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DARK ANGEL: Jessica Alba
The 19-year-old star on appearing as the genetically-engineered Max in James Cameron's new science fiction TV series.
By Edward Gross
October 03, 2000
One of the most anticipated shows of the new television season is James Cameron and Charles Eglee's Dark Angel
, which debuts tomorrow night, Tuesday, airing on Fox, right across the airwaves from the WB's Angel
. Jessica Alba stars as Max, one of a dozen genetically engineered children who escaped from a government facility and tried to immerse themselves into society after a nuclear pulse weapon has wiped out most of our computer technology. Years later, Max reluctantly teams up with a video hacker to do what she can to help those in need and to restore order to society, with the government always closing in on her.
For a nineteen-year-old, Alba has amassed an impressive list of credits, having co-starred in the syndicated Flipper
series, scored guest starring roles in such shows as Beverly Hills 90210
and Chicago Hope
, and appeared in the feature films Idle Hands, She's All That, Never Been Kissed
, and the forthcoming Sleeping Dictionary
Alba recently took the time to talk, and the first thing that becomes apparent is that this young lady has a very old soul, with her feet rooted firmly on the ground and an applaudable down-to-earth attitude that one hopes will stay with her despite the trappings of stardom that are certain to come her way. QUESTION:
IS THIS WHAT YOU EXPECTED OR MUCH TOUGHER THAN ANTICIPATED?ALBA:
Oh, a lot tougher than I anticipated. The truth is, I expected the worse, but expecting the worse and actually doing the worse are actually two completely different things [laughs].
GIVE ME AN IDEA AS TO WHY IT'S BEEN SO DIFFICULT.
Well, I have to get up at 6:30 so I can work out from 7:00 to 8:30; then I have to run back to my house, take a shower so I can get picked up at 8:45 which I'm usually five to eight minutes late for, and my driver probably isn't the happiest man in the world. Then I have to get my butt to set, go straight into makeup. I eat my breakfast while I get my hair and make-up done, and in the middle of that I have to go and get pulled for rehearsals, come back and change and go on to the set. I'm there all day until about 11:00 at night when they say we've lost our location and there's no way we can get anymore, and start it all over again. We're really shooting a mini-movie in eight days, and in that I'm doing two or three pages of dialogue with three or four different characters and, like, five hours of action sequences. That can be any day. Three days a week I do action and acting, and the rest I do ridiculously long scenes of dialogue. And when do I have time to memorize this stuff? I don't know [laughs].
WHICH DO YOU PREFER, THE LONG DIALOGUE SCENES OR THE ACTION?
To me, it's all the same, because you have to physically and mentally be there when you're doing the action. With the dialogue, you've got to mentally be there and enunciate at the same time. Which is really difficult, because she goes from speaking in slang to one person to being extremely articulate to the other person. In one part of the episode she's freaking out, and in the other she's as cool as a cucumber. So in one scene I'm on one level, and in the other scene on a completely different level.
AT 19 IS THAT TOUGH TO HANDLE? I ONLY ASK BECAUSE THIS SOUNDS LIKE THE KIND OF THING SOMEONE WOULD HAVE TO DEAL WITH ON A FEATURE FILM.
This is way harder than a feature. When I did a feature in Malaysia [Sleeping Dictionary
] and I was the lead actress on location in a third world country on the side of a mountain in the jungle with a Malaysian and Chinese and English crew, that was a freaking cake walk compared to this. You go from sunrise to sundown and your day is done. Here, you go from sunrise until you run out of time.
IS EVERYTHING YOU'RE GOING THROUGH WORTH IT?
Of course it is, because I am doing what I love. I'm really lucky. It's hard work, and you don't realize you can do it, until you do it. All of a sudden you're in your fourth episode, and you don't know how you got here and how you go through the pages and pages of dialogue that you don't even remember. And it's also kind of nice to challenge yourself. It's different, because not only do I have to do the action and look like I know what I'm doing; I can't fudge anything. There's going to be lots of people that are going to be critical of what I do here with the action, and if I slack on the acting I'm going to be hearing about it from Fox, Lightstorm and everyone.
AND THE INTERNET.
Definitely the Internet. They'll be there on a daily basis saying, 'She sucked today' [laughs]. You've got a lot of that going on, too. Then you have to do a lot of press and stuff. It's just being able to be the best you can be for everyone all the time. Sometimes it takes a toll on you.
WHEN DO YOU HAVE TIME FOR YOURSELF?
Saturday. I'll be working until 4:00 in the morning on Friday, when I wake up on Saturday you get to take a walk.
FOR YOU, WHAT IS THE APPEAL OF THE SHOW?
Max, because she's not a what the public categorizes as a typical teenager or a typical girl. She's really hard; she's rough but sensitive at the same time; she's in your face, straight up, super cool; she rides a motorcycle, and she has no fear of death, reallywhen it comes to the human death. Her fear of death is from a much higher level. So the day to day basic thingswhere people are like, 'Oh, what if this is a sketchy neighborhood and I might get jumped or robbed or raped...'she has no fear of anything like that.
SO WHAT IS
SHE AFRAID OF?
She's afraid of what she is because she doesn't know what it is exactly. But it's following her around, and she has these seizures and is reliant on these pills. She's not sure why, and she hates it and it's frustrating. At the same time, she has to embrace who she is and accept it, which is like anybody. The circumstances that anybody is given, you can either just blame the world for where you're at or you can just embrace it. So she just tries to embrace it. That's nice, because she is not a victim, and she's out trying to be positive and trying to move forward, versus having an attitude of 'Poor me.' That's my deal with Max.
With the show, I just think it's excellent because we're doing something that people haven't seen yet, and hopefully people will look forward to seeing something different. It's not ten people, ensemble cast, kids going to high school. We already had Friends
; we already had Seinfeld
; we already had X-Files
; we already had Dawson's Creek
. We have those shows, and this is something completely different, because it has action and it has a big heart. Which is the magic of Jim Cameron's movies. He has Terminator, True Lies
, and these types of movies that are action movies, but they all have a story and a heart and you care about what's happening to the characters. That's the difference between his work and other action movies.
DO YOU SEE MAX A CHARACTER THAT IS ALWAYS EVOLVING?
Oh, definitely. She already has in what we've shot. She's become more vulnerable than she ever wanted to be; she's become more attached to the people that she is around that she considers her friends, and it is completely against her nature. But it's so a part of her nature at the same time, because she was taught to buck all of her human instincts and be like a soldier and mechanical, basically, yet they gave her a human heart and they gave her feelings and they gave her a mind, a soul and will. So she's constantly in this battle between human and machine. It's not really machine, but it's the mental machine that they tried to create.
YOU'VE SHOT ONLY FORU EPISODES AT THIS POINT, BUT HAS MAX EVOLVED IN WAYS THAT YOU MAY NOT HAVE EXPECTED?
Completely. I didn't think she was going to get involved with relationships as deeply or as fast as she has. Also, she has fallen on her face quite a bit, which I really like. Because that's what happens to people. They go for it; everything's good, and you're destined to fall, because that's the way you learn, by falling on your face, taking what you can from that and applying it to the next thing. When she finds the other people that are like her, how is she going to interact with them, because they're cold and soldier-like and everything that she was made to be. Are they going to be as developed andI guess you could sayhuman, as she is now? And will she go back to that? It's cool to think about all of that kind of stuff, and it's crazy because I didn't believe Chic [co-creator Charles Eglee], but it really is completely evolving what is happening in all of our lives. We just start to parallel. He said that after a while the actors are doing the roles for so long they just kind of become the role for him. Whatever their life experiences, and wherever he thinks we are as people, he applies it to the scripts and to the shows, and he makes every show about certain life lessons that somebody learned along the way, whether it's one of us, him or his wife or daughter. It's crazy to be so improvisational. There's no set agenda; there's no set plan. We don't know where it's going to go.
WHICH IS GREAT.
It is great, because it allows the book to be completely open. It trips me out to see how things evolve. You're dying to know what's going to happen next. Your heart is so attached to it because you've been doing it and you kind of learn the lessons with the characters. In turn, the more committed you are, the more committed the audience will be to you and the characters.
I DON'T SUPPOSE CO-STARRING IN FLIPPER
COULD PREPARE YOU FOR ALL THE RIGORS OF THIS SHOW.
Not even a little bit. I was just learning what you learn about technical stuff, like getting on your mark and learning your lines and trying to stay positive and acknowledging that you're lucky to be here. Because you could be sitting at home waiting tables and wondering if you're even going to get an audition.