[This story contains spoilers for She-Hulk: Attorney at Law episode five, “Mean, Green, and Straight Poured into These Jeans.”]
She-Hulk director Anu Valia has directed 22 episodes of television since 2020, which is an impressive feat considering how challenging TV production has become in the pandemic era. Three of those episodes include Marvel Studios’ She-Hulk, and Valia, like many people, assumed she knew what a Marvel set would be like. Instead, she discovered that there’s far more creative freedom than one might expect from the biggest franchise of all time.
“It was such a collaborative, creative experience, which is maybe something I didn’t realize going in. You think of Marvel as this huge machine, but it’s really not. Kevin [Feige] cares so much, but there was more freedom than I really expected to have,” Valia tells The Hollywood Reporter.
In a recent conversation with THR, Valia also addresses the perplexing manner in which Jen Walters (Tatiana Maslany) is treated since becoming She-Hulk.
So who gets the credit for the genius title card, She-Hulk: By Titania?
I think it’s [head writer] Jessica Gao. The idea of the whole show is to play with your expectations of what you think the show is going to be and to keep doing that. And so it’s fun to play with the title cards in that way.
Prior to getting the job, what did you respond to the most as far as the material is concerned?
When I read the scripts, I was like, “Oh my God, what they’re doing with She-Hulk is really fun.” First of all, the problems that Jennifer Walters experiences in her everyday life are just so contemporary and truthful. And then add to that, this new identity she didn’t ask for. So I just felt so close to her when I read it, and it’s just a deeply funny show. I was like, “Oh man, I really want to be involved.” And then you just try to get that job, honey. (Laughs.)
Did you get a peek behind the curtain at Marvel? Did you get to see their FBI board with all the red strings connecting their many different projects?
(Laughs.) Yeah, there’s a lot of different things to keep in mind. Once you get there, you get stuff downloaded to you, and then you learn what you need to know. But they don’t tell you what you don’t need to know. There’s a lot of smart minds there.
Every job has a series of firsts, so what were those for you on She-Hulk?
Yeah, you learn something on every job. This show took some time, and I learned so many technical things. This was the first time I’d ever worked with a full CGI character as the lead of a show. And just working on the show, I learned about balancing the tone. I also learned so much from the actors. It was such a collaborative, creative experience, which is maybe something I didn’t realize going in. You think of Marvel as this huge machine, but it’s really not. Kevin [Feige] cares so much, but there was more freedom than I really expected to have.
It’s absolutely crazy to me that She-Hulk’s dates, such as Arthur, showed no interest in Jen Walters herself. I just can’t wrap my head around that.
It’s funny you say that because I thought about that a lot, too. It’s so beautiful what we’re exploring, which is how much that hurts. It’s not like she cares about that guy [Michel Curiel’s Arthur] that much, but what hurts is the fact that he wouldn’t have liked Jen. And the way Tatiana plays that is so beautiful and so real. But I do understand what you’re saying. It’s like, “You’re not into Jennifer Walters? She’s hot!” So I hear you on that. I don’t buy it either. (Laughs.) She’s so cool. But the essence of what’s being explored is like, “You like this other side of me, but not both sides? That’s also me.” It’s confusing.
Hopefully, Matt Murdock doesn’t treat her that way. That doesn’t sound like his style. Does your closing Daredevil tease imply that you got to work with Charlie Cox?
(Laughs.) You don’t want me to actually answer that, do you? Of course, I’m scared to answer some of these questions, but I really think the joy of this show is tuning in next week. So I don’t want to share things that you’re going to find out.
Renée Elise Goldsberry was on fire in this episode. That football player line was laugh-out-loud funny. Could you feel that she was in the zone on set?
She’s an incredible actor. So much of her stuff is actually on the cutting room floor, which is a shame because it’s a half-hour comedy; it can’t all make it in. But she’s so funny, and she’s just an all-star actor. I love her.
Since 2020, you’ve directed 22 episodes of television, and 20 episodes of yours have aired since 2020. How did you pull this off at a time like this?
I don’t know! (Laughs.) On a show like this, I’m a guest director. Other directors and showrunners and creators lay the groundwork, and hopefully, I can come in and be additive and find my own personal connection to the story, which I very much did on She-Hulk. And hopefully what I give is received. I’ve been so lucky to work on shows where I feel so close to the lead character or the storyline or the larger themes. So I truly am very lucky. Who knows, maybe the work will just fly up, so I’ve gotta take it while I can get it. (Laughs.)
Given your previous collaborations with Sarah Goldberg, why haven’t you directed Barry yet? You’ve directed everything else, so who do we blame for this?
Oh God, I would love to direct Barry, but listen, Bill Hader is doing it all, babe. (Laughs.) He doesn’t need another director.
She-Hulk is now airing on Disney+. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.