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Cowboy Bebop showrunner digs into how 'cowboy with a broken heart' tale drives Netflix series

'Cowboy Bebop's' showrunner André Nemec reveals how John Cho and Yoko Kanno inspire the live-action series.

By Tara Bennett
Cowboy Bebop Showrunner Digs Into How 'Cowboy With a Broken Heart' Tale Drives Netflix Series

With the full trailer release for Netflix’s live-action adaptation of the seminal anime series Cowboy Bebop still making waves, old school and new fans now have a better sense of the look, vibe and sounds of the upcoming series.

Showrunner André Nemec (Alias, Zoo) developed the anime into the live action series hitting Netflix on Nov. 19, which stars John Cho as the definition-of-cool bounty hunter, Spike Spiegel. While leaning heavily on the anime’s aesthetics, ultra-hip soundtrack and score which is expanded and augmented in this version by the original anime composer, Yoko Kanno, the live-action Bebop has an aged-up feel that Nemec exclusively tells SYFY WIRE is very intentional.

“Our narrative will tell a similar story,” Nemec says of the adaptation. “So, I said the best way to find the characterizations and the character stories and the film language for translating this to a live action is to look at the live action inspirations for the anime. That really became the path in to the storytelling, both on the page and through the visuals.”

From 2001: A Space Odyssey to the Lethal Weapon films and beyond, Nemec says the movies that inspired the anime will also be at the heart of the live action series' influences. “It was the marching order in pre-production, in the writing, in the hiring of department heads, in the film styles, the directors, the editing, all of it was about let's always live in the spirit of the anime.”

Calling the anime “beautiful poetry,” Nemec says that didn’t necessarily translate to how a live-action series would need to exist. “At times in the anime, rightly so for that medium, the [characters] will come across a little archetypal.”

Not exactly a great space for live-action characters to exist if you want substance, so Nemec and his writers worked on tapping into what makes each character tick.

“Spike Spiegel is a cowboy with a broken heart, that really is who he is at his core,” Nemec explains. “Jet Black is the eternal optimist, a grumpy guy with a heart of jelly beans. Faye Valentine, at her core is a survivor. Someone who is not going to let the hardships of the world around her, while they try to keep kicking her down, she continues to press forward. We looked at all of these things. And once we had those, we then began to craft stories for these characters.”

And by purposefully casting live-action actors who are older than their anime selves, Nemec says this series is able to build richer stories for the characters “If you are playing a cowboy with a broken heart, that's not typically a 20-something story,” Nemec explains. “You're not quite old enough to carry the hardships of a cowboy. I think that really became clear to me that to really feel for these characters, to really want to track and live with them, they needed real depth of life experience in their soul. And that was something that John brought.”

Fans of the anime initially pushed back on John Cho’s casting because of the age discrepancy, but Nemec is an avid defender of the choice to age up. “I can't imagine anyone being Spike Spiegel but John Cho because John brings a depth to the character. He's incredibly facile with humor. He's quick-witted. He can be laconic like Spike Spiegel. I think the anime had true moments of ennui, and true moments of dramatic pain that really did require someone, again, with that depth that John brought. While in the anime, it's okay to sort of play the younger version. But in today's world and in live action, the actor needed to be able to bring that essence as well. And that just required a more mature actor.”

As to how the show will unfold episode-to-episode in Season 1, Nemec only teases, “We are a nice, eclectic mix of ongoing stories with closed-ended anthological elements that revolve around the bounty hunting.”

But he does spill that fans of the original anime should be excited for Yoko Kanno’s contributions to the audio landscape of the series. “Yoko and I worked together very, very closely through the core of the episodes in their conception, before they were shot, and then after they were shot and edited,” he enthused. “At times, you will hear the same things out of Yoko's music, but yet no one wants to be served the same meal so there are so many new and beautiful things brought to the table in the live action too.”

All 10 episodes of the live-action Cowboy Bebop adaptation drop on Netflix on Nov. 19, 2021. If you can't wait until then, all 26 episodes of the original anime are already streaming on the platform.

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