On Aug. 18, the Marvel Cinematic Universe expanded with the premiere of its newest Disney Plus TV series, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. Created by Jessica Gao, we see Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) not only navigate the complicated life as a single 30-something, but also learn to balance her career as an attorney specializing in superhuman-oriented legal cases. She also happens to be a green, 6’7, superpowered hulk.
Right by Jennifer’s side is best friend and paralegal, Nikki Ramos, played by Ginger Gonzaga. Before Gonzaga headed into production for the upcoming CBS drama Trues Lies (out next year), she caught up with LA Confidential about the inherent humor of She-Hulk, representing her Filipino heritage on screen and connecting to her character, Nikki.
From production to fan interaction, what has it been like joining the world of Marvel?
It's so fun. Production wise, you know there's no way to predict what the experience is like because I've never been involved in something with such a crazy budget and all this CGI and someone on a ladder representing a monster and stuff like that. It was always really fascinating and just this amazing learning experience because I like to direct and we get to learn so much as actors on set, but this is like you only learn this stuff if you're exposed to the opportunity, so it was really cool. I would poke around in all the different departments and I would come in on my days off and go to the different sets.
For the fans, I keep saying they're so loving and it's so nice. And also, Marvel is so art filled. Everyone is like a true artist— all these like set designers and everyone. But the fans are super creative. My first real exposure to it was the Dr. Strange premiere when I kept seeing people dressed up and fans were there. But they're not just in some regular costume. It's like going to some really cool Halloween competition show.
Marvel movies have so much love and purpose, so it just draws a really cool crowd of people.
You said in a previous interview that Nikki is probably the closest character to you that you’ve played. Do you enjoy roles more when you feel that sort of personal connection?
I like to act so that I can get out of my brain. I like taking a break for myself and escaping into someone who doesn't have my own thoughts, but for Nikki, it just makes sense. I've been wanting to play a character like her. I wrote a show that I had sold to HBO and I've always wanted to be like a Bill Murray-type character. I've seen so many of these guys in comedic history that are very sardonic. When I sold my show to HBO, it was based on my life and I was gonna play a version of myself that added more of those elements to it and then the show died a slow death.
So then I got to play Nikki, and that was the closest. Weirdly I didn’t want to play anything like myself, but I had been wanting to play this type of character and so I got to do it. She's very free. I feel like she's really brave. I always say that I'm like stupidly brave and joke about that, but I think I Nikki's that way. I'm very fashion obsessed, obviously so is Nikki. She'll love anyone she wants. It worked really well and it's a good balance to Jennifer Walters. I think I'm very much not like Jennifer Walters, except for maybe being a little type A. So Nikki inherently has to be a balance for that, and that ends up being someone like myself
Can you tell us more about their complementary relationship?
Jen is such a fun character. She's successful and she has a career and she's lovable and she's sarcastic, and we see it when she breaks the fourth wall. So she's cool, but she's very by the book and she's trying to not get herself in trouble or make any waves. And Nikki loves to encourage someone reaching their full potential. and that's also a way that I feel like she's very similar to me. She's a cheerleader for her friends and she wants to be able to be her best and she wants to see her friends be their best.
Jen is constantly not wanting to be a superhero and having all the things that come with that, and Nikki's infinitely positive and she can see what it could be and how it would be awesome if Jen were to embrace this and she doesn't want her to shy away from it. I'm constantly a catalyst for a lot of what Jennifer eventually gets into and it's just fun. Even energetically, Nikki will do the things that are risky and illegal and Jen is a lot more safe. But they share a lot of the same goals and a lot of the same grievances as best friends and coworkers do.
Did you do any research on what it’s like to be a paralegal?
I watched a couple of videos and actually what my takeaway was is that paralegals just kind of didn't pass the bar. And by that I mean they just didn't take it, but they definitely can do as much as an attorney can and they definitely learn as much. They just don't have the esquire title.
I did a lot of speech and debate when I was younger, and I would lock myself into libraries on the weekends and just do all that research. I'm very aware that's what is required when you're an attorney, so it's neat. It's such an important part of a legal team.
You collaborated on a lot of Nikki’s hair and makeup styles. Was that per your request or did production ask if that was something you wanted to do?
It’s something I kind of always do. I just wanna be able to do a good job, and I can do a good job if I feel like myself and if I feel like it's the character that's in my head. Jessica Gao creates a character, I give it a certain life when I start acting it and then, at that point, I need to feel like myself. I just started emailing the costume designer, Ann Foley, and she allowed me to send her a bunch of links. It was also [earlier in] the pandemic, so I was compulsively just online shopping. And then they bought some of my own personal clothes off of me and and then we figured out who she was, and I would turn my brain off when it came to jewelry and just show up. Ann would have the coolest arsenal, I call it, of jewelry for me.
For makeup, I just pulled all my makeup looks from the runway and I would show up in the morning and my makeup artist Steven Weaver would be like, “Yes, they can accomplish that,” and I'm like, “Great because I definitely can’t.”
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Can you tell us more about Nikki’s wardrobe?
Jessica Gao would sometimes call me a little baby Bowie, which is so fascinating. I definitely liked a lot of ‘80s and ‘70s rocker glam for Nikki. I liked being inspired by really flashy guys, which is fun. Our show has a lot of commentary in it, so after a while, I started nicknaming the looks. Like I wear an outfit in the pilot and that was like my AOC look because Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had just worn like all suffragette white. And then I had one that I named after— I really wanted her makeup to look like a pharaoh— Hatshepsut, the first female pharaoh.
They all started just getting nicknames and a vibe. That 80s puff sleeve look, it's just flattering on me, but I wanted to lean into it and I requested a lot of it because it also reminds me of those traditional Filipino butterfly sleeves. That's also why I care so much about the fashion. I'm very aware when I get a job that there aren't very many Filipino actors and there's a limited amount of representation for us, so when I do get an opportunity, I want to kill it. It's important to me. As a kid, I was like, “Oh, we have Rufio and that's it.” But Rufio was also rad from Hook, so I wanted Nikki to be cool.
I just really wanted to represent in subtle ways, and they let me even wear a Filipino flag pin during an entire episode, which just meant so much to me…I bought an enamel pin and I was like, “I'm gonna wear this in the episode please! Please don’t tell me no.” It’s just a little fun thing from my dad's culture, and it's just special to me.
The MCU also includes a number of television series now. What makes She-Hulk stand out?
We're leaning so much into the comedy, which is fun… Comic books are funny, especially She-Hulk. She's breaking the fourth wall, she's laughing with the audience, so I think it would be weird not to double down on that. I feel like it ends up being really refreshing and fun. I saw Wandavision and I was like, “Oh, man, how are they gonna top that? How could you possibly make something new in the MCU after that bomb of creativity that was so awesome?” So the fact that we're somehow pointing out these really funny human qualities in a superhuman show— it just ended up working really well.
What do you think fans— MCU diehards and casual watchers alike— will enjoy about the series?
You don't need to have watched the Marvel shows to appreciate it. I think it has that relatability, like what's funny about dating or people being silly. But there's so much pay off if you're a Marvel fan. You get to have both Hulks fighting in the pilot and we have really iconic characters in the show. And then we're also introducing all these quirky, quirky characters, who probably wouldn't have their own film, into our show.
I didn't realize we would get the honor of having these other Marvel characters that are already established. I don't know why that didn't cross my mind, so it felt so special when they were there. It made us feel so fancy and also it was so special that they wanted to be there and that they were excited to come and be silly versions of Wong and silly versions of the Abomination.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Sequoia Emmanulle