John Cho says he ‘learned a lot of ways to kill a person’ at Cowboy Bebop Boot Camp

Cho shares he and co-stars Daniella Pineda and Mustafa Shakir certainly ‘earned’ their chemistry.
November 26, 2021 3:50 p.m. EST
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Anime fans have been eagerly awaiting the drop of Netflix’s live-action reboot of the 1998 anime classic, Cowboy Bebop, and the cast have been equally as eager to deliver. After all, they started on the project way back in 2019, bonded over a grueling Bebop Boot Camp and filming got so intense, star John Cho tore his ACL, prompting an eight-month delay

“This was one of the most challenging projects any of us have worked on,” star Daniella Pineda told Etalk’s Traci Melchor.

“From the pressure of trying to match something and honor something that is so beloved, to ‘How do I walk, talk like the character?’ to the boot camp that we did just to prep for the role, for fighting sequences,” she continued.

“We learned a lot of ways to kill a person, right? If need be, I will,” Cho added. “I can kill somebody for you… If you’ve got somebody in mind.” 

That kind of filming experience can make or break (*cough* Mad Max Fury Road *cough*) a cast, but with Cowboy Bebop, it was the real key to the team’s chemistry.

“So much of our chemistry was earned,” Cho says. “We came into the room and felt it clicked, but there was also the time—it was such a long process and we went through so many things together so, actually, we weren't conjuring it at some point. It was just real relationships. We got through stuff together and so it wasn't like trying to drum up something. It was like a real thing.”

On top of the physical challenges and the weight of the source material, Cho, Pineda and Mustafa Shakir say filming during a global pandemic also had a hand in growing their connection exponentially.

Widely considered the best anime of all time, Cowboy Bebop is a Space Western series that takes place in a futuristic dystopia set in the year 2171, 150 years after Earth became practically unlivable. Humans have relocated to outer space and the action picks up when Spike Spiegel (Cho), a former assassin trying to outrun his past, reunites with his old partner-in-crime, former police officer Jet Black (Shakir). The two reluctantly allow a spunky new con-woman, Faye Valentine (Pineda), to join them, forming an unlikely bounty hunting trio. The three vow to protect civilization by cracking down on criminals scattered across the galaxy in their Bebop spaceship—hence the show's title.  

One way the reboot will still commemorate the ‘98 classic is by showcasing the original unforgettable soundtrack by Yoko Kanno. The composer has revamped some of the legendary tracks from the series' initial run and has composed new arrangements for the reboot.

Teasing what fans can expect from the Netflix release, Cho shared that the show will also lean into the same eye-popping visuals that made the original dystopian series so incredible.

“It’s a feast for your eyes, and your ears actually, and hopefully you’re watching it. Can I get an Amen?” Cho asked, garnering an “Amen” from Danielle.

Though certain aspects of the reboot are rooted in the anime, the 2021 adaptation expands the characters' backstories and makes room for marginalized identities. In the new series, Jet Black is father to a little girl and Faye Valentine identifies as bisexual. The series also takes a deeper look into Spike’s personal life through his love interest, Julia. 

Another difference is that the Jet Black character is explicitly Black—a change the creators hope will represent the diverse anime audience. 

Though the original voice of Jet Black, Beau Billingslea, is himself Black, the anime character was drawn more ambiguously. The character’s ethnicity has been contested among fans but Billingslea shared that he’s “happy” the reboot cast a person of colour as the iconic character. Since the audience for the anime genre is becoming progressively more diverse, an update like this one means new audiences can identify with the material.

Despite the notable differences in the reboot, the cast hopes they’re keeping to the same tone of the beloved show while bringing it into 2021.

“At a certain point, you just have to let go -- take off the training wheels just to see what's going to come out organically,” Mustafa shared. “Personally, I didn't pressure myself, but I did, like everybody else in the cast and crew, just pay a lot of reverence to every bit of the Bebop world.”

Cho agreed with Shakir, adding that while some might see the project as a risk, it was also an exciting challenge to impress the devoted fanbase. 

“I think the process showed me also that it's not so much risk as an opportunity to make [the fans] really happy too. So hopefully, that's what happens.”

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