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Steve Blum, Beau Billingslea, Wendee Lee, and Melissa Fahn sound off on the anime
When Cowboy Bebop first exploded onto television screens in a flurry of jazz horns and gunfire, it left a deep and lasting impression on a generation of anime fans, earning a reputation as not only one of the best anime of its era but an ideal entry point for newcomers to the medium. That reputation is owed in no small part to the original English voice cast who dubbed the series back when it aired on the late-night animation block Adult Swim in 2001. For many fans, the English dub is the definitive version of the series; with vocal performances of Steve Blum (Spike Spiegel), Beau Billingslea (Jet Black), Wendee Lee (Faye Valentine), and Melissa Fahn (Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV) being the final element that propelled the anime to the height of its popularity and critical reception.
With the original 26-episode anime being made available to stream on Funimation, Polygon spoke with the original voice cast of Cowboy Bebop to talk about their favorite episodes and moments from working on the series.
“Toys in the Attic,” “Mushroom Samba,” and Cowboy Bebop: The Movie
Steve Blum: Oddly enough, it took me going through the entire series and doing the movie before I really figured it out who Spike was as a character, Personally and professionally. There was a moment in the Cowboy Bebop movie, when Spike and Electra were in a jail cell and he had to actually access his pain and his vulnerability. And that felt like the missing element to Spike. I knew there was something in there and it was alluded to throughout the series. But that was when I really zeroed in on exactly who he was. What the genesis of that pain was, that underlying sadness, and that confusion that he seemed to walk through life with. It made everything else gel and it made me have to go back and actually revisit what had been done before. I almost wish I had that insight from the very beginning.
But it happened when it was supposed to happen. And it affected me on a very profound level as an actor, as a person, and as a man; being able to express vulnerability while playing this badass dude who really didn’t seem to care about anything. I wasn’t that badass in real life, but I did have shields up to protect myself against getting hurt. And accessing that through Spike’s pain actually helped me on a personal level and made everything else gel for me. It was that one moment in that movie that did that for me.
[If I had to pick one episode,] “Mushroom Samba” was just pure fun from beginning to end and just really weird. “Toys in the Attic” also because that kind of accessed my science fiction fandom, the weirdness of it all and its comedy, and it’s the one thing that we’ve been able to perform live together because it was basically just the main cast. So that episode holds a very special place in my heart, too.
“Ganymede Elegy” and “Mushroom Samba”
Beau Billingslea: One of my favorite moments in Cowboy Bebop is in “Mushroom Samba,” when Jet is talking to his bonsai trees. He’s stoned and talking to his bonsai trees and just goes, “Who am I anyway?” [laughs]
But overall, I’d have to say “Ganymede Elegy,” when he goes back to Ganymede, when he talks with his ex-girlfriend and they resolve their issues and he finally tosses the watch in the water and puts that part of his life to rest.
I really enjoyed recording that episode because we had the time to spend to get it right. The voice director, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, directed me through the process of recording it, and it was an emotional episode obviously. And I really enjoyed that because so much of what we do in our world is not like that. We’re usually doing voices for loud monsters or whatever else we’re doing. But to do that, that legitimate barring of your soul as an actor, portraying that character was very special. I really appreciate having the opportunity to do that, so that kind of balances out “Mushroom Samba” as one of my favorites.
“Speak Like A Child”
Wendee Lee: I honestly hit the ground running when I was performing Faye. I felt like I knew who this girl was. But I was super interested in discovering the layers. It was clear to me that there was something below the surface; she was wounded, or there was something she was hiding. I was aware of that pretty early on. But when we were recording, I had no idea we would get into her backstory with “Speak Like A Child,” any of that stuff. And it was shocking. That’s the richest backstory I’ve ever had for a character, especially after being with her for so many episodes and having no warning that this was coming. That she had been through real trauma and disaster, and instead of acquiescing into a spiral of just unraveling as a person, she picked herself up and reinvented herself. I took real strength from that.
I felt like she really raised the bar for me, or for any actor for that matter who portrays her, because it brought a whole other level of nuance that needed to be incorporated into all of her scenes from that point on. Once you were aware of that, there was no turning back or seeking safety in the naïveté. Once she had a major footprint of a backstory, that had to be dragged into her present. It became a part of her DNA, so for me, the experience of performing Faye just got richer after that episode and I felt more protective of her over time.
“Jamming With Edward” and “Mushroom Samba”
Melissa Fahn: There are so many great moments for Ed throughout Cowboy Bebop. I mean even just her introduction in episode nine, “Jamming With Edward,” how she comes forth to the Bebop crew, as annoying as she might be to the characters, how she still melds in with them. They are all coming from a place where they all kind of need each other. I think Ed really needs them. You can look at Ed and she’s effervescent and childlike. She brings a completely different energy to the Bebop, and it’s needed. But she’s also a wounded character in a lot of ways herself, trying to find her own way as well.
We were talking about this earlier and Wendy brought it up, about how there’s a musicality to Ed and to all of our performances working together, but especially with Ed. I come from a musical background myself, and so I got to bring the effervescence of a child, the genius of a hacker. There are so many layers to Edward. There’s a lot going on underneath the surface, and I was so proud to be able to bring those moments of vulnerability and depth. In her last episode, “Hard Luck Woman,” she leaves in the end to find her own path. Maybe she’ll find her father, or maybe she’ll go back to the orphanage to find something to eat. It’s hard to pinpoint my favorite moment, but “Mushroom Samba” is my absolute favorite episode.