Cowboy Bebop star says adapting the series for live-action was “scary as hell”

The actor of Spike reveals all it took to bring the classic anime to life in Netflix's live-action adaptation

Netflix’s live-action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop is just days away, and we know a bit more about what it was like to work on the project thanks to a new interview with John Cho.

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“It’s been a dream job in the sense that the show is a mashup of so many genres.” Cho shared in a new interview with Netflix, “This feels like a career’s worth of roles all in one character.” Indeed, the series is part western, noir, and sci-fi adventure across the solar system, and an unequivocally ‘90s anime too. 

As the titular Harold Lee in Harold & Kumar and Hikaru Sulu in Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, Cho is clearly comfortable taking on such big roles. And the Korean-American actor takes that experience to Bebop’s lead, Spike—the suave, charismatic fighter that can go by “cowboy” and still sound cool.

Cho, 49, hadn’t heard of the ‘90s anime before his agents showed him a script of the adaptation. 

“I read the script for the first episode, and I was so impressed by it I said, ‘I have to look at the source material,’ so I watched the anime.” Cho loved what he found. 

“My mind was just blown. I was so impressed. The world is completely unique, completely inventive, funny, and high-stakes. I was fascinated by the setup and all the influences they were pulling from. This show is unlike anything I’ve personally seen in anime, and now live-action.”

But coming into Spike demanded more of Cho than he could give alone. To look and move like Spike on screen required a team of talented crew to bring their expertise together. And it starts with the first thing we noticed when screenshots of the adaptation surfaced: that suit. As Cho characterizes the look: “There’s a certain attitude to it; sleeves rolled up, collar popped, skinny-tie, undone shirt. I would say it’s slightly flashy, there’s a literal sheen to it.”

Cho worked with costume designer Jane Holland to bring the suit together. “There are some flourishes, some secrets between me and Jane,” he says,” like the belt buckle, which has a wave on it, flowing like water, and the buttons. Those are details that really ground me and help me to know who I am on set.”

In a recent interview with Anime News Network, Holland said “The Spike suit encompasses everything about Bebop‘s cacophonic creative symphony.”

Cho also had to learn to fight like the bounty hunter, a master martial artist. Cho worked with the stunt team, lead by coordinator Allan Poppleton, to portray Spike’s effortless prowess. “[The team] gave me a sense of safety that allowed me to ground the character in physicality. They were just the best in the world; they’re such great teachers, very inventive, and allowed us to really play within the set parameters.”

But the project was still daunting. “It was scary as hell,” Cho admits. “None of us want to mess anything up, because people love this world and these characters so much. But at the end of the day, our excitement overrode our fear.” While Cho talks generally about how the show builds on what fans love, he emphasizes that one faithful element sold him on the project.

“I will say that the music in this show is such an important piece, and when I heard the original anime composer Yoko Kanno was attached to our adaptation, it was a deal sealer for me.”

Cowboy Bebop premiers on Netflix on Nov. 19.

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Autumn Wright
Autumn Wright is an anime journalist, which is a real job. As a writer at We Got This Covered, they cover the biggest new seasonal releases, interview voice actors, and investigate labor practices in the global industry. Autumn can be found biking to queer punk through Brooklyn, and you can read more of their words in Polygon, WIRED, The Washington Post, and elsewhere.