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John Cho Reveals His 'Biggest Fear' About His Cowboy Bebop Role

There's a lot to be afraid of when it comes to adapting a hit anime into a live-action film or TV series. The track record, for one. While the occasional adaptation proves successful, history is littered with failed launches, crafted when filmmakers in both Hollywood and in Japan have tried to bring a series to live-action, only to instead create something that missed nearly everything that made the original source material great. 

It can be difficult to translate the stylized action and heightened emotions of a particular style of animation into something that works with real actors in real settings. Most of all, it can rob the audience members of their own imaginative license by turning details that are meant to be representative and making them definitive. Every casting choice and set design is a risk, because there's a chance to mess up how someone looks at the property, some detail that they've always prized. And it can be especially dangerous when you make those changes deliberately.

John Cho knows this. In an interview with Vulture, Cho acknowledged one of the biggest fan gripes about his casting in Netflix's upcoming series based on the legendary anime "Cowboy Bebop" — his age. Spike Spiegel, the intergalactic bounty hunter he's portraying in the series, is meant to be 27 years old in the original anime. Cho, however, turned 49 this year. Was that a worry for the actor going into it?

What John Cho thinks about being too old to star in Cowboy Bebop

Cho's answer was yes, absolutely it did. "The biggest fear that I had was I was too old. I knew people were gonna have issues with my age. And I had to get over it." To Cho, his concerns about the age gap weren't enough to stop him from saying yes to the project. His version of Spike would be different, but he and the creative team decided that would be okay for their vision of the project.

In some ways, his being older might have even helped him. Cho admitted that he knew it was going to be difficult for him physically to do the sort of action scenes the series called for, but he doubted whether he would have been mentally ready to tackle them at 27. "Maybe I would've been better suited athletically, but in terms of my discipline, I am strangely better suited at this age," he said. That discipline would come in especially handy when the actor tore his ACL on set and had to undertake a grueling rehabilitation before the series could finish shooting.

Cho admits that earlier in his career, he looked down on actors who specialized mostly in the physical side of things. "I didn't give that kind of acting enough credit. I was a ... nerd snob." 

How training to play Spike Spiegel helped John Cho's acting

Playing Spike — or more importantly, preparing to play him through the long grind of workouts and choreography rehearsal — helped crystallize for Cho the difference between how he used to view acting and how he sees it now. "Training is also a more accurate parallel to how to get a good performance," Cho said. "When I was younger, I thought I could tap into some sort of muse and have the thing strike me. But it's actually more banal and harder than that, which is you just drill it, drill it, drill it until it's muscle memory."

Cho says playing this character at his age allowed him to reach parts of Spike he never would have been able to had he played him at 27. "I don't think I would've done justice to the emotional depth we tried to give Spike," he told Vulture. If he was younger, he explained, his Spike would have been more fueled by his anger. "What I'm better at, being older, is showing weakness and vulnerability and love. Those things are more accessible to me. Personally, I'd prefer the version I'm able to do now."

Hopefully fans will too. "Cowboy Bebop" is scheduled to be released on Netflix on November 19, 2021.