Last week we began our three part interview series with some of the cast and crew behind one of the most iconic anime dubs in history, Cowboy Bebop. If you haven’t checked it out yet you can catch up here!
Beau Billingslea, Wendee Lee, Paul St. Peter, Marc Handler, Mary Claypool, and Les Claypool III all attended Anime Los Angeles to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Cowboy Bebop and we were able to sit down with them and ask them some burning questions. Here is part two of our chat:
When working on Cowboy Bebop did you ever expect it to reach the levels of popularity it has?
Wendee Lee: Cowboy Bebop got my attention more than anything I’ve ever worked on. There were two aspects of anime that really drew me in as a viewer and artistically. One was the beautiful kind of block print Japanese art style that we were familiar with in an earlier era. It also started to make it’s way into fashion. We would see t-shirts with Japanese kanji on them but we wouldn’t know what they said. People would ask me what my t-shirt said and I would say “Probably stupid American.” Japanese style, kanji, and art was making its way into our culture as anime was just starting in the US and I think those things went hand in hand and helped each other. The old fashion block prints and the craggy waves had a big impression on me stylistically. Then when I started to see those in anime it really roped me in. It was something I felt a heart connection to and it’s something I really wanted to do more with and grow with. I think I had some small part in helping bring anime to the masses and that is a huge honor and Cowboy Bebop was the vehicle.
Paul St. Peter: No, not at all. What Mary said earlier when we were doing the panel was very true. This was brand new but I don’t want to necessarily say “groundbreaking” but it definitely is when it comes to its plot lines. The characters do not look like the typical Japanese anime and the feel of the show is summed up in one word which is “cool.” Many times shows likes this that have a look and a feel to them do not catch on. As voice actors we run into situations where we voice a show and then whoever owns it will stick it on a shelf somewhere and it never gets released. So we can work and work on it and nothing. I didn’t look at the show and think any of that because I only saw my parts which were so comical they were to the point of being just bizarre. I thought, “how is this going to play and who’s going to be interested in this?” Even Mary was going like “What? How are we going to… What? Let’s just go with it!” Then we ended up with this phenomenal show and a phenomenal product. I’m glad it got out there but many shows have died that way and never found their audience. Â You might see a very good production and wonder why it never caught on. Part of that is marketing and audiences can be very fickle. What’s big right now? Or is there one too many of that kind of show so nobody watched it? Meanwhile when you do see it, the quality just jumps out at you. So many times the popularity of a show can have something to do with very unpredictable elements. For us as actors the best we can do at the beginning is go in and do our part and do things as collaboratively as possible to make the episodes as good as we can. Then after that, things are out of our hands.
Les Claypool: Originally I had to turn the show down because I was just too busy to do it so I wasn’t there for all the fun and games initially. When it first showed up on my calendar it was just another job and my producers had to decide which we could make deadlines on. One of the ones we could not work on turned out to be Cowboy Bebop. Its wasn’t until years later when it’s huge and I’m kicking myself in the butt going “Really?! That’s the one I didn’t get to do?” Then I get a call asking me to remix six episodes because they are doing something called “The Best Sessions” in Japan. In Japan they created six 5.1 surrounds and they will spend the money on six just to see if it was popular enough in America to warrant remixing it. So we did those and that warranted them enough to redo the entire series in 5.1. It was already a phenomenon when I started doing it but it’s like my redemption story that I finally got to work on it.
Beau Billingslea: I had no idea when we were doing it. It was a gig and then as time went on we realized it was a lot of fun! Then of course when I heard the music I said “This is REALLY fun! This is a special deal we’ve got here!” It was kind of like a Polaroid photo how it took a while for it to come into focus for us to realize how special it was. We didn’t have any idea that 20 years later we would still be talking about it, people would be sharing their experiences with Cowboy Bebop and what it meant to them, and they are always saying “You were apart of my childhood!” That is very special. I think back to my childhood and so I understand what that means and the importance that holds for people. It’s very heartwarming and makes me realize how lucky I am in life.
Marc Handler: When I received the show I was the first person on our team to see it because it goes to the writer first. I was thinking it was just another anime so let’s check it out. When we did we thought it was really different and really something special. You could see that immediately. The first episode I watched was the Red Eye episode and as soon as you’re watching this animation, he’s taking these drugs that he injects into his eyes. The scenes are invoking the feeling of that drug high. They are done POV with this shaky blurry camera work. You get to see the world through the eyes of this character as he’s going through this crazy drug experience. You’d probably never seen anything like that before and it was very affective. This showed us that obviously this was a show for a sophisticated audience and not for kids. As far as having a major fan base we never expected it. We thought the only people who would get it are the people who went to the anime section of a video store. What happened was this was the same year that Adult Swim launched. Fortunately the producers were able to get it to Adult Swim and even though they weren’t planning on anime content they decided to give it a try. The Adult Swim audience was able to see that anime isn’t just a cutesy thing for kids. The team was also able to put together the most amazing and talented team. We had the right talent, the right conduit to get it out to the public, and the right piece of anime all at the right time. So it was really one of those perfect storms.
Which episode is your favorite?
Beau Billingslea: It’s hard to pick. I really enjoyed “Muchroom Samba” with the shiitake mushrooms and Jet had that line… “Who am I anyway?” and he was high as a kite on those mushrooms. I also love “Toys in the Attic.” We’ve done live readings of that episode a couple of times. A live script reading has always been a big hit with the fans. All of them are so great and the music is absolutely astounding. When I first heard Tank! it was just awesome! When you listen to that song you just can’t sit down. All of the music is so good and there were so many different genres but they were also so appropriate to what was going on at the time visually. The project is brilliant in so many different ways especially how everything comes together you know the dialogue, the characters and the music. It’s just so unique and I’m very proud to be apart of this Cowboy Bebop world.
Paul St. Peter: I really do have to say the final episode. My character was out of the studio as I said, “Shucks, howdy! Our ratings suck! They cancelled us!” Judy finishes up by saying “I’ve got to call my agent!” Well, I got to be revealed as the actor behind the role of Punch. Just in that one episode. I love the fact that I was escorting my mom out of the hospital and as I walked away with her past a waiting area, there was Faye. I walked past Faye and she looked at me for a moment and said, “There’s something about that guy…” Not realizing she had seen me as Punch so many times on TV. Then of course the finish with the way Spike went out. It’s very affecting. Do you know the story of Steve’s tattoo? If you look on his left arm you will see that he has a tattoo of a sound meter that trails down. That is his final cue that says “bang.” He actually got it tattooed on his arm which is cool. The show wrapped up in a very good way, as affecting as it was, and in some ways as jarring as it was. You don’t think one of the main characters is going to die but he does.
Marc Handler: The one that surprised me the most, so I’m going to say was my favorite, was “Hard Luck Woman.” Episode 24. The reason why is it picked up Faye’s story and it surprised me because it went deeper than I expected the story to go. When we meet Faye she’s this wonderfully great, savvy, tough, space girl who will blow your brains out or steal your money with no ethics or morals. She has this great big personality and you can’t help loving her. You think the story will just stay there and that’s just who she is and that’s how it’s going to be. Then all of the sudden we see this video from her past where she is this sweet, cute, genuine, down to Earth little girl. It just blows your mind because you see that’s how she would have been if disaster wouldn’t have happened. It was really touching and unexpected. I thought “Wow Watanabe-san and his team are really going deeper.” She then finds out where she’s from and she tracks it down and you experience her feeling that she is finally going to find her past and her home. When she gets there, there is no home. It’s just this destroyed place with dirt. There is a moment where she takes a stick and she draws a rectangle in the dirt and it’s her bed where she used to sleep. She looks at it and remembers that was her warm safe place and now it’s destroyed. It happens very fast but that more than any other moment in the series really touched me. It was a really brilliant way for the story tellers to tell her story without dialogue.
Wendee Lee: I’m close to several of them. I love “Mushroom Samba” and Faye’s whole psychedelic trip in the bathroom and the whole experience. I couldn’t believe a show was getting that edgy and taking content to that limit. They did it with great humor yet with space and breath between the lines. There was just so much about it that kind of blew my mind. I think Japan is often trying to raise the bar and give us shock value and be edgy. I really think Bebop achieved it in a few of these episodes way before other titles did. I also like Speak Like a Child. Getting Faye’s backstory was an incredible gift after spending so many episodes with her. I never researched or looked ahead in the story arc so everything that was happening to her happened to me in real time. I got to experience it with her as I did the voice work for her. When you find out, after you’ve lived with a character and been in their shoes for so long, that there is a rich backstory to work with it kind of changes everything and creates a new level of intensity. We often do “Toys in the Attic” as a live read and that is a lot of fun too.
Mary Claypool: I was working on another little show called Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and my producer, director, and mentor came to me and said, “I need to pull you away and have you write an episode because, Marc Handler, the writer of a show called Cowboy Bebop needs us to do this.” and I said “What’s a Cowboy Bebop?” as I had never heard of it. So he handed me this episode which was episode 22 “Cowboy Funk.” I got into and thought “this is damn entertaining!” I had a ball with it and I got to write some really great lines for it. Because I wrote 22 it has become my favorite episode because I was able to put a little bit of myself into it. I love Andy and his horse and also the Teddy Bomber. Interesting thing about that episode is the Teddy Bomber is like a Ted Kaczynski type character with a manifesto and he’s trying to blow up Twin Towers. That episode was pulled for a while because of it’s controversial subject.
Les Claypool: I have two of them. One of mine is “Mushroom Samba” That was just gold and everyone’s favorite part of that is all of the mushroom craziness and all that which is great, but mine is the ridiculous bounty hunter carrying around a freakin’ coffin. Also of course Cowboy Funk, and not just because Mary wrote it, ok maybe a little bit.