‘Dark Angel’ — What Happened Between the Stars on the Sci-Fi Series?

The Big Picture

  • Dark Angel was a short-lived action/sci-fi show inspired by cyberpunk and the Y2K panic, starring Jessica Alba as a genetically enhanced soldier trying to expose corruption.
  • Jensen Ackles joined the cast in Season 2 and faced constant bickering from Alba, but their relationship was more like sibling rivalry, and they supported each other in difficult times.
  • Jessica Alba faced immense pressure on the show between navigating her newfound fame and very public relationship with her co-star and fiancé at the time, Michael Weatherly, who was 12 years her senior.

Despite only running for two seasons and receiving a decent amount of critical attention, Dark Angel went on to become a cult favorite with a very dedicated fanbase. Blending a unique mix of genres through a character-driven narrative, the action/sci-fi series heavily inspired by a cyberpunk aesthetic amid the Y2K panic was also our generation’s official introduction to Jessica Alba. In her breakthrough role as the strong female protagonist, Max Guevara — a genetically enhanced soldier created by Manticore turned escapee trying to expose the organization’s corruption, the actress proved she could do it all and was praised by critics for carrying the series. The high-budget pilot, heavily promoted by Fox at the time, reached 17.4 million viewers. But when viewership began to drop, the network put the series through a test with new twists.

At the tail-end of Season 1, Alba was joined by Jensen Ackles in Episode 18, who first appears as Max’s brother, Ben. Despite the producers being impressed by Ackles’ performance and recasting him as Ben’s identical twin brother, Alec, in Season 2, the actor faced constant fiery jabs from Alba. Opting for the “fight fire with fire” route, Ackles’ experience with Alba on set was filled with the usual sibling rivalry antics, yet their friendship never suffered for it, despite what the rumor mill might have conjured up all those years ago.


dark angel

A group of genetically-enhanced children escapes from a lab project. Years later, we meet Max, one of the escapees who now works for a messenger service in the post-apocalyptic Pacific Northwest.

Release Date
October 3, 2000

Jessica Alba, Michael Weatherly, Valarie Rae Miller, J.C. MacKenzie, Jensen Ackles, Kevin Durand, Martin Cummins

Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi


Main Genre

Jensen Ackles and Jessica Alba Constantly “Bickered” on ‘Dark Angel’

Although throughout Season 2 of Dark Angel, Alec and Max played for the same team, the atmosphere between Jensen Ackles and Jessica Alba on set was very different. Ackles humorously — yet fondly — recounts his “horrible” experience working with Alba during Michael Rosenbaum’s “Inside of You” podcast. Ackles’ grand welcome to the set involved Alba’s pointed remark, “Oh, here’s the pretty boy that the network brought in for some more window dressing because that’s what we all need.” From the beginning, “she had it out for [him],” as he states. But it “wasn’t like she didn’t like [him],” he asserts. It was more like the “worst kind of bickering a brother and sister could do.”

Since Ackles wasn’t present for the majority of the first season of Dark Angel, he admittedly felt like “the new kid on the block” when he did arrive. Despite his unexpected welcome, Ackles flourished in his role and was invited to join the series by the creators James Cameron and Charles H. Eglee for Season 2. But despite his enthusiasm and the impressive performances of the cast, low ratings caused the show to get canceled after the second season. During a 2018 panel at Supernatural Seattle, Ackles opened up about how he was disappointed about the cancellation of Dark Angel, confessing that, “it had a lot of good stuff and qualities [and] I would have liked to see it go on a lot longer.”

Jessica Alba Experienced Undue Stress on Set of ‘Dark Angel’

Playing the leading role in any production comes with immense pressure, but for Jessica Alba, this was the role that put her on the map. Unlike Jensen Ackles, who was already fairly popular for his role in Days of Our Lives (1995), Alba’s resume was filled with smaller roles like in The Secret World of Alex Mack (1994) and Never Been Kissed (1999). Eglee reported in Boca Raton News that the showrunners were interviewing 1,000 women for the role of Max before choosing Alba for her “acting chops.” They even reframed part of her character around Alba’s own personality. Despite Eglee’s modifications to the character, there were still certain expectations of how a strong female lead should be presented in the 2000s. Alba commented on this in an interview with Marie Clarie, stating how “right away, everyone formed a strong opinion about [her] because of the way [she] was marketed.” Alba adds, “I was supposed to be sexy, this tough action girl. That’s what people expected.”

On top of that, Alba went through a sort of “boot camp” to prepare for her role, which was far more rigorous than any other training she had previously participated in, as she told Boca Raton News and Philly News. She dedicated over a year to training in martial arts, gymnastics, and motorcycle riding for the role. Additionally, as James Cameron was inspired by the manga Battle Angel Alita, there were many parallels between the two female protagonists, which added another layer of pressure to the role.

How Jessica Alba’s Relationship With Co-Star Michael Weatherly Impacted Her

Image by Fox

Jensen Ackles further theorizes in the podcast episode with Michael Rosenbaum that Jessica Alba’s initial apathetic attitude towards him was possibly also due to her personal life and the co-star she was dating, who was 12 years her senior. “I love Jess, which I know kind of contradicts what I’ve just said,” Ackles told Rosenbaum. “[But] she was under an immense amount of pressure on that show. She was young, she was in a relationship with [co-star Michael Weatherly], and that was rocky and causing some undue stress, I believe, on set.”

Aside from all of that pressure for the role itself, the then 18-year-old faced rocky relationship issues publicly with co-star and real-life beau, Michael Weatherly, who played Logan Cale — Max’s long-running partner-in-crime and potential love interest. Their relationship, which was marred with controversy at the time, continued for three years. There was even an engagement until the two broke it off in 2003. The tense beginning of this relationship, coupled with the era’s expectations of her role, would have doubled down the pressure on Alba, naturally putting her on edge. However, in hindsight, Alba’s icy reception of Ackles almost functioned as a decent icebreaker, later leading to more wholesome moments.

Jensen Ackles and Jessica Alba Have a Brother-Sister-Like Relationship

On Michael Rosenbaum’s podcast, it is easy to figure out that Jensen Ackles’ “horrible” experience working with Alba was more like brother-sister bickering. Although they were at each other’s neck all the time, when significant moments arrived, the rivalry dropped away for support. For their relationship, this moment arrived when Ackles’ grandfather tragically passed away and Alba immediately “walked into [his] trailer and held [him] for half an hour.” Like their respective characters on the show, support and comfort in dire times always trumped the rivalry between Alba and Ackles. The Boys and Supernatural actor sums up their relationship with a heartfelt and humorous statement: “It was that kind of relationship,” he said. “If she walked in, we’d be all hugs, but she didn’t make it easy on me.”

Despite the petty drama on the set of their series, both Alba and Ackles gave it their all during filming. Both actors immersed themselves in the post-apocalyptic universe of Dark Angel, each giving their own flavor to the characters. Alba’s noble and tough Max alongside Jensen’s smart-ass and dark Alec created a newfound spark in the second season, even if the show wasn’t renewed for a third. If anything, their bickering only served to enhance the chemistry and rivalry between their characters in the show, making for a captivating relationship amid the apocalyptic atmosphere.

Dark Angel Seasons 1 and 2 are available for purchase on Amazon.

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