Netflix's Cowboy Bebop interview: Cast and crew want to do the anime justice
Interviewing the showrunner of Netflix's Cowboy Bebop: André Nemec
What was the process of putting the cast together like? How long did it take to find the perfect Jet Black, the perfect Spike Spiegel and so on?
André Nemec: It was a bit of an extensive casting process. It felt exhausting at the time. But I think what was really magical in the moment, was that it was so clear who we were looking for. The minute I met them, it was so clear to me - that’s Faye Valentine! There's no question about it. That's Jet Black, that has to be Jet Black. So all of it really happened in the blink of an eye. It’s just the process of going through people, which is kind of like speed dating, you know? All of a sudden, you're like, “Oh, I like that one.”
There are more than 20 brilliant episodes of Cowboy Bebop, but only 10 episodes this season of your show. How did the team go about picking which stories they wanted to adapt from the anime?
André Nemec: Exhaustively and painfully. There was so much that we wanted to choose from, so many beautiful characters and storylines. We really went through it in the writers room, talking about what our favorite episodes were, why they were our favorite episodes, what emotions they were eliciting from us...and then we really looked at our characters’ long-term arc for the season, to figure out which one of these episodes from the anime would help us in that narrative structure.
There were definitely moments where it was like, “Oh, I love that episode so much! But let's take that one down because it's not going to fit, and knock on wood, we get to season two and we'll know exactly what we're putting back on the board.”
Without spoiling anything, it seems like the series is on a very different trajectory than the anime after this finale. How far ahead has the creative team planned to continue the series past Season 1?
André Nemec: I always think that it is very important as a storyteller to know where you're going, otherwise all roads will lead you nowhere. We have a very good idea of what the long-term idea for this show is, it’s clear. Now it's fingers crossed for season two!
The live-action adaptation felt like a re-imagination of the Spike, Jet and Faye that we know from the anime. How did this direction come about, rather than, say, an attempt to do a beat-for-beat remake?
André Nemec: Yeah, it was important to me to not do a beat-by-beat. As a fan of movies and TV, I never want to know what the ending is going to be before I get there. To do a one-to-one recreation wouldn't have been any sort of great surprise, with no joy of storytelling, and nothing revelatory for those who knew what Cowboy Bebop was. So I think it became important to diverge the stories and to offer other glimpses into the ways that these stories could have gone. And to some twists and turns that the fans may be expecting - it goes one way, but then it goes another way. For an audience coming in, we're serving them sort of a fresh meal.
Fans of the original anime likely breathed a collective sigh of relief when they heard that Shinichirō Watanabe was consulting on this adaptation. Did he have any notable input on the series?
André Nemec: Yeah, I have to say, over at Sunrise (Cowboy Bebop's animation studio), all of the producers of the original anime were incredibly helpful and generous in providing information. I have these books, stacks and stacks of them, which are original character concept drawings, ships, props, sets, and locations, all of this information that we were able to digest and take in. We were then given the most incredible offer: “Now that we have given you all of this and introduced you to the sandbox that we created, now you go and you tell your stories, you build your castle, the way that you want to build it.”
It was incredibly generous and wildly empowering to be put into that position. Because we sort of got it all and then were told to go with God on it. It was incredible.
Speaking of getting it all, this show’s score really blew me away. It sounds like an entirely new volume of Cowboy Bebop music. What was it like working with the anime’s composer Yoko Kanno for this series?
André Nemec: Yoko's incredible, just hands down, and working with her was nothing but incredible. Her love of the show, her love of music, her love of the jazz riffs, her love of creation and finding character themes and moments...all of that was incredible to be a part of and to witness. And she was incredibly collaborative as well, in her reinvention of some things that were pulled directly from the anime, and some wholecloth new compositions, I think she really excelled in a way that I knew she would. She really brought it.
This is such a tonally vibrant show, from the jazz, to the splitscreens, to the fights. How did the team nail that energy down for the show?
André Nemec: I think the tone was the hardest thing for us to nail down, because Cowboy Bebop is a mash up of so many different things. One of the core directives was that we really live in the spirit of the anime. The anime was a North Star for certain choices that we were going to be making. But at the same time, I always wanted the show to be slick, fun, pulpy entertainment. I really wanted to put something out there that you can sit back and eat gobs and gobs of popcorn while you're watching it, because you're having a good time, and you're sucker punched every now and again by some real deep emotion.
The anime had quite a few memorable characters, such as Gren, and it took care to show viewers slices of their backstory. During pre-production, were there considerations to do the same?
André Nemec: We really took great care with all of the characters on the show, to figure out what we wanted to mine from those characters. I always refer to it as sort of doing a forensic analysis on the enemy, to understand what the essence or core idea behind a character is. How do we capture that? So we really did do that for all of the characters, to really figure out what was most important about them and why we remember them, and what they feed us dramatically. From that, we birthed the stories we wanted to tell about them.
Cowboy Bebop starts streaming on Netflix on 19 November, 2021.