's life as a hard-working attorney is thrown for a loop when she accidentally receives a blood transfusion from her cousin, who happens to be Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), also known as the Incredible Hulk.
For Maslany, her character's shape-shifting nature — thanks to powers received from that blood — presented a unique opportunity to explore how women are perceived in various spaces and to play with audiences' biases and preconceived notions about femininity. "Her anger, her largeness, her taking up space in a room — all of that is fertile ground for us to play," she told POPSUGAR during the Television Critics' Association panel on Aug. 3. "And play with it comedically, to flip the standard on its head so that you can laugh at it but you're also aware that it's the truth of every woman walking into a space."
For Maslany, the dual nature of her role felt rich with symbolism. "The duality of her two bodies, I find so compelling," she said. "What is it to walk into a room as a 6 foot 7 woman, and what is it to walk into a room as a 5 foot 2 woman? It's so rife, and because our culture is so fixated on women's bodies, whether it's aesthetically or politically or in terms of rights or in terms of autonomy, what we do in this show is touch on all of these concepts — again, through [head writer] Jessica [Gao]'s hilarious brain. So it's really deep, but at the same time, it's goofy."
Gao also said that she used Maslany's specific experience as a woman to shape the script, particularly because it's so obviously contrasted against a very well-known man's experience. "There was a lot of thought and consideration that went into — what is a woman's experience going through all of this?" she told POPSUGAR. "The fact that the Hulk already existed, and was so established in audience's minds, required special care and consideration." Gao continued, "There is an existing character who is related to her who has gone through this exact journey, but at the same time, they're very different. You can't expect two people to go through a similar situation but react the exact same way. That's kind of the crux of their relationship in the series — kind of seeing that there are some things that they can relate to each other [about], but ultimately, they're two different people."
She agreed that Walters's gender guaranteed she would have a different experience than her cousin and that she would be perceived differently by people in the film and by the audience — just as women's anger and women's bodies, among other variables, tend to be interpreted differently, and often with far more scrutiny, than men's. "There is a double standard to how the world perceives her. Because she is a woman, because she is a female Hulk, the way everybody treats her is also very different than the way the world has treated him," Gao said.
But at the end of the day, "She-Hulk" isn't exactly a self-serious feminist manifesto. It's whimsical and packed with humor, action, and chaos, and per director Kat Coiro, the show's lightheartedness goes perfectly with its deeper messages — and even enhances some of them, allowing them to shine through without feeling forced. She echoed Maslany's emphasis on the show's use of humor as a vehicle for deeper messaging. "I think her lightheartedness is part of what makes it deep," she said during the panel. "You are transported, you are entertained, you're watching a half-hour comedy, and then you have some things to think about."