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DARK ANGEL: Charles Eglee

The series co-creator discusses the new show's origins and promising future.

By Edward Gross     October 23, 2000

The vibe has been there for the past several months, and Dark Angel has more than lived up to the expectations of everyone involved. Taking place 20 years in the future, when America's technology has been rendered virtually useless by the explosion of a nuclear pulse bomb, the series follows the adventures of Max (Jessica Alba), a genetically engineered teenager who is reluctantly helping society put itself back together while trying to elude the government sources that want to capture her.

Dark Angel is created by acclaimed director James Cameron and Charles Eglee, the latter of whom has spent much of his career working on some of television's most inventive series, among them St. Elsewhere, Moonlighting, Byrds of Paradise and Murder One. It is this expertisedealing with characters in dramatic situationsthat Eglee brings to the table, complementing Cameron's well-known penchant for spectacular ideas that are rooted to reality by strong characters. In many ways, Dark Angel seems on its way to becoming this year's Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Taking time from a busy production schedule, Eglee sat down with Fandom to discuss the series' development and the road it seems to be taking.

FANDOM: SOMEHOW THERE DOESN'T SEEM TO BE A NATURAL PROGRESSION FROM MURDER ONE TO DARK ANGEL.

Charles Eglee: Actually, you'd be surprised. Somebody was asking me the other day about inspirations for the show. I did a show called Byrds of Paradise a few years ago, and this was sort of the flip of that.

I'M FAMILIAR WITH BYRDS, BUT I DON'T GET THE CONNECTION.

You're still dealing with kids who are alienated and shut down and angry and bitter. In that case, it was Jennifer Love Hewitt and Seth Green having suffered the loss of their mother and going to a place that was sort of this idea of paradise, and trying to fit in and come to find their wholeness and heal. It's really the same story for Max, this just happens to be more of a myopic universe.

WERE YOU APPROACHED WITH THIS IDEA OR WERE YOU THE ONE WHO CAME UP WITH IT?

Jim and I have known each other for 20 years. I was working with Steven Bochco, and when the Bochco deal was up at ABC, I began looking around to see what I would do next, and Jim said, 'Hey, why don't we do TV? Come on over here and let's do some TV shows.' We've been talking for many years about working together. Jim is a guy who, even though he's known as this iconic director, is a terrific writer, and first and foremost a wonderful storyteller. Television really affords a different kind of storytelling, in some ways a little more intense because it doesn't rely on spectacle. It's not about the visuals, it's really about the characters and the relationships. Jim had said to me many years ago that he kind of envied the opportunities that you have as a writer for television because you can tell stories over time. This was when he was shooting The Abyss, and he said just as he was really starting to fall in love with the characters and figure them out, the movie was over. We sat down and started talking about, 'Gee, if we were going to do a TV show, what would it be like.' We came up with four or five ideas and settled on this one.

WAS THERE ANYTHING THAT INSPIRED THE WHOLE IDEA OF THIS GENETICALLY ENGINEERED WOMAN?

We knew we were going to be in business with Fox and we were aware of the demographics, and the kind of branding that they have on their shows. It was not like we were going to write something about three women in the rural South. That wasn't going to fit on the network and didn't live up to the promise of Jim Cameron's involvement. We were actually talking about an urban
youth ensemble, and it just transmogrified into, 'What if these kids were on the lam and it was kind of a Fugitive story?' And Jim said, 'What if they were revved up?' Jim is so great at creating worlds and is so into that stuff, and I'm not. I said, 'Okay, so they're revved up and on the lam, and what do they do? Are they cops?' It just sort of evolved from there. This was around the whole Y2K hysteria, maybe a year or so before that, and Jim was reading all of those articles about Y2K and that really informed this. What if there was a world that was broken, and what if a particular event had caused it? We were talking about the idea of a nuclear weapon being set off. What if it was used as a terrorist device? Nobody was killed, it was simply used to knock out the satellite system. So what we were dealing with was not nuclear holocaust, which is sort of distasteful and nobody wanted to write it, but an economic collapse that moved America back into a 1930s style depression.

Once you create a character like Max, who's superheroic and has all those attributes, if she's walking around in 1999 or 2000 fixing things, you kind of think, 'What's up with this girl? What's her problem? Why doesn't somebody call the police?' Because you've got a whole infrastructure of social service agencies and things like that that can take care of those problems. But if all of those infrastructures are gone because of an economic collapse, then it really allows for the emergence of a hero. We were thinking about the 1930s in particular, and what that gives you is sort of the disparity between the rich and the poor. The 1930s was also an extremely glamorous time. There was a lot of wealth, but it was in the hands of very few people. And gangsters were running things and politicians were for sale, so there was a need to bring order to a disordered world. It's kind of taking a page from the Westerns as well. Wyatt Earp has to strap on the peacemaker, go out into the streets and bring law to a territory where there are no laws. It was that sort of environment that we were looking for.

I THINK THE EARLY IMPRESSION WAS THAT MAX WOULD BE OUT THERE BATTLING BIG GOVERNMENT FORCES AND BIG ACTION ALL OVER THE PLACE, BUT NOW IT SEEMS THAT IT'S GOING TO BE MORE ABOUT HER TOUCHING OTHER PEOPLE.

Very much so, because those sort of big abstractions just are not real. I've seen maybe one or two episodes of The X-Files, so I have no expertise, but it seems that they've done that whole vast conspiracy thing. What's interesting about this showit's the one thing that's interesting but at the same time daunting and a little bit terrifyingis that it's a show without a particular franchise. It's not a cop show, it's not a law show, it's not a medical show. Those shows sort of imply a universe and a set of rules. Everybody knows when you tune in and there's a police station, you know what the jokes and the set pieces are. This is a show in which the stories can come from the four directions. You can have stories come out of the mythology of the people chasing Max, you can have stories come out of the mythology of Max trying to reunite with her 'family,' you have stories that come from Logan and his stuff and then you've got stories that legitimately come from this urban youth ensemble that we've put together. So it's kind of cool.

AND JESSICA ALBA IS PRETTY AMAZING AS MAX.

Yeah, she's terrific. We spent a lot of time trying to find the right girl for this, because the whole show hangs on her. I saw over 1,000 people.

SO WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE THAT SHE WAS RIGHT?

A bunch of things. First of all, first and foremost, she's a terrific actress. She's got good chops. When we found her she was 17, and I think she did a real good job in the pilot and is only going to get better as she really locates that character and owns it. So we were looking for skill. The other thing is, when you're making the promise to your audience that your lead character is genetically enhanced or genetically engineered, you sort of what to live up to that promise. Jess is real athletic, really fit and toned and really can do that. [And] because she's an assemblage of DNA from across the human spectrum, maybe with some feline DNA thrown in there as well, you want somebody who doesn't look particularly regional. If you've got somebody who looks like they're from Ireland or sounds like they're from Georgia, it kind of gives a lie to our fiction that these people were created in a genetics lab in a room in a base in some remote town in the Wyoming mountains. Jessica, you look at her and you're not quite sure what she is. She's all sorts of things. And she's enormously appealing. She's a very attractive girl.

WHAT DO YOU SEE AS BEING MAX'S JOURNEY ON THIS SHOW?

It's less an external journey than it is an internal one. The dynamic between Max and Logan is important. Logan is trying to call Max to the higher part of her own being. When the world's broken and you don't really fit into it, and you don't have a place in the world, it's very easy to adopt this pose of kind of cool, alienated disaffection. It's a real teenage thing. Why should I care? Max really has adopted that veneer as a means of self-protection, given the fact that she came from this really abusive background and has to make her way by herself in the world. And it's really Logan reaching out to her and saying, 'No, you have to care. You can't not care.' Of course Max knows that. The thing that's interesting about Max as a character is that she means 180 degrees in the other direction of what she says. It's the reverse indicator of how she's feeling.

AND THE GOVERNMENT/JOHN SAVAGE PURSUIT STORY WILL BE A MAJOR PART OF THE SHOW AS WELL?

Oh, yeah, and we're going to find out what that's about. On the page, we wrote a fairly one-dimensional thing: 'Find the kids, kill them, shoot them.' It was a real sort of stock villain. Villains are always the hardest characters to like. The thing about villains is that they never think they're bad people. On Murder One, I wrote seven episodes featuring a serial killer and we got into serial killers' heads. They don't think they're bad people. They think, 'If I don't put this man's head here on the coffee table, and his severed arm over here right in the middle of the room...if I don't get everything just right, then the earth is going to spin off of its axis and go plunging into the sun.' They really think that they're ordering up the universe in some way that makes some sort of pathological sense to them. So the John Savage character, while he is villainous, ultimately in his own mind has got to believe that he's doing the right thing and a necessary thing. John actually brought that. He didn't have a lot of dialogue in that piece, but he brought real performance to it. At the end, when he realizes she's gotten away, it's obvious that he's really emotionally invested in this. It's more than just following orders. You look at the performance and you go, 'Jesus, what the fuck is this about?' and it got us thinking, 'Wow, maybe there's a whole other story here.'

DO YOU SEE DARK ANGEL AS A SHOW THAT WILL ALLOW FOR EVOLUTION?

You have to. You've really got to create this world that people can care about and invest in. The thing about television that's interesting is that there's a certain familiarity that's requisite. People have to tune in and have their expectations delivered on. It's like when I was doing Moonlighting. Everybody was waiting for David Addison to say all that funny wacky shit, and you had to deliver on that expectation. So TV sort of sets up a set of rules and then has to deliver on them on a weekly basis. That's why people follow it. What happens at the same time in television is that a show takes on a life of its own. You just keep peeling back the layers of the onion and it becomes an extraordinary thing.

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