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John Cho Interview: Cowboy Bebop

Netflix’s adaption of Cowboy Bebop stars John Cho as the bounty hunter Spike Spiegel. The original Cowboy Bebop was released in 1998 and praised for its sci-fi story, all-star cast, and jazz soundtrack. The live-action series adapts the iconic anime, adding new twists and expanding the stories of some of the characters while still referencing the original.

Next: Spike’s Live-Action Cowboy Bebop Name Change Explains An Anime Mystery

Cho spoke with Screen about translating Spike into live-action, the changes in the story, and his hopes for season 2.

*Warning: This interview contains spoilers for Cowboy Bebop*


Spike, Faye, & Jet stand in their spaceship's loading dock in Netflix's Cowboy Bebop.
credit: Geoffrey Short/Netflix

Screen Rant: Just to back it up, I was elated when I heard you were cast for this show and it’s just been really awesome watching you. In the first place, what made you say yes to this role?

John Cho: I wasn’t aware of Cowboy Bebop before I was out for the role. And so the first thing I did was read our season one script, which was really intriguing, and it was really well done. And I was like, “What is this thing?” And then I went to the anime and watched it, and when I put the two together, I was really hooked. It didn’t seem like anything else I’d ever seen or read before, which is always a good place to start. It was just a really intriguing world. I could tell, right off the bat, that they were doing something really interesting, blending all these genres into one fun mess.

And, and I will say also upon watching the anime, I was like, “This music is really different.” And it’s really individual and idiosyncratic. That was really kind of the hook for me.

The theme song is one of the greatest in TV history. Netflix should remove that, that skip intro option for this one. How important was it for you to have Yoko Kanno attached to the series and knowing that she was going to be a part of it?

John Cho: Well, I would’ve been really worried if we didn’t have her. I keep saying that her music changes the meaning of the show, the choices she makes from scene to scene. There are scenes I go, “Oh, if I had the sound off I’d understand the scene to be A, but because she’s playing this underneath, I have a different understanding of the scene.”

So that was one of the first things we talked about. And thankfully I said, “Is Yoko Kanno coming back for this?” And I got a yes, so I felt really confident in moving forward because I’m not sure how we would have replaced her. We could have tried to imitate her. I just don’t think it would’ve worked.

When it went into finding out who your interpretation of Spike was going to be, what was that process like in finding the mannerisms that were translatable into live-action?

John Cho: I’d never done anything like this before. It was a really interesting character, but it was also an illustration, obviously, not a human being. Because, I’d sort of done something like that with Star Trek and, strangely, I felt like I had more latitude with a human coming after an actor. I felt like we had to be more exact but also, I didn’t really have a roadmap.

But anyway, to answer your question, finally, I really relied on the physical stuff. First off, I had to develop as much proficiency as I could in martial arts and in fighting. That actually really helped a lot. It gave me a body language and a posture and all that stuff. And then, I started copying the way he stood, and walked, and trying those things on for size. We wanted the characters to be recognizable as the characters from the anime, but we also wanted to feel free and creative and all that stuff. So it was definitely a blend and a mix. And hopefully, we got it right. But it was our first try and we were just hoping that this all worked.

When you sign on for the show, you go and watch the anime series. Did you have an idea of what the overall plan is? Because the ending of the anime is very finite where the live-action one is kind of setting up for a season two and also really takes a turn.

John Cho: When we started, I had a sketch. When they pitched the show to me when we met and we talked, I had an idea of the past, but they were still shaking things out. I knew that obviously, we had to go further if we wanted more seasons. And so I had an idea, but I didn’t have all the particulars.

And it wasn’t until we got to New Zealand where we shot the show, where our showrunner really broke down exactly the whole season for us, but this was before all the scripts were completed. He just went character by character and episode by episode, like bedtime story style, told us the whole thing. It took like an hour to tell us the whole story of the season. And I just remember André [Nemec], our showrunner, he had pit stains and was sweating from all the drama.

Spike takes off his sunglasses next to a table with 3 men in Cowboy Bebop.

So how did you react when he told you, “We’re setting up for season two” and, also the twist with Julia? She has a lot of agency in this series and she’s really set up as the villain. How did you react when you read that?

John Cho: That was a moment. I thought it was really fascinating. It was an attempt, by Andre, I think, to as you say, give her more agency, to see what we can do. I think it was an attempt to lift her out of – she’s mostly an image and a memory, in the anime. I think he was trying to give her a fuller backstory and kind of bring her into the present tense more as opposed to the past tense. So that was really fascinating and intriguing. I think it was exciting. It was going to be exciting also in that way to play with Elena Satine, our actress, more.

You’ve probably had to dodge 150,000 Ed questions leading up to the series. But now that the series is out, I feel like we could talk about it. How do you feel about Ed joining the crew for next season?

John Cho: Oh yeah. New elements, a new variable. I only had the one scene with them,  but just kind of the perfect energy pitch. I was like, “This is going to be fun.”

I just remember shooting that scene with Eden [Perkins]. The energy was so intense and I was playing dead drunk and I was like, “This is very real.” They’re very loud and I’m playing very drunk and I’m laying down in a wet street. It was a very memorable evening. And I was thinking, “If we get a season two, this dynamic is going to be hilarious moving forward.”

What are your hopes for Cowboy Bebop season 2

John Cho: I hope to get weirder and darker. I always hope that for some reason. I also really want Spike to be happy. This season was rough for him. I did feel a lot of sympathy pangs for him. So I hope he has a moment of happiness. I predict that it will be a tough road, again. However, I guess the only thing I could say is really abstract, which is: if this season was verse, chorus, verse, chorus, I’d like to hit the middle eight and do a little something unusual and unexpected.

Yeah. Spike just needs to go to Cinespia, have a night out, just relax a little bit.

John Cho: I want him to have a good meal and a bottle of wine. Maybe two, if we’re feeling frisky, you know?

Next: Cowboy Bebop Ending Explained

Cowboy Bebop is now available to stream on Netflix.

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