Ask any anime fan for a list of their best series of all time, and Cowboy Bebop would most likely make that list.
The hit anime made its debut in 1998 and ran for 26 episodes in total. It is set in 2071 and follows a group of bounty hunters (known as ‘cowboys’ in the show) who live on a spaceship called the Bebop.
Cowboy Bebop has been made into a live-action series on Netflix, with John Cho (Star Trek, Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle) in the leading role of Spike Spiegel, the effortlessly cool and laidback bounty hunter.
Alongside him aboard the Bebop is the ship’s owner and ex-cop Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir), with Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda) and a Corgi named Ein joining later on (one other regular crew member in the anime, prodigy hacker Radical Ed, is not part of the regular cast in Season One of the show).
As we follow the crew while it takes on various bounties, there is also an ongoing storyline involving Spike’s past and a gangster named Vicious (Alex Hassell).
According to Cho, he tried not to think too much about the fact that he was taking on the role of one of the most iconic anime characters of all time.
Asked during a virtual one-on-one interview with StarLifestyle about how it felt like taking on such a beloved character, he said: “ I didn’t know what Cowboy Bebop was before they came to me, but when I found out how beloved it was, I thought, ‘OK, don’t mess around on this one. Don’t sleep on the job!’.
In the end, he decided not to think too much about where it was going to go and the magnitude of it all.
“I would probably have been debilitated by that thought! I try not to think too much about the bigger picture, because I have a small brain and it might melt down (if I did). So I was just trying to keep my focus on the day to day and moment to moment and relate to the people.”
To try and make sense of Spike Spiegel and figure out how to portray the character, he went looking for clues in the anime.
“Surprisingly, because I don’t typically work that way, it started with the physicality of the role – trying to walk like him, to move and stand like him,” Cho recalled.
“That gave me a lot of information and character clues. I didn’t map it out all that much. It was more trying to feel right about him and play what I was given with his backstory.
Having played Hikaru Sulu in the three Star Trek reboot movies (the last one being 2016’s Star Trek Beyond), Cowboy Bebop marks Cho’s return to sci-fi, a genre which he says has always interested him.
“Any story that talks about the future is much more about the moment in which it was created in. To that end, when you set a story about the present in the future, you can change the terms of engagement to tell the story in the way you want to do it, because of all those things you’re making up,” he explained. “So, sci-fi is a real dream for storytellers. It’s always fun to see where the imagination can take project in that space.
The physical aspect of the role also included intense training that led to Cho tearing his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) at on point, delaying production on the series for months.
Spike being an expert martial artist and marksman, it was important to Cho that not just pretended to do the things that the character could do, but being able to actually do them.
“They really packed it in, and by the end of the training, you felt like you could do some of that stuff and not just pretend to do it,” he said. “It’s a great feeling to have, to feel competent. I’m not saying that I would dare start a fight in a bar tomorrow, but it was the basis for everything – at the core, you’re a bounty hunter and able to take people down, so you have to feel that at ease with doing all that.”
Would he come back for a Season Two though? “I already fit the suit, so might as well do it so they don’t have to alter it for anyone else!” he said, laughing.
Cowboy Bebop is currently streaming on Netflix