Cowboy Bebop English Voice Cast Talk Show’s Legacy And The New Live Action Series – Exclusive Interview
Anime is far more mainstream in the 2020s than it was two decades prior. However, if there is a turning point that got us to the point where someone like Megan Thee Stallion can build a brand around being both a rap star and an anime fan, it is probably the year 2000, when one anime series in particular debuted on Cartoon Network’s then-new Adult Swim late-night block: “Cowboy Bebop.”
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been over two decades since the seminal anime series first officially debuted in the United States. “Cowboy Bebop” is considered to be one of the greatest science fiction series, animated or otherwise, for many good reasons. The animation, the stories, and the music somehow manage that impossible task of feeling both instantly classic and perpetually fresh. There’s one other aspect of “Cowboy Bebop” that made it an instant hit and a show people continue discovering to this day — the English voice cast.
Somewhat infamously, English dubs for anime often miss the nuance and intention of the original Japanese scripts to the point that, in many instances, people will choose subtitles over an English dub. “Cowboy Bebop” is the most notable exception. The core cast of Steve Blum, Beau Billingslea, Wendee Lee, and Melissa Fahn (who play Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, Faye Valentine, and Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV, respectively) crafted such an incredible shared performance that they helped secure Bebop’s place in the history of science fiction.
Now, with a new live-action version of “Cowboy Bebop” starring John Cho about to land on Netflix, Looper sat down with the English voice cast to talk about the legacy of their series and the future of “Cowboy Bebop.”
Did Cowboy Bebop ever really go away?
People are talking about how there’s a live action series coming, and. so, Cowboy Bebop is getting a resurgence. Is it? Did “Cowboy Bebop” ever really go away?
Beau Billingslea: It just went earlier in the morning on Adult Swim. It went from prime time to 3:00 in the morning.
Steve Blum: There’s always at least one person watching somewhere. I don’t think it ever went away.
Beau Billingslea: That guy in the toll booth.
Steve Blum: What is this show?
Beau Billingslea: What is that?
Melissa Fahn: That’s the beauty of it. That, “oh my God, this show has never gone away.” People are really… and Steve you said this earlier it’s like grandfathered. Did you say, grandfathered? It’s been generations of people are watching it and it’s still strong. It’s amazing.
Since there are obviously new generations of people that are checking it out, have you found that a new generation of people have a different outlook on it?
Wendee Lee: I just have one comment about that. I think that the show was so open minded and mixed and LGBT friendly and integrated way before the world was. And so really we’re catching up to the future of what was the past.
On the question of Ed's gender
Related to that: Melissa, do you think Ed is non- binary?
Melissa Fahn: It’s just so interesting. I mean, when we did the show, I didn’t think of that. I thought, “she’s a girl, she’s a girl.” I mean, why can’t a girl dress like that? Why can’t a girl be like that? Non-binary was not a term that we were really using 20 years ago. Now, I do meet girls who are Ed, who are that. And they say, “Thank you. I identify, I connect. Thank you for bringing the voice to this character of someone that I can connect with.” However, you take her, if you connect with her, that’s hopefully a job that I’ve done, that I was able to connect. But why not? Right. Why not? She is. I always thought of her as a girl because… And I love that her name is Edward and she’s a girl. But, you know her real name is Françoise, right? I think Ed is amazing and I think she’s very important right now. And I think she’s always been important to girls or boys or anyone who connects with her on any level.
Steve Blum: I think if you asked Ed how Ed identifies, Ed would just say, “Ed is Ed.”
Melissa Fahn: Ed is Ed. And that’s it!
Steve Blum: Honesty. And that to me crosses every barrier that way. You don’t have to be anything other than who you are. I think that’s the most wonderful thing about that character.
Melissa Fahn: I think you’re absolutely right, Steve. Ed is Ed.
Wendee Lee: I think Ed is integrated, fully integrated male, female, and asexual. I don’t think that was a mindset. It’s the childlike nature of Ed that makes her so charming and how creatures and adults and everybody relates to her. She… even if it’s not a personal, “I see me and you I’m a okay with you.” We’ve just determined she is water. She is, what do we say? Liquid Ed.
Steve Blum: Liquid Ed.
Wendee Lee: She flows between all of the hard edges and boxes that people try to get placed in, or that we try to put people in. She has no box. She’s fluid. She’s a circle.
Melissa Fahn: She’s fluid. You’re right. And Ed is okay with Ed. So, everyone’s okay with her.
Steve Blum: Yep. Ed is the meaning of life. It’s not the number 42 as it turns out.
New things the cast still learns about Cowboy Bebop
Over two decades later, is there anything new that you have ever found out about “Cowboy Bebop” that you genuinely didn’t know before?
Beau Billingslea: Years ago, my wife Cece dug into a Cowboy Bebop trivia and it’s alluded my mind now, but she made copies for everybody. I guess you guys remember. All those little details about Jet’s weapon and all of the musical influences as, Melissa had mentioned, I was astonished at how much our culture was the foundation of Cowboy Bebop, even though it originated in Japan. That, obviously was their original thought was we’re going to get it to The States. Obviously. I mean, that’s very clear.
Wendee Lee: They took a deep dive in Rock history and the ode to, and the kisses that they make to all the different album names and artists. It’s so brave to take all your influences, and instead of hide them by integrating them into what you do and borrow, they just set them right up on a pedestal and honor them straight up by the titles of every episode. And all the influences within.
Is Spike really gone and the future of animated Cowboy Bebop
Wendee, I have a question for you, because I can’t trust the internet. I read somewhere that you think that the end of Real Folk Blues Part Two, that Spike is still alive. Is that true?
Wendee Lee: I do not subscribe to a perished Spike.
Does anybody else here also think that Spike is still alive?
Beau Billingslea: There’s always hope. There’s always hope. And there’s a way that he survived. I’m in denial maybe.
It kind of feels like you’re almost evoking the characters you played, because wouldn’t Jet and Faye both want Spike to still be alive?
Beau Billingslea: Yeah.
Wendee Lee: I think Faye really goes to pieces over that one. I think she needs him to be alive.
Steve Blum: I didn’t figure anyone would even care.
Wendee Lee: I think it matters a lot to Jet and Faye. I think Ed can survive it. She’s the way of water. She can… I have been on so many shows where I thought that was it. And they’re like, “Okay, here’s season two.” So why doesn’t it happen to here?
So, since there’s a live action show, we should be waiting for the eminent season two of the animated series?
Wendee Lee: You know, we could completely count on it, if only the creator was interested.
Steve Blum: We’re available.
Beau Billingslea: All on board.
How the voice cast feels about the live action series
Is it strange seeing other people play these characters? Do you feel you’re like Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, seeing new people take on this world and these new characters? What is that like?
Wendee Lee: Well, if we’re like them, I need a crown. Where’s my Tiara?
Steve Blum: I’m excited to see what happens.
Melissa Fahn: I’m excited too.
Steve Blum: The people who are working on it seem to be very invested in it. And the world building seems to be pretty accurate from what I’ve seen so far. It seems to be reverent and they want to do something really, really special. They’re honoring what came before. And I’m really excited to see the differences and the similarities and how that fleshes out in live action. I think it’s going to be really, really interesting. All that said, make sure that you watch it on Funimation.com.
Mustafa Shakir’s performance as Jet Black hews incredibly closely to your incarnation of the character, Beau. How does that make you feel?
Beau Billingslea: The whole thing is very weird because, being the English voice of Jet, my feeling is that I’m him, he’s mine, we’re one and the same. When I found out they were doing the live action, my honest reaction was, “Oh? Jet’s mine, but Jet’s me. What?” But, you have to be an adult and accept that things happen. And that’s the way that’s the way life goes, but hear you to hear you speak, it’s very flattering. And I’m assuming that he does a fabulous job and he brings his specialness to the role. I’m just excited to see it. I can’t wait.
Wendee Lee: I think we all do this, but I’ve never actually discussed this with other actors who are also voice artists. I think that often I find myself when I am watching somebody possess a character that is already well known, I’m waiting to see what they do with a voice. And I think so often so much focus is put on the visual aspect of the character, that the voice is the last thing and it is the actor’s responsibility to find it. I had a recent experience with that in the Sarah Paulson in the impeachment story that they’re doing. Which was almost unbearable to go back and relive that again, but I really wanted to see her take on Linda Tripp and I was devastated because she’s such a genius performer and she just forgot to work in the voice or it didn’t come up.
There’s this beautiful, nice young actress voice coming out of her with this semi hideous persona, which certainly was my take on Linda Tripp. I find that so often with other characters. So, I was absolutely thrilled and kind of blown away at the take that we’re hearing on Jet, because it is so inspired by you Beau and we can really hear that. What an honor that actor utilized everything available to him for the character, and clearly it’s based in and reshowing respect and giving homage to what Beau brought to the character as well.
Wendee Lee defends Daniella Pineda as the new Faye
Wendee, had you happened to see the way Daniella Pineda handled criticisms of her appearance and costume for Faye Valentine? She had an excellent response.
Wendee Lee: I did. We’ve watched, I’m sure, consumed as much as we can of everything that’s coming out. All of the wonderful teasers. I really have been through some changes about the Faye character, but I want to say this. And I think it’s super important that the fans hear this. Steve Blum chose to make this a positive from the very first moment we heard there was going to be a new series and a live action series. And we know that anime has made many stabs of bringing things to live action before that.
And it’s a growing experience. They haven’t all been wonderful, but give the show a chance. And when Steve said it, it just clicked my mindset into an absolute positive place so much so that I’m not accepting any negative comments on my media outlets at all about this. We haven’t seen it yet. Give it a chance if you don’t have something positive to add, just listen, you can keep it shut for a little while. We don’t need any negative blood. We want to support this and we want it to do well. This is only good for us as a sister production. So we really want to support this all the way through. Going with a Latina for the role, who knew? What a great idea. Why not? Let’s shake it up, give the girl a damn chance. I’m feeling very protective of her.
Yes, she made a video in a robe and a towel and clearly after some fatigue and let it all hang out and told us exactly how she felt about running around in latex hot pants. You can’t do roundhouse kicks in that kind of a costume. So give the girl a chance. Let’s see what their inception of Faye is because you can’t bring the Bebop version to life. She is going to be an evolution of this character. That girl is not physically available. The way they draw those characters, we don’t have physical representation of that. It’s unworldly. And now we’re going to bring it right down to the planet and space and let it rip as a whole new vision of Faye. So yeah, I have a few things to say about that.
“Cowboy Bebop,” the animated series, is streaming now on Funimation and Netflix, and the new live-action series is set for release on Netflix beginning November 19.