See You, Space Cowboy: Wherein I Dream Cast a Live-Action "Cowboy Bebop"
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See You, Space Cowboy: Wherein I Dream Cast a Live-Action "Cowboy Bebop"

By Rob Payne | Seriously Random Lists | September 28, 2012 | Comments ()


Don't worry your pretty little heads, "Cowboy Bebop" fans, there hasn't been any recent news or developments on the constantly rumored live-action adaptation of the seminal sci-fi Anime series. And, just to allay what I know is your biggest fear in these matters... No, Keanu Reeves will not be involved in this post in any way, shape, or form, except in the context of this sentence to explain that he won't be involved in this post in any way, shape, or form. As far as I'm aware, there isn't anything special about today or this month or this year that relates to "Bebop" so this list is, admittedly, apropos of nothing.

Ever since I first watched the show -- well before it was on Adult Swim in the early Aughts -- I've often fantasized about how fantastic it would be if the solar system depicted in the crisp, hyper-realistic drawings and the dated, somewhat trippy CGI could be realized outside the confines of standard animation. "Firefly" probably comes the closest to a live action version of "Bebop," but that's not our solar system and it's one based in folk rather than jazz. No offense to Nashville, but the sounds of big bands and the occasional, lonely harmonica are a much cooler mash-up with spaceships and Jeet Kun Do. But I didn't just imagine the ships or the space stations, the planets, the moons, the architecture of the colonies, or the kitschy modernity of the post-Earth cultures, but also the fully realized characters. Animation, especially in Japan (Studio Ghibli not withstanding), is often cheap and lazy, and the performances of the characters is often given the shortest shrift by overworked animators who just don't get paid nearly enough for their time or their talents.

But "Cowboy Bebop" was markedly different. Spike, Jet, Faye, and Ed are all almost impossibly unique in their characterizations and development, though Jet is a bit of a stereotype. But all of them, and even the secondary and tertiary characters, were beautifully rendered with distinctly human features and expressions. Sure, the series and its movie occasionally trafficked in the standard Anime tricks of bug eyes and bulging veins, but more often than not, the performances are as subtle as even the best real life thespians. Ein, the super intelligent Welsh Corgi, acts like an actual dog -- Pixar doesn't even get that exactly right. Because of this, I've often found it impossible to imagine any actual actors playing any of these characters. In my fevered imagination, the drawings themselves come to life and continue to play the parts they perfected. But recently, after re-watching a bunch of early "Parks and Rec," one up-and-coming performer struck me as more than suitable to take on the role of Spike Spiegel. That got me to reconsider the other roles, and in doing so I realized right now, at this precise moment in the entertainment industry, we might finally have people at our disposal who could pull this baby off without embarrassing themselves or pissing off the fans.

If there is anybody still reading this who hasn't watched the excellent 1998 Japanese animated TV show, or its pretty-good-save-for-the-JPop-soundtrack 2001 animated movie counterpart Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' On Heaven's Door: a) Welcome!; b) What are you doing here?; c) Watch this opening credits sequence to get a taste of what we're talking about.

Now that we're all caught up, let's get dig in:

Spike Spiegel is Ben Schwartz
Sure, my first thought went directly to Jean-Ralphio's hair (I mean, look at it!) being a perfect match for Spike's, but Schwartz just happened to co-host "Attack of the Show" this week on G4 and the more I saw of him the more he seemed perfect for Spike entirely. His real persona is somewhere between Spike and Jean-Ralphio, and only a few minor tweaks would be required to transform him into the Bruce Lee admiring bounty hunter. Still not convinced? Just imagine this...
...turning into this:

Jet Black is Ron Perlman
For some reason I thought Perlman was older than his 62 years, but only because I vaguely remembered thinking he was way too hardcore for his age. Turns out, he's exactly the right amount of badass for Spike's senior ally and ex-space cop. Jet is the quintessential killer with a heart of gold, and I can't think of anybody who could pull off the right amount of hard shell hiding a densely gooey interior more than Ron fuckin' Perlman. Plus, we know he's cool with sitting for hours in a make-up chair for his face prostheses and that cybernetic arm.

Faye Valentine is Olivia Wilde
Like Spike's combination of casual cool and cocky dumbass, Faye's sensitivity, selfishness, sincerity, and sex appeal seemed a daunting task to pull off. It's not enough to love or hate a live action Faye -- she's too complex, despite her silly outfits, for that -- one needs to love to hate to love her. Only recently, after seeing the trailer for Butter, did I realize that Wilde has effectively played all those traits and would only have to follow the script to make it work as a single character. From the sound of it, she might have already achieved this. Now she'd get to do it in space.

Ed Wong is Maisie Williams
As difficult as Spike and Faye always felt to imagine, the she's-a-girl-not-a-boy tween hacker Ed seemed like the only aspect of the Anime that couldn't be translated to live action. I nearly scrapped this whole list because of the difficulty. Then, after briefly considering Rory Cochran (The Hound in "Game of Thrones") for Jet, it became obvious that a real life Ed actually exists: Maisie Williams, a.k.a. the she's-a-girl-not-a-boy tween wanna-be warrior Arya Stark. Arya is obviously far more serious and self-conscious than Ed, but, based on the evidence, Williams certainly is not. Just a point a camera at the girl and let her work.

Julia is Jenny Wade
Julia doesn't have a very big part in the show, and I don't imagine it would be too much bigger in the movie, but that doesn't make her any less fundamental to the whole 26 episode story. To that end, Jenny Wade was the most memorable part of two prematurely cancelled TV series in both "Reaper" and "The Good Guys," where she played two distinctly different love interests (a demon and a lawyer -- okay, not like total opposites or anything). It was easy to understand why no man who had been with her could ever forget her, and she could easily do this as Julia without overshadowing Olivia Wilde's more nominally important Faye. And just like Schwartz, her hairdo seals the deal.

Vicious is Ryan Gosling
Like several of the other characters, Vicious borders on the ridiculous. He's a leather trench coated, glam-rock styled, kitana-wielding gangster. There are pretty much only two people alive who could pull that off and still be menacing enough to be a credible threat, but unfortunately David Bowie is too old for the part. So it's a good thing that Ryan Gosling is just the right age. Watch Drive if you aren't convinced. Nobody should be able to wear that delightfully awful silver scorpion jacket and still be scary. And yet, here we are. As a bonus, because Baby Goose probably wouldn't do the movie without him, Nicolas Winding Refn will direct the shit out of this movie.

Finally, give this little guy a year or two and we've got the perfect Ein...
'Nuff said? 'Nuff said.

Obviously, I did a pretty great job of collecting images of these actors to help make my case with their physical similarities to these characters. I'm willing to admit that's somewhat cheap, but now that you've seen it, you can't un-see it. You're welcome. Happy Friday!

Rob Payne also writes the comic The Unstoppable Force, tweets on the Twitter, tumbls on the Tumblr, and his wares can be purchased here. It's possible "Cowboy Bebop" is his favorite thing ever.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • sevenpm

    Dang, too bad we can't go back in time and grab Elliot Gould as Philip Marlowe from The Long Goodbye, because to me that was the for serious best unintentional characterization of a real life Spike, ever.

  • Hooray! Let's dream cast a show that came from Japan with all white people!

  • grendel

    Maisie Williams is the only actor I could think of that could come close. Maybe that's because I hate the character of Ed and think the entire show would have been a gazillion and a half times better without him/her and all his subsequent plot involvement....

  • Spike's Gal

    This is actually a really good list. But you can't have a bigger name for the villain over the hero. Then the awesome character of spike would be diminished because you gotta have more Gosling over some dude I don't really know, says the movie exec. I would put Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Spike's seat and I'd watch that live-action in a hot minute.

  • AudioSuede

    Thank god this will never happen.

  • This has been the best hypothetical casting I've ever seen.
    Thanks. One, I, can dream.

  • Blake

    Don't they all seem a little too white? Even the dog.
    At least let Ein be played by a Shiba Inu.

  • I agree with the first part, but Ein was a corgi.

  • JGL Would be a FAR superious Spike. But then anyone would be superior to fucking Ben Schwartz. That skinny little douche is not even CLOSE to being cool enough or good looking enough to pull off Spike Speigal.
    And yes, Spike Speigal is good looking, I have an anime crush on him. Get over it!

  • Notregistering

    This is excellent. Not sure about Jean-Ralphio, but the rest of the casting is inspired.

  • DarthCorleone

    Aw - Ein!

    I agree Maisie Williams would make a great Ed.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Jet Black is Ron Perlman.

    Why, of course he is.

  • asperaadastra

    Also, although I do like Olivia Wilde immensely, what do we think of Eva Green for Faye? She's got the whole femme fatale/ vulnerability thing down pat

  • Ohhhh that's a good one. She's definitely got the dramatic edge to pull off Faye.

  • Betsy Avenger

    For some reason, I think Michael K. Williams would be an awesome Jet.

  • Kala

    I love this so much, I literally groaned out loud.

  • BobbFrapples

    I think of Brad Pitt in Snatch and see the bones for the perfect Spike. The rest of the cast sounds spot on.

  • googergieger

    Byung Hun Lee. You white mofo's.

    Spot on with Perlman though.

    You white mofo's.

  • Blake


  • Hell to the yes!

  • the_wakeful

    Where'd you get that header pic? I need those people in my life right now.

  • thenchonto

    Has anyone else ever noticed that Claudia on Warehouse 13 is pretty much grown up Ed? If Allison Scagliotti were a few years younger, I'd turn all your computer screens into laughing smiley faces for considering anyone else in that role.

  • zyzzyva

    It been forever since I saw any Cowboy Bebop, but if you want hot, tall and lanky, how 'bout Lee Pace?

  • thenchonto

    Oh my god - a Lee Pace/Baby Goose pairing for Spike and Vicious?? My lady parts are all aflutter and yet I'm also preemptively sobbing uncontrollably. I think I just relived my entire high school experience over the course of the last thirty seconds. I need a shower.

  • Samantha Klein


  • FrayedMachine

    ... oh. my. god. :O

    Though I don't know how well he could pull off the badassery that is Spike.

  • asperaadastra

    I have to suggest Joesph Gordon Levitt for Spike... check out the picture below, pretty uncanny

  • Steph

    Yeah this is pretty obviously the right choice.

  • the_wakeful

    Fucking yup

  • PajibansWatchPorn,Right?

    As someone not acquainted with Cowboy Bebop, I was a little confused that Faye Valentine isn't a freckle-faced redhead. Hopefully I'm not alone in this.

  • Will

    She's Faye Reagan now, if um that makes it easier.....

  • Strand

    I'm ashamed to say you are not.

  • Get acquainted. Fool.

  • Krish

    HA. I see what you did there.

  • the_wakeful

    I nominate the redhead to play the Bebop Valentine. Nerd pants would be soiled the world over.

  • Fredo

    I always thought Adrien Brody could be a great Spike. Jean Ralphio? OK, that could work.

    The rest are spot on perfect. Perlman can give you both smart-ass and world weary. Wilde as Faye is spot on. And young Maisie as Ed? Great.

    Oh and that corgi as Ein...that corgi as Ein!

  • Samantha Klein


  • BendinIntheWind

    I had my claws unsheathed and everything, but I'm pretty pleased with this list. Ron Perlman and Maisie Williams are the standout fucking great ideas, to me. I do love me some Jean-Ralphio, but I don't think Schwartz has the same mysterious, seen-it-all-and-couldn't-care-less attitude that Spike needs. Spike is always a huge roadblock to me. Maybe Jeremy Renner? Though he's not quite tall and lanky enough...

    I think Gosling could be a good Vicious, but thinking about Fassbender's shark-grin makes me reevaluate.
    Though I defy you to find a better Corgi than Waffles:

  • Fabius_Maximus

    James McAvoy isn't tall enough for Spike, is he?

  • Vi

    Tall, lank... would have liked cumberbatch, but he comes off as too cold to be Spike (also he would look too much like Sherlock and that would just be confusing).

    I vote for Fassbender as Vincent, Gosling is meh.

  • Snath

    HOMAHGAH why do I not know about Waffles. That is a ridiculously adorable dog.

  • Maisie as Ed is pure genius. There was a time when Summer Glau was my only pick for Ed, but that probably stems from the fact that River Tam was Ed... with serial killer tendencies.

  • Samantha Klein

    I don't know who that Schwartz guy is, but he's not hot enough to play Spike. Because Spike is hot. I like the Olivia Wilde choice, though.

  • I so appreciate going through comments after I end a rant and coming across similar conclusions from fellow pajibans. I feel almost weird about admitting to my anime crush on Spike but then I remember, I'm on Pajiba. No shame.

  • Lauren_Lauren

    NEVER any shame for the Bebop love. Hold that shit up high.

  • BendinIntheWind

    Timothy Olyphant for Spike?

  • Samantha Klein

    For Spike, how about JGL wearing lifts? I didn't like Brick, but I think that his character has much in common w/Spike. LOVING the Fassbender suggestion, as he is always more interesting than Baby Goose.

  • Kala

    I don't remember what magazine/website it was, but someone did a JGL spread a few years ago. It was black and white. His hair was mussed and he was leaning against a wall with a lit cigarette barely clinging to his mouth.

    "That's him," I said. "That is Spike Fucking Spiegal."

    I haven't been able to unsee it since.

  • Tinkerville

    Love this. As much as I adore Ben Schwartz I'm not sure if he has the wry/sardonic/dramatic chops necessary for Spike but it's definitely fun to think about it. Granted I haven't seen him in much besides Parks & Rec so I could be very wrong.

  • no one

    Can we use that header pic for next weeks caption contest?

  • Snath

    I think I'm in love with this article. Gosling as Vicious is an inspired choice.

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