It’s only one more week until the live-action adaptation of the revered sci-fi space bounty hunter show Cowboy Bebop shows up on Netflix. The show stars a trio of mercenaries trying to get by -Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, and Faye Valentine- as trouble catches up with them.
Courtesy of Netflix Malaysia, we were lucky enough to participate in a roundtable interview with Cowboy Bebop showrunner Andre Nemec, and ask him about what it was like to translate the anime into live-action. This interview has been edited for clarity.
We were also lucky enough to participate in a roundtable interview with John Cho (who plays Spike Spiegel), Daniella Pineda (who plays Faye Valentine), and Mustafa Shakir (who plays Jet Black), asking them some fun & thought-provoking questions about what it’s like playing characters from an anime masterpiece. Check out that interview here.
What inspired you in creating the style and vibe of the live-action series?
Andre Nemec: The anime inspired me. It really was about capturing the spirit of the anime, living in sort of the world that they set up, but also capturing the live-action inspirations that the anime itself drew from when they made the anime. So a lot of it was looking at the inspirations for our inspiration.
How tough was it to translate the anime’s noir style into live-action?
Andre Nemec: You know, it was a trick, threading the needle of the tone of Cowboy Bebop is tough. It’s a noir but it’s a Western but it’s a buddy cop movie from the 80s but it’s a sci-fi thriller. You know, it was tough. I think part of the noir that comes out of it is really in the storytelling itself and building on the strength of the foundation of the stories that we broke in that room and the scripts that we crafted. From that, we were able to know but then again, we were on really strong footing storytelling-wise to draw noir, if that makes sense.
What was it like working with Cowboy Bebop composer Yoko Kanno?
Andre Nemec: A joy, a delight, an experience, it was awesome. Yoko is a phenomenal artist, inspired, enthusiastic, and just a true lover of this material. Working with her was collaborative and beautiful. We had a lot of conversations about the show, the tone of the show, the reinvention of certain pieces, the recrafting completely of new pieces, the hanging on to some of the old pieces, and I think Yoko really just delivered the magic.
What were the biggest challenges you faced during filming?
Andre Nemec: I think a lot of it was making sure that everything in the frame felt like it was worthy of Cowboy Bebop, was worthy of that title. Every piece of background, the set deck, the painting on the walls, the props that were in the frame, the outfits, even down to the lensing and the lighting. Everything was really about looking at each and every frame that we were capturing daily and saying, is this Bebop? How do we Bebop this up?
I feel like that care and love that went into it really comes through because we had so many people that were huge fans of the show working on the show that there was always somebody who was just like, “No, I don’t know, maybe we should, and okay, let’s get on that.” It really was about capturing the Bebop-ness.
Was it more important to be faithful to the anime or to carve your own story?
Andre Nemec: It was important to do both. I hate to be sort of non-answering but it was important to do both. I think living in the spirit of the anime meant taking things that weren’t broken and not trying to fix them. That blue suit’s pretty awesome, we don’t need to change that. That yellow couch works, why would we change that? The ship is cool. So, I think a lot of it was that there were so many things that work but at the same time, not wanting to do a one-to-one translation because I wanted to be served, if I were a fan, a different meal.
I would want to sort of experience the ongoing adventures and get more time with the Bebop crew but not know what was going to happen before it happens if I was a fan. For those who aren’t fans, to be able to deliver a few one-to-one moments from the anime, so that those who have never seen the anime could actually have the experiences that I had while watching the anime. Which again, was so profound at the time when I was watching them.
What does the anime mean to you?
Andre Nemec: I was very moved when I saw the anime, by the poetry of it. There was something so eclectic and raw about it at its core, in its soul. That, to me, was fascinating working on the show and pulling together a writer’s room and getting in with a bunch of people who were fans. It was amazing how when you ask a question, what is your favourite episode and why, how many different answers you get and how many different things people loved.
That was part of wanting to capture that spirit in this iteration of Cowboy Bebop, and I’ve heard it today from a couple of different people along the way. People like different episodes.
People have said now already, you know, my favourite episode is, and they’re different. To me, that’s kind of the beauty of Cowboy Bebop is that we all brought our own experiences to it and walked away with our own experience of it. I think, for people who were real fans of the show, they will bring their experiences of Cowboy Bebop to this and I think they will find something from which they will mine, “oh, they got that right”. And there will also be times when they’re like, “oh, they got that wrong”, but I think a lot of it is about, you know, the poetry of it leads to our own individual experiences of it.
Do you have any favourite episodes from the first season that you enjoyed the most?
Andre Nemec: That’s like asking me which one of my kids I want to toss off the boat. It’s so hard. All of the episodes are so different. To me, it’s really hard to pick. You know, I did this in another interview today, so forgive me, I won’t do it to you guys, but they said pick, and I ended up rattling through all ten episodes about why I love each one of those episodes. I’m not going to do that to you guys. It’s very hard to pick because each one of them sort of takes on their own tone.
I love some of these episodes because they just allow us to live in the humour, and some of them, because they sucker punch with emotion in a way that you didn’t imagine, was coming, and some of them just live in this heightened drama, which is like Shakespearan at times. Though it’s hard to pick, but I’ll give you this, a profound moment for me was the first time that I walked onto the Bebop set.
Almost as we were done building it and putting it together, it was really at that moment that I sort of looked around and I was like, I really am surrounded by a team of artists that are the right team of artists because they too felt what I feel about this. Because I can feel the love in the details.
Can we expect deviations in future seasons, especially with the introduction of Edward and whatnot?
Andre Nemec: Oh, Edward, that chaos maker. Yes, I think it is important to continue to live in storytelling that offers fresh takes on some things while again finding ways to continue to mine the fertile ground of the characters that exist in the anime. There is so much that I wish we could have pulled into Season 1, from the characters to the stories and the bounties and the moments. I have this laundry list of things that I wish we could have done. Fingers crossed that in a Season 2, we will get to those as well.
Why did you make changes to some of the characters in Cowboy Bebop?
Andre Nemec: To me, living in a sort of adaptation and living in a time 20 years after the original show. To me, the character of Jet, the essence of Jet and the thing I wanted to mine from Jet is that he’s an eternal optimist. The ship doesn’t have fuel, the bounty got away, Spike won’t do his chores, and yet somehow Jet is a character who consistently has this outlook, which is beautiful, like “we’ll get the next one. It’s all going to be okay.”
In meeting Mustafa, I’ve always described Mustafa as a man who is imposing and wonderful and tall but he’s got this heart full of jelly beans inside him. It was seeing and feeling that, that I was like, that’s Jet Black. He’s the eternal optimist and he’s the glue in that family for that reason.
Vicious and Julia rarely appeared in the anime. How did you develop and expand the role of these characters?
Andre Nemec: It was awesome, but it was important. Great heroes are made by great villains. I love a villain, I love a good villain’s story and it was important to me to tell the story of Vicious. Why Vicious? What of Vicious? How come Vicious? What made Vicious? And to really get under the skin of that character, because when I look at a great hero, when I look at a great villain, I oftentimes think about the villain’s perspective. If you asked Vicious, he’s the aggrieved party. Spike Spiegel’s the villain.
I think it’s important to be able to understand a little bit of that perspective and it’s as important to me, to tell the story of Julia. Being able to give that character her own agency, by which she controlled her own destiny and to some degree, didn’t need to be rescued by anyone.
She was going to rescue herself. I loved getting under the skin of both of them and all of it really came from mining what was and what existed already in the anime and expanding upon the essence of what was there.
Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop premieres on 19 November 2021.