Geek Interview: Cowboy Bebop’s John Cho, Daniella Pineda And Mustafa Shakir Addresses Changes To Netflix’s Live-Action Adaptation

There’s no denying that adaptations are difficult to execute because while the majority aren’t embraced by fans, even the best of them will be criticized by fandom for not sticking to the original. 

But stick too close, and the final product can be judged as being slavish to the source material.

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In other words, you can never win. With Netflix’s adaptation of 1998’s Cowboy Bebop though, early reviews have been split down the middle, as some have either fallen in love with the live-action series, whilst others call it a mess (read our review here). And with the pressure mostly falling on the shoulders of showrunner André Nemec, the cast is actually having the time of their lives with bringing these beloved characters to life. 

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Released in 1998, Cowboy Bebop sees a group of bounty hunters travel across space catching criminals and bad guys for a living. Famous for their neo-noir and futuristic aesthetics, as well as delicious jazz soundtracks, Cowboy Bebop is without a doubt a treasure to many fans of anime. So when Netflix announced that they’re making a live-action of the series, worries and curiosity came pouring through.

With John Cho as Spike Spiegel, Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine and Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black, the cast of Cowboy Bebop have been reveling in the joys and fun of making the series, from successfully completing a show mid-pandemic to kicking butt with friends, one can’t deny that chemistry these three have are on par to the 2D lines fans love on screen. 

Recalling their time filming on set, Pineda can’t help but flush with excitement. 

“There were a lot of joys. It’s a fun show, and it’s fun to be a character on that show,” said Pineda in a roundtable interview with Geek Culture. “This was the most challenging shoot, challenging project I’ve ever been a part of – primarily due to the training, boot camp was really intense – but it was really rewarding. I’m so happy I experienced it.” 

Sharing her sentiments is Cho, who felt that the toughest part of making the show was surviving boot camp and learning all the skills required to pull off the fight scenes. And whilst it was challenging having to re-enact and mirror the moves of an animated character, Cho still finds the experience magical. 

“The joys for me was just walking onto sets that were so fully imagined and to see something come to life is really magical, you know,” said Cho. “And to be able to play in a world that’s so fun and rich and interesting, there were lots of like, pinch yourself moments throughout the course of the season.”

Best known for his roles as Harold Lee in Harold and Kumar and Hikaru Sulu in the Star Trek reboot series, Cho is no stranger to nonchalantly throwing witty remarks, being indifferent to those around him and of course, being devastatingly handsome. Whilst his casting as Spike Spiegel may have been a curious one at first, the 49-year-old actor carries the blue suit well. 

“It takes me four and a half hours to get dressed,” said a monotonous Cho to the media in attendance, clearly poking fun at actors who spent hours putting on make-up for their roles.

“It felt awesome, this suit is obviously iconic. We’ve added a lot of flourishes and easter eggs in the suit itself. It feels very authentic and very individual,” he continued after letting out a laugh. 

“To put it on and then look in the mirror and say ‘Oh, I see. I’m playing Spike Spiegel’ – in case I wasn’t aware – that’s a great way to walk onto a set, knowing you’ve done everything you can to look the part.” 

Even talking to the actor felt like talking to Spike himself. When asked about his physique and if he felt any expectations to meet a body type to play the character, Cho sarcastically replied, “Yeah, I had to lose 110 pounds to play Spike.” 

Cho may not have the roided out physique like Chris Hemsworth nor did he need to hit the gym as hard as Kumail Nanjiani for Eternals in order to play Spike since the actor has always been fit and lean. 

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Whilst not denying that body expectations on actors who play lead roles do exist, looking the part physically wasn’t the biggest concern for the actor. Cho was just focused on being believable. 

“I want to be believable. It wasn’t like a superhero part, [Spike] wasn’t beefed up. Yeah, certainly the Hollywood expectations for the male physique may have changed, but I’m just trying to do my kicks as Spike,” said Cho. 

Spike is a complex character, with an even more complex background. Having run away from the Syndicate, he had to change his name from Fearless to Spike to conceal his identity and avoid being killed.

In the series and anime, Spike’s past eventually catches up to him. Having lied to Jet and Faye about his background, Spike often towed the line between being the loyal friend he wants to be versus struggling to keep himself safe and alive. 

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“The template was there and there were benchmarks that were hitting and iconography that we were exploring, but as actors, we just had to try and make all that real. We went further in that zone than the anime in dramatizing all those pain and loss and trauma. We had to bring ourselves and our own skills to bear that,” added Cho. 

Although changes to Spike and even Jet were kept to a minimum, changes to Faye Valentine were pretty major. When the trailer for the series was released, fans were disappointed with how Faye’s costume wasn’t anime-accurate. 

In the anime, Faye’s body type, which is attractive, provocative and woefully underdressed for space travel, is anatomically impossible.

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The reason for this, according to Pineda, was because they needed to reimagine how Faye’s costume would look like in the real world. Plus, the costume had to physically make sense for the actress who is seen jumping about and rolling around on hard ground in action scenes. 

“We tried the original outfit, which is so lovely, but it’s hard to hide stunt pads, gel pads and back plates, and things you’re doing when you’re falling and kicking and doing stunts,” addressed Pineda. “Jane Holland, our fantastic designer and head of wardrobe, we worked a lot together just to figure out how Faye Valentine functions in the real world with a real human being.” 

Maybe the biggest difference fans could see is in the casting of Shakir for Jet Black. With certain difficult (or some may say racist) fans pointing out how Jet is now played by an African-American man, Shakir only has one thing to say. 

“No one ever really told me what to do. To be honest, it was just like ‘We hired you because we know that you were capable of bringing this guy to life’’,” said a firm Shakir.

And whether or not the tone of a character’s skin bothers viewers, it doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day, Shakir delivered on the mature, wise and austere Jet to perfection.

 “I’m very much a part of the process of bringing him to life,” finished Shakir. 

Cowboy Bebop is now showing on Netflix.