‘Cale Force!’ - February 2001 issue of Cult Times
The world has been catapulted into chaos and Logan Cale - cyber-journalist and sly political activist - has been drawn into helping the genetically-enhanced Max. Quite a challenge. Actor Michael Weatherly says, “I thought Logan was Harrison Ford...”
Imagine reading a script for the first time and having a certain preconception in your mind about the scope and potential of one of the lead characters. Then imagine finding out that character is actually the spot you’re gunning for. That’s what happened to Michael Weatherly, who plays opposite Jessica Alba in this season’s breakout hit, Dark Angel.
“When I first read the script, someone had left it in my apartment. They had been housesitting while I was away working out of the country, and when I came back this had been sitting on my desk. And it had said, ‘Dark Angel, James Cameron, Charles Eglee,’” recalls Weatherly. “And I had thought, ‘Oh, Jim Cameron’s new movie - this is kind of cool.’ So I picked it up and read it, envisioning Ed Harris as Logan. Then, a couple of weeks later, I got a call from my manger, and she said, ‘Do you want to audition for this Dark Angel thing? We’ve got a meeting for you.’ And I said, “‘Great, which part?’ I mean, I figured I’d be bodyguard number three or maybe I’d get to be one of the jam pony messengers in the back. And she said, ‘No, no. Logan.’”
It was then that it started to sink in what, exactly, he was up for. Still, his immediate response was, “But I’m not Logan.” That was because, from Weatherly’s view, Logan was a role designed for a bigger name actor, in a bigger-scale feature script. “I thought Logan was Harrison Ford. From the start, I saw it in a much grander scale. I saw it as a $100 million dollar feature in my mind,” he explains. “When you read a script you always have that perspective. If it’s a television show, you kind of imagine it on a television, with television angels and everything. When you read a movie script, you really flesh it out with movie stars and the whole thing. So, from the very get-go, it’s been like that - a little fantasy ride. And a lot of fun to do. The cast has to work pretty hard; I just sit around and type at the computer,” he laughs.
After having had more than his fair share of false starts and failed pilots, Weatherly didn’t have any particular expectations for the series, even with the talented names associated with the series. “If anything, I was much more skeptical of any kind of success, immediate or otherwise,” he admits. “I just thought, what a great script, what a great, fun concept, and ultimately what a great group of people to work with, from people who run things all the way down to Jessica and the cast.”
Dark Angel comes from the creative minds by producing parners James Cameron and Charles Eglee, and is the first project to stem from a TV collaboration between the two long-time friends, whose shared history stretches back more than two decades to the years they each got started in their careers at Roger Corman. The show shoots in Hollywood North, also known as Vancouver, British Columbia, and, according to Weatherly, the hours are intense - up to 150 hours or more per episode. But all of that effort comes through in the end product, adds the actor. “I think it shows. Every department is really keyed in and involved, and wants to make it as true as it can be.”
The biggest question is how to convey the futuristic setting of the show without taking it too far off base from our own modern day culture. After all, the show is set 20 years in the future. “How much do you Sci-Fi it up?” muses Weatherly. “Really, I think it’s kind of subtle, because I don’t think that you necessarily realize that you’re watching a show that takes place in the future all the time. It plays kind of current. But at the same time, you have the freedom of that specific element of the Sci-Fi genre; the jump forward in Time gives you a little wiggle room, so you can have the genetically engineered super-babe. You can have certain, more sinister elements at play.”
The genetically engineered super-babe Weatherly so casually refers to is his co-star, Alba. A lithe young woman with full lips and a shock of dark hair, the captivating, so-called Dark Angel has her own quests to follow. But when Logan discovers her secret - and she discovers his - a tentative partnership forms, out of which friendship, and the hint of something more, later evolve.
Part of the formula for success, Weatherly considers, is the fact that, “There’s not a lot on TV that’s like Dark Angel. To its credit, it’s not a show that’s trying to be like everything else. It’s not a copycat,” he laughs. “And every week we’re making a completely different kind of show. We don’t sit there and just make a repeat of last week’s episode, which a show like this could become. Every week, Logan could give Max the mission, and she could go off and come back in a Charlie’s Angels kind of thing. But it’s really not like that at all.”
The show that Dark Angel is now, he adds is something that would appeal to him regardless of whether he appeared in the series or not. “I think it’s like a candy that’s somewhat nutritious. It’s like the candy vitamin C. I don’t think it’s a show that necessarily confounds anyone - it’s not PBS - but it’s certainly entertainment, and there are some interesting elements to it. Max doesn’t use guns, and, violent as it is, it’s not a gory violence.” And though there is usually some pay-off moral to the story, this is no Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek: “It stops short of being a weekly morality tale. It’s a show that, in a subtle way, asks you to ask yourself for whatever the answers are.”
Another asset to the series, Weatherly acknowledges, is the singular strength of Alba’s Max. “Certainly Max stands as a role model. I’m sure that this gets knocked around by pundits and the like, but I would think that she’s a relatively sincere, straightforward, confident, empowered female figure for the 21st Century,” he ponders. “She’s not a Doris Day throwback.”
While Max starts out more interested in herself, Logan is an idealogue interested in the bigger picture. He’s righteous and, adds Weatherly, “He’s a little bit of a revolutionary. The fun is in trying to see how these characters try to reveal their true selves to each other. No one else knows that Max has this secret of who she is and where she’s from, yet Logan is the only person in her world that she trusts with that information. In the same way, Logan is this Eyes Only political activist guy, and Max is the only person in his world that he trusts with that information. So they each hold a secret of the other, and as they expand that into a deeper understanding of each other, it’s fun. Of course, it can get a little dangerous, a little ornery, because they’re both pretty wilful characters, and neither one of them seems to be suffering from a deficit in intellect. Max is not interested at all in the world in which she actually lives; she’s only interested in the world which has long since disappeared behind her. Logan is only interested in the world that exists around him, and fighting that system. But you know next to nothing about Logan’s personal mythology. He has almost no interest in who he is; he only has an interest in the society, and trying to effect some kind of positive change on that society. The two of them have this sort of positive and negative charge; and obviously, those opposites attract, in some ways.”
While there are undeniably sparks flying between this dynamic duo, it’s not the intention of the producers to let things go too far too fast. After all, Eglee does have experience with such delicate sexual tension, estrogen-testosterone balances, having served as a producer on Moonlighting, the 1980’s Cybil Shepherd-Bruce Willis series that serves as the poster child for why consummation sexual tension on TV doesn’t work.
Still, when the chemistry is there, it’s there. Just ask the creative powers over at The X-Files, where Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny’s chemistry took on a life of its own, regardless of the intentions of the producers. And the chemistry between Weatherly and Alba is already simmering, and has the potential to sizzle. “The more that he develops this friendship and relationship with her, the more he cares about the outcome of each situation, and it gets more and more complicated for both of them,” say Weatherly. “And in every scene, you’re always trying to play not just what’s on the page, but you’re also trying to make it interesting and expand it and push outside of it as much as possible. Whether it’s written for it or not - sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t - Jessica and I always have a lot of fun with the scenes when they unfold.”
Already, there have been numerous moments between Max and Logan, and that bond will only grow stronger as the season wears on. “The emotional bond between these two characters is going to come more into focus as the second half of the season rolls out,” promises Weatherly.
After his past experience, Eglee thought it would be interesting to put a physical impediment between his two leads. That impediment took the form of Logan’s partial paralysis, the result of his heroics in the pilot episode. While a wheelchair, realistically, won’t keep two characters from bonding, it might slow the process a bit, especially considering Logan has to battle his demons of feeling damaged or incomplete when he’s confined to his chair.
Down the road, there’s the potential that Logan might regain the full use of his legs, but there’s nothing concrete, to Weatherly’s knowledge. “I know that the show has some plans for Logan getting out of the wheelchair in some capacity. It is, of course, a somewhat futuristic scenario, and there are options available,” he says vaguely. “And what writer can resist trying to do that? But I have no idea when that’s going to be, and certainly it’s not something that’s going to be airing now.”
At the midpoint of filming for the year, one of Weatherly’s favorite shows is, not surprisingly, an episode where his character got out from behind the desk. In Blah, Blah, Woof, Woof, “We had a huge set built over on these shipyards, really like a feature film kind of scenario, just gigantic, with hundreds of extras. It really creates the illusion of this world that these characters live in quite convincingly,” explains Weatherly. “We had to do some scenes going around some checkpoints, and Max goes flying across the hundred yards of sky on some sort of table and lands on a moving bus and all this stuff. It’s craziness. Really, I guess that’s every week. But I happened to be around the day they were shooting that one. Normally, I’m in my wheelchair in my office, so I don’t see that much action.”
Even more fun, in some ways, way Prodigy. “I got thrown off the top of a building, and she dived after me, and then we slammed through a window and landed on a bed,” he laughs. “And I thought, ‘You know, I’m a lucky man to be able to do this for a living. What an odd occupation.’ Jessica and I had a fun scene on the bed where we sort of yelled at each other.”
Alba is like a live wire on screen, and on the set, she’s just as much of an adrenaline rush to work with. “When the buzzer goes off and the red-light starts blinking, you have to be ready. She’s not someone who will forgive you too easily if you’re sloppy or lazy or not getting your lines or not hitting your mark. And when the shot is finished, she usually goes for some kind of a sucker-punch,” Weatherly remarks. “When I start to crack up a little bit is when I have to explain really tongue-twistery stuff, then it can get a little bit tough. The demanding part of my job is to try not to make everyone fall asleep or change the channel while I’m setting up all the expositional crap. That’s not the easiest stuff in the world to do.”