‘Cowboy Bebop’ (Finally) Rides Again, Thanks to Netflix and John Cho

“The future that Cowboy Bebop presents is not dystopian, it’s multicultural,” says showrunner André Nemec. Right from the get-go, Nemec wanted to hire a diverse writers room and ensure “that we have a diverse cast in order to tell the multicultural stories that we want to tell.”

In April 2019, the production made good on that promise, revealing that John Cho would play Spike Spiegel, Daniella Pineda would play Faye Valentine, Mustafa Shakir would play Jet Black, and later it was revealed that Gren (a nonbinary character in the series) would not only appear on the show, but be played by nonbinary actor Mason Alexander Park.

By the fall of 2019, filming was underway in New Zealand. But by the time Cho suffered his injury in October, only a few episodes had been completed.

“The first thought I had was, Can we shoot anyway?” the actor recalls. He and Allan Poppleton, Bebop’s stunt coordinator, tried rigging up a solution: “Poppleton’s like, ‘If you sit on this stool, and we position the camera here to go from the waist up, you won’t have to put any weight on your knees and you can do this and that,’” Cho remembers with a laugh. “Eventually, we all said this is not sustainable.” It was clear that Cho needed to recover from his injury, and to do so would require time.

Having your lead actor down for several months—and just as filming is getting underway—is not only a major disruption to a project, but very costly. It would have been understandable if Netflix or the series’ producers had proposed finding a new actor to jump in.

“Let the record show that there was never the thought of replacing John,” says Nemec. Clements agrees that Cho was always the only choice for Spike. “I don’t know that in all of my long producing career, I’ve had that sort of [feeling],” she says. “John Cho is the guy for this role.”

The long recess became an opportunity for the rest of the show’s cast and creative team as well. “That’s the beautiful thing, the silver lining,” says Shakir. “Everybody was able to sit still for a little bit longer so that the nuances were able to bubble up, and I think that really helped us not make mistakes, quite honestly.”

The writers went back in and reworked their scripts, getting character development and storylines just right.

“It was definitely the longest I’ve ever stayed with a character and with a role,” Cho says. But as his recovery neared its end in the spring of 2020, production once again took an unexpected turn.

COVID derailed production from there, says Christopher Yost, a writer and producer on the series. “It was just an incredible sequence of events for a TV show to be down due to an injury, and then be down due to a global pandemic.”

In a chance turn of luck, New Zealand, where Bebop had been filming, remained one of the few places on earth able to contain the virus. In July, the country’s Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment granted border exemptions to the series and four other productions (including The Lord of the Rings television series) that allowed 241 foreign-based cast, crew, and family members to reenter the country and resume production.

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