For years, fans have debated whether the 2008 film The Incredible Hulk belongs in the MCU since it starred Edward Norton as the titular big, green scientist-turned-superhero, or if Mark Ruffalo in 2012’s The Avengers counts as the Hulk’s official debut. William Hurt reprising his role as Thaddeus Ross in multiple MCU movies after The Incredible Hulk was a solid piece of evidence supporting the former argument, and now that Tim Roth is back as Emil Blonsky a.k.a. the Abomination, appearing in the second episode of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, that debate can finally end.
But then the new Disney+ comedy went one step further to cement that movie as MCU canon by directly calling out the fact that another actor portrayed the Hulk all those years ago in a brilliantly meta moment. When Jen (Tatiana Maslany) is asked to step in as Blonsky’s lawyer for his parole hearing, she initially says no because she thinks it’ll be a conflict of interest — after all, Blonsky did attempt to kill her cousin Bruce in the past. So she calls up Bruce to get his advice, and he reveals that Blonsky actually sent him a really heartfelt letter (and haiku) a while back, so they’ve both put that whole issue behind them. “That fight was so many years ago, I’m a completely different person now — literally,” Bruce deadpans, as Jen breaks the fourth wall to laugh directly at the camera.
As was the case with She-Hulk: Attorney at Law revealing the story of how Captain America (Chris Evans) lost his virginity, Ruffalo loves that this show is finally acknowledging the Hulk’s complex history in the MCU. “I think it’s really funny. It’s just the reality that we all are often dancing around, but it’s true,” he tells EW. “I actually joked with Ed about this. I was like, ‘It’s like our generation’s Hamlet. Everyone’s going to get a shot at it.’ And there’ll probably be another couple before it’s all over. People will be like, ‘Remember when the Hulk used to look like Mark Ruffalo? Now it looks like Timothée Chalamet.’ ”
Ruffalo doesn’t feel territorial at all about his superhero role, because he’d rather watch Bruce/Hulk continue to evolve than just keep it for himself. “The cool thing about this world is that it could just be anything,” he says. “Five years from now it could totally morph into anything, whatever’s pertinent at the time. I almost see him going back to ‘Berserker Hulk’ or ‘World War Hulk’. It could go anywhere. That’s the exciting part — I’ve played five different versions from beginning to now, and that’s kept it interesting for me and I hope interesting for other people.”
When Marvel first approached Ruffalo about reprising his role as Bruce/Hulk for this new series, he didn’t know if he’d be playing the human scientist version or the “Smart Hulk” persona introduced in Avengers: Endgame. But he also truly didn’t care — he was more interested in seeing where the series took the character on a deeper level. “When they decided to do She-Hulk — which I thought was really cool and exciting and apt and timely — it was basically like, ‘We would be interested in you passing the baton to her,’ ” Ruffalo says. “They gave me the premise, which I already knew from the comics, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’d love to do that.’ And I do feel like I’m actually passing the torch on, in a strange way.”
Working with Maslany to build Bruce and Jen’s dynamic as cousins came easy, as did getting to show off Bruce’s goofier, more relaxed side. “No one’s ever done anything quite like this and there’s a lot of physical comedy,” says Ruffalo. “It’s almost slapstick in some places, and just having Tatiana for a partner, our chemistry together is just something you never know you’re going to have with somebody, but it really is there. It clicks and it’s fun. I adore her and she’s fantastic.”
Maslany tells EW that finding that magical chemistry with Ruffalo was just “innate” and immediate. “It’s such a joy to work with an actor where the dynamic on-camera feels like the dynamic off-camera,” she adds. “There’s such a safety in us playing in all of these different goofy spheres that we’re going into, and I never felt like he was going to let me fall on my face. He’s such an amazing scene partner, and even though he’s played this character for 10 years, he really is learning things about the character all the time and stretching him and changing him and letting him grow.”
Ruffalo thinks there’s still a lot more to discover about the character and his “enigmatic” life throughout the MCU. “I think this is a good entry into that time period, that two years between Infinity War and what happened in Endgame — there’s a gap where we don’t know what happened to him and all of a sudden he’s a professor and he is no longer Banner after he couldn’t turn into the Hulk,” he says. “I love how we start to open up that world, but I think there’s almost a standalone story to be told for just those two years. How did we go from a Banner who couldn’t turn into the Hulk anymore to all of a sudden this fully integrated version? This is a really nice way to introduce that story, but I also feel like it doesn’t satisfy exactly what happened in that time period. I think there’s a lot more to say about it.”