Tatiana Maslany is well-versed in several roles in the same TV series. From 2013 to 2017, she portrayed over a dozen clones in the sci-fi series Orphan Black, for which she won an Emmy.
However, in the new Marvel Studios series She-Hulk: Attorney at Large, Maslany faced a new challenge: she transformed from capable, if neurotic, Los Angeles attorney Jennifer Walters into her familiar green, six-foot-tall alter ego as She Hulk. Maslany worked with director and executive producer Kat Coiro, creator and executive writer Jessica Gao, and fellow Hulk and co-star Mark Ruffalo (who plays Jennifer’s cousin Bruce Banner) to bring She-Hulk to life. She spoke to Variety about the show’s technical challenges, the scene she could barely get through, and why her biggest inspirations were “Legally Blonde” and “Seinfeld.”
What drew you to this role on the show?
The pitch was basically the pilot script I read when I came in to audition. What struck me was that it was just so unexpected. It was so funny on every page, and it was super weird. It just felt very specific and very anti-MCU big that I was like, oh my god, this is so much fun, and I would absolutely die to play that role.
When Mark Ruffalo played the Hulk, he wore a gray motion capture suit and had a static Hulk head over his actual head. Did you do something similar for She-Hulk?
Yes. In all those scenes where we look great on camera, we’re actually both just in gray pajamas with helmets on our heads and those cameras in front of our faces. Sometimes when you’re working with an actor who isn’t also a Hulk, you go on a platform so that their eye line is actually looking where your face would be. Or alternatively you have this stick on your helmet that’s like a frozen smiling She Hulk face and they talk to it. So really, as much as it’s a burden for me as an actor to carry this stuff, I think it’s more difficult for my co-star because they have to bring that cardboard face to life.
Well you can see both sides as you play the human Jennifer who talks to Smart Hulk.
I think I totally forgot I did that. I completely forgot there was a scene where we were in the lab and Mark had this face on and I needed to talk to him and I couldn’t stop – I was laughing the whole time. The whole scene makes me tremble. I couldn’t do it because it’s really destabilizing.
This process is called performance tracking, but were you concerned that something might get lost between your performance and what we end up seeing on screen?
I’ve witnessed over time – I think we all have moviegoers – this incredible nuance that has become part of a CG character. But yeah, I had questions about how much of my thoughts or my nuances as an actor would translate, just human behaviors that pull you out of some uncanny valley to transport you deep into the reality of the show. I saw tests they did with She-Hulk pretty early in production. And yes, I trusted it. I can actually see her breathing. I see them wriggle in a way that only a human actor would wriggle. I see her thinking And so it really eased any subtle anxiety I would have had about it.
Jennifer obviously notices a difference in how people treat her as She-Hulk on the show. As an actor, did you notice a difference between your role as Jennifer and your role as She-Hulk?
Yes. Mark and I have definitely talked about how it feels to be in a suit versus otherwise. It’s a lot easier for me to connect with my co-star when I don’t have a camera in front of my face. But once I’m She-Hulk and I wear this costume, it kind of separates me from humans – puts me on platforms so I occupy a different space. All of this stuff informs me about how the character is feeling. I feel like I’m taking up all that space because this platform I’m walking on is preventing other actors from doing what they want. So I inherently own the space in a different way. There are all those things that, as an actor, tell you the truth about your character that’s actually fun to embody.
Of course, Orphan Black had you navigating a lot of tricky visual effects, with all the doubling that you had to do. Based on your previous experience, what has been the biggest learning curve on this show for you?
I feel like this prepared me very well to get into something so technical and do it with the awareness that it can actually be very liberating. The special thing about it is that sometimes I’m in a band where there is no set, no costume, sometimes no other scene partners. Everything is created. And something about it — and I’m sure other actors have said that — draws on that thing you do in a theater rehearsal where you imagine the bed might be, or you imagine the fourth wall or what anyway. There’s all these things that you create as an actor to make it happen. This [show] is actually better suited to this type of acting than some film acting. There’s a little more fantasy work, which is actually kind of like a playful kid’s place to play.
“Ally McBeal” was mentioned many times when describing this show, and it even takes place in a bar where Jennifer is having a drink. Did you look to this show as a sonic inspiration for what you do?
Um, tonal for me, I’ve never seen an episode of Ally McBeal, sorry to say. But! I’ve seen Legally Blonde. That somehow felt right to me. Elle Woods is perceived in a certain way and is always struggling to be seen for who she really is and also struggling to see herself for who she really is. She is also a lawyer. She is also a woman. all that stuff But I feel like Elaine Benes [from “Seinfeld”] was more of a touchstone for me. Just in relation to her, she’s obviously an incredibly capable person, but she also gets in her own way and has snags or rigidities that mess her up. I just love Elaine too. She was the one I grew up with.
You speak directly to the camera quite a lot on this show. How was it for you to play?
It was scary at first because I’ve seen it done so well by incredibly skilled actors so many times. You know, Phoebe Waller Bridge [on “Fleabag”], in Ferris Bueller, all these really iconic performances. What made me feel specific and different about what we were doing was just that “She-Hulk” was always meta. The comics were incredibly meta. She always speaks to the audience or to the author. And there’s something about her consciousness that continues from her Jen form to She-Hulk, where she has this hyper-awareness — it’s part of her superpower — that’s now also part of her connection to the audience. She is aware of the system in which she acts. She is aware of all the mechanisms and gets involved. And that feels relevant to me when it comes to being a woman and knowing your place and your space in any room. There’s something about it that felt very important to me.
This interview has been edited and abridged.