She-Hulk: Attorney at Law Head Writer Jessica Gao

“The first time I pitched at Marvel was for the Black Widow movie. But somebody said it feels like you’re pitching a She-Hulk movie with Black Widow in it. I was like, okay, guilty.”

Check out @MarsinCharge’s chat with #SheHulk head writer @ChairmanGao!

The latest in a stacked Disney+ Marvel lineup, She-Hulk stands out in more ways than one. Beyond introducing the tallest, greenest baddie in the courtroom, She-Hulk is a half-hour ‘lawyer show’ that expands the Marvel TV universe by giving us a look at what happens when great power comes with great responsibility, but not the superhero-ing kind. The only suiting up Jennifer Walters wants to do is buy a blazer big enough to accommodate her new look. The hero’s life? Not for her. 

Not yet, at least. 

Of course, behind every badass woman on screen is a crew of equally badass ladies. Star Tatiana Maslany shines as Jennifer, and at the helm of the series is Emmy award-winning writer and producer Jessica Gao. You may recognize Gao as the talent behind the much beloved ‘Pickle Rick’ episode of mega-hit Rick and Morty. Gao’s wit, combined with her lifelong love of She-Hulk, makes her the perfect Head Writer (aka showrunner) for the series.

OffColour got to chat with her about the process of bringing She-Hulk, affectionately called ‘Shulkie,’ to the MCU

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 15: (L-R) Jessie Gao and Ginger Gonzaga attend the world premiere of Marvel Studios' upcoming new series "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law" at El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California on August 15, 2022. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 15: (L-R) Jessie Gao and Ginger Gonzaga attend the world premiere of Marvel Studios’ upcoming new series “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” at El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California on August 15, 2022. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

Mars Sebastian  

Hi, my name is Mars Sebastian. I’m with Off Colour. How are you today?

Jessica Gao  

Hi, I’m good. So nice to meet you. I love your blazer!

Mars Sebastian  

Oh my gosh, thank you. It’s Beyonce Ivy Park. You know, gotta rep.

Jessica Gao  

Of course, it is.

Mars Sebastian  

Always. So I’m gonna try to get us through some fun the next seven minutes. So to start easy. What is your favourite joke in the series? What’s the joke that had you guys cracking up in the writers’ room?

Jessica Gao  

Oh, boy. I mean, there are so many to choose from. But probably one of my tops is at the tag at the end of the pilot. 

Mars Sebastian  

It’s a good one!

Jessica Gao  

I don’t want to spoil it. I don’t know if— I don’t know if it’s…

Mars Sebastian  

We won’t spoil it. But it’s a great one!

Jessica Gao  

Yes, it’s— I mean, I truly did not think I would be able to use that last line. And if that is my legacy, I am very happy for that to be my writing legacy.

Mars Sebastian  

Amazing! What is your favourite She-Hulk comic or comic panel? Something that encompasses what you think she’s like. 

Jessica Gao  

You know, I would say most of the John Byrne covers. I feel like it’s just that is the vibe. You know that is the She-Hulk vibe. 

Mars Sebastian  

Got ya. That’s awesome. I do love those covers a lot. Okay, so…

Jessica Gao  

John did a shockingly good job of creating amazing outfits for her too.

Mars Sebastian  

Because she’s so fashionable, my queen. Okay, so the hard stuff. You mentioned getting turned down by Marvel before, so you’re no stranger to shooting your shot. What is it about finally getting like She-Hulk to lock that’s perfect for your writing style? Like, how did getting this opportunity just align for you?

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 15: (L-R) Jessie Gao and Evan Torrence attend the world premiere of Marvel Studios' upcoming new series "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law" at El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California on August 15, 2022. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 15: (L-R) Jessie Gao and Evan Torrence attend the world premiere of Marvel Studios’ upcoming new series “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law” at El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California on August 15, 2022. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

Jessica Gao  

Well, she was always my favourite character from Marvel Comics. The first time I pitched at Marvel was for the Black Widow movie, and She-Hulk was actually in my Black Widow pitch. At one point, Brad Winderbaum said— I think it was Brad; I’m sure he’ll correct me if I’m wrong. But somebody said to me, it kind of feels like you’re pitching a She-Hulk movie with Black Widow in it, and I was like, okay, guilty, I guess that’s why I didn’t get the job. 

But she was always the brass ring for me because she was my favourite, so it really is. I view it as those rejections were because it wasn’t right because I was meant to really do it for She-Hulk.

Mars Sebastian  

That’s real; rejection is always like alignment. 

Jessica Gao  

Always a gift. It’s always a gift. 

Mars Sebastian  

Yeah. Okay, you mentioned you’ve been working on this for three years already. How did you and your writers prepare for this undertaking? What was the biggest challenge for adapting the material?

Jessica Gao  

One of the big challenges was that we just didn’t know how it would work like having the CG character. So we had to put it out of our minds and just write what we thought was gonna be a good show and what was gonna be funny. But I mean, truly, we had such a great writing staff, we had so much fun in the writers’ room, some of the happiest days of my life, because we just got to go in there every single day getting paid to like, try to make each other laugh, and it was just, it was so so fun. And you know, we all gained a ton of weight because we just ate like, crazy. 

Mars Sebastian  

Snacks are the best part of writing is the snack food. Okay, and so no spoilers. But what are you excited for She-Hulk to add, like, you know, as a show, to add to the staff to Marvel lineup of Disney plus shows, and then also just in general to the general like world building of the MCU at large?

Jessica Gao  

I’m excited for She-Hulk to just be like uncharted territory for Marvel. This is an area of Marvel that they haven’t ventured into before. I hope that people who watch the show who maybe didn’t feel represented or feel like Marvel was making anything for them or about them will see themselves in the show and think like, “Oh, finally, like it’s come to my neighbourhood and then it’s now telling stories that I can relate to, and I feel seen.”

Mars Sebastian  

Amazing. That is all I have for you today. I think we are ahead by OOP! I have a whole three minutes. What? No, we got to get into more! 

You know what, what is a piece of advice you would give for a writer who is trying to make it in the industry as it is, especially writers of colour? Off Colour is a nerdy outlet, but we are all, you know, young people of colour first. So we’d love to have your take there.

Jessica Gao  

Well, specifically to young writers of colour. When I first started out, I mean, more often than not, I was the only one in the room, you know, I was the only woman but also the only person of colour. You know, there’s a lot of unfair pressure that comes with that because you now have the burden of being the only person who was there to protect your community and to be aware. Whereas everybody else in that room, all the straight white men get to devote 100% of their brain to just doing their job; whether or not they choose to use 100 percent of their brain is up to them. 

But you have to not only do that, but you also have to do better because you have to prove that you belong there and that you deserve the job, not because you’re a diversity hire. Then on top of that, you still have to devote part of your brain to protecting and making sure that represents the representation is there and that your community and other marginalized communities aren’t being unfairly targeted, aren’t being punched down on. That takes an enormous amount of time and energy. You also have to do it in a way where everybody else in the room doesn’t feel threatened. So it’s so much pressure, and it’s incredibly unfair. 

So, I would just say, what I found helps is picking and choosing your battles, because you know, the first time you bring something up, they’re like, “This is so great! Thank you so much; this is why we have you.” The second time you bring it up, they’re like, “alright, well, we kind of gave you that first one, like you can ask for something else, you know.”. Then the third time, they’re like, “well, the PC police have come to town!”.

So what I found, and this is not fair, but this is what works! I found that if there is something problematic, like a lot of times, it helps if you just pitch something better because if you pitch a better idea, everybody laughs, and it’s clearly the better idea. Unless it’s a very toxic room run by a terrible showrunner, everybody’s gonna be like, oh, yeah, let’s we should just do that.

Also, don’t waste your energy on things that don’t end up being a problem yet. That’s what I mean by pick your battles because oftentimes, a terrible idea comes up, but it’ll just fizzle. It’ll run its course, so just sit back and let it run its course. I would say 80% of the time; those ideas fall by the wayside because they weren’t good. Anyway, bad problematic pitches are never great ideas; often, they fizzle, so you don’t need to waste your time, energy, and mental health spiralling about it. {Pick and choose, make sure the ones that matter where you’re like I have to stop it from making it to the page on the screen.

Mars Sebastian  

Well, that is my time. So much. You are wonderful. Congratulations. And I really look forward to the fan response for She-Hulk!

Jessica Gao

Thank you so much. Bye!

If you haven’t already, check out our review of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law!

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Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a neuroscience nerd turned Creative Consultant and Executive Director of Off Colour!

You’ve probably seen her on TikTok or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels. From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.

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