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

By Rob Payne | Lists | September 28, 2012 |

By Rob Payne | Lists | September 28, 2012 |

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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