She-Hulk was born in 1980, in a comic titled “The Savage She-Hulk.” Endowed with superstrength and a sensational blowout, she stood 6-foot-7 in her bare, green feet and taller in heels. She had biceps like cantaloupes, skin like a cocktail olive, the waist-to-hip ratio of a lingerie model. Could she smash? Could she ever.
As the latest Marvel character to bound from page to screen, she makes her television debut in “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law,” a loopy half-hour comedy that arrives on Disney+ on Thursday. The series stars Tatiana Maslany, the Emmy-winning actress best-known for the critics’ darling clone thriller “Orphan Black,” who has also starred in demanding stage roles and a handful of indie films. Maslany described the character She-Hulk — giant, verdant — as “weirdly, the closest thing to my own experience I’ve done ever.”
This was on a recent, sultry Wednesday morning, when New York City felt like the inside of a steamer basket. Maslany, 36, who had recently flown in from Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband, the actor Brendan Hines, had suggested walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. She commuted this way just about every day, usually by bike, when she appeared on Broadway in Ivo van Hove’s version of “Network.” The trip calmed her, giving her a channel for her restlessness and intensity, and helped her find her way into a role on the way there and back out on the way home.
“The energy that it requires to be open in front of people just is really hard for me to modulate,” she said, as she sidestepped some sun-melted chocolate. “At the same time, it’s quite an alive place to be.”
Maslany pulses with that aliveness in person, which manifests in playfulness, attention, intensity. Without the benefit of C.G.I., she stands 15 inches shorter than She-Hulk. She’s a flick knife of a woman — small, sharp. She showed me a tattoo on her arm, a random drawing of an infant that her husband had done.
“It’s a little tough baby,” she said approvingly.
That morning, she had dressed in yellow cycling shorts and a T-shirt with a picture of a dirt bike on it, and her curly half-blond hair was arranged half up, half down. Kid-sister chic. No one seemed to recognize her on the bridge — a tribute, maybe, to her ability to disappear into character. In “Orphan Black,” she played a dozen clones who were differentiated by hair and makeup, but also by Maslany’s extraordinary plasticity of affect and expression. And while Hollywood sets certain expectations for how actresses should look and behave, she has rarely bowed to them, onscreen or off.
“I’ve never played the bombshell,” she said.
But She-Hulk is a bombshell. She is also the alter ego of Jennifer Walters, a meek public interest attorney with a listless dating life and a passion for workplace separates. When Jen receives an accidental transfusion from her cousin Bruce Banner (Marvel’s original Hulk, played by Mark Ruffalo) she suddenly becomes She-Hulk. While Bruce’s Hulk is a cinder block of a man — or as Maslany put it, “a roided-out gym maniac, to such a cartoonish degree” — Jen’s transformation, triggered by anger, looks different. Only some muscles bulge. Her breasts — not muscles! — bulge, too. Her waist whittles. Her hair straightens.
“She fulfills the stereotypical feminine ideal body, while still being, like, too tall and green,” Maslany said. (This was not lost on viewers of the “She-Hulk” trailer, who criticized the character’s voluptuous proportions.)
Despite sometimes playing four clones in a single scene, Maslany has never transformed in quite this way. And if she knows she looks good in green, it’s because she once dressed up as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle at Comic-Con. But she gets what it’s like to have the world suddenly see you differently. And if she doesn’t understand her talent as a superpower, her colleagues do.
“She has so many superpowers,” said Jessica Gao, who wrote “She-Hulk.”
Raised in a medium-size town in Saskatchewan, Maslany was never that interested in fame. “There was, like, absolute flying in the opposite direction, doing everything to not end up there,” she said. She loved acting. She was less enthusiastic about the accouterments of celebrity. At one point I referred to a fashion shoot she had done.
“I’m getting better at it,” she said, making a face.
But she did become reasonably famous. So Jennifer’s resistance to becoming She-Hulk — “The idea of being a superhero is not appealing to me,” Jennifer said — resonated with her. Maslany didn’t have to imagine how she would feel if she became a public figure practically overnight, if she were scrutinized for her appearance and affect.
“It’s a very easy jump for me,” she said.
On the red carpet and in media appearances, she plays a role to make it through. “It has to be another character, or else it costs me too much,” she said.
This helps to explain why an actress who would have sworn that she would never do something as mainstream as a superhero show signed on. “I didn’t want to do anything of that scale ever,” she said. “But there was something about the script that felt really weird and funny in a way that was like, Oh, I don’t know why, but it’s undeniable to me.” (Actually, she did deny it, in at least one interview, but she explained that as a contractual matter: She couldn’t announce it until Disney announced it first.)
The move surprised Helen Shaver, a director who worked with Maslany on “Orphan Black.” But it didn’t surprise her for long. “I was like, OK, that’s a wild choice,” Shaver said on a recent call. “But I also know she has this playful, wacky element to her as well. She is willing to abandon herself to madcap humor.”
The shoot began in the spring of 2021, in Atlanta. As Jennifer, Maslany played a version of herself, though she noted that she has never worn more makeup to play a supposedly mousy character. (“I’m truly wearing full lashes,” she said. “I’m contoured to hell. The story around Jen being undesirable is absurd.”) And because Jen retains her consciousness even in superhero form, She-Hulk is a version of her, too — though one achieved almost entirely by digital effects.
When She-Hulk appears at her sexiest, Maslany is slinking around the set in a silver motion capture suit and a helmet. “I feel like a little kid in pajamas,” she said.
Yet Ginger Gonzaga, who plays Nikki, Jen’s spirited paralegal, could always tell whom she was acting opposite. “When she’s She-Hulk, she has this physicality that instantly changes, and it happens very fast,” Gonzaga said. “It’s a proud stance and a statuesque stance.”
Maslany described She-Hulk’s bearing as heavier, less fidgety, more centered in the pelvis. “The weight of She-Hulk brings her down into her loins in a different way,” she said. This might be the way a woman moved if she felt safe in the world, if she knew that no one could hurt her.
But “She-Hulk” suggests a further fantasy, one that has nothing to do with irradiated blood and is arguably even more incredible that the sci-fi imaginings of “Orphan Black.” This new show suggests that a woman could be angry, and that the world would really like it.
I asked Maslany about the last time she felt angry. “It’s never not there,” she said. But she rarely allows herself to express it in her personal life. And it never looks as good on her — “I would love to be able to be angry, but not, like, shaking and crying,” she said — as it does on She-Hulk.
“She transforms into a hyper beautiful, hyper feminine version that might be more palatable in that anger,” Maslany marveled as she stepped off the bridge and into the muddle of Manhattan. “It’s wild. It’s super wild.”
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