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Cowboy Bebop’s Alex Hassell on Spike’s Big Betrayal

Photo: Phillip Faraone/Getty Images

As he ready to play the live-action model of Cowboy Bebop’s Vicious — the sinister villain who bedevils protagonist Spike Spiegel all through the beloved anime collection — Alex Hassell quickly realized the distinctive job in entrance of him. “The thing about the original anime is that Vicious isn’t in it a great deal,” he says.

He’s proper: There are 26 episodes of the unique anime, and Vicious seems in 5 of them, although he makes such an impression that his menace looms over the collection anyway. By distinction, Hassell’s Vicious is in all ten episodes of the Netflix collection with a brand new, beefy subplot chronicling the bloody scheme by which he finally takes management of the Syndicate.

To accommodate this new arc, numerous harrowing scenes had been added between Vicious and his spouse, Julia, boosting the flavour of Cowboy Bebop’s already-overflowing stew of influences and tones. “The great thing about Cowboy Bebop is that it straddles so many genres,” says Hassell. “To me, the new material had a new space it could live in: a sort of gothic, almost Greek tragedy.”

As this new take on Vicious got here collectively, Hassell went via intensive battle coaching and concocted his personal exhaustive biography to discover how the character would possibly’ve turned out so, properly, vicious. No element was too small; he even imagined the kind of liquor Vicious is likely to be consuming. (For the file, it’s a Venusian absinthe.)

Here, Hassell takes us inside Cowboy Bebop’s most violent villain and tries to search out somewhat sympathy for the satan.

I’m hoping you possibly can clear one thing up for me: Is Vicious’s identify actually “Vicious”? Or is that only a very becoming nickname?
I don’t need to give something away in case they use it at a later level, however in my creativeness, he had a reputation. He was a standard boy after which via the initiation of stepping into the Syndicate, he acquired that identify as a part of, like, a gang ceremony.

One of the main issues that separates the live-action Cowboy Bebop from the unique anime is that we spend a lot, rather more time with Vicious. How do you evaluate your model of the character to the unique?
I believe he desires to be the Vicious from the anime. He desperately desires to be seen by the world as that Vicious and to see himself as that Vicious. But he’s really this fucked-up thug who’s very unhinged and rather more unstable. I believe he in all probability thinks he must look a sure approach, act a sure approach. There’s a logic to him: Someone this wealthy and profitable ought to seem like this and dress like this. This is what my father would have needed.

How did his live-action look come collectively? So a lot of his affect within the anime is aesthetic: The katana, the black coat, the lengthy white hair …
There was a really temporary dialogue about whether or not we should always have the wig, however it was determined in a short time: We have to have the wig.

People would have complained.
I imply, undoubtedly. And additionally: Why wouldn’t you do it? It’s such a cool, iconic type of look. So we saved it. They all the time begin with lengthy wigs, and also you slowly chop them up. You’re like, “Should we go a little lower?”

What in regards to the costume? Again, you’re speaking a few character design followers know and love and have pored over in unimaginable element. But it’s additionally a glance that was not designed for an actual human being to put on.
That was all the time it: Let’s begin with the anime, have a look at what that’s like, and whether or not it fits us as human beings. The first costume I attempted on was a duplicate of the anime costume, and it simply didn’t seem like a human being would put on it. It didn’t look intimidating as a result of it was not made for an actual physique in the true world with actual supplies. It was drawn.

In the anime, I believe he’s virtually like this ’90s Patrick Bateman fashion: large, lengthy overcoats. A type of business assassin. My model had these tight trousers and boots. The backside half of me was virtually like a skinhead — somebody who might kick your head in. And the opposite half was this gunslinger, all in black, like somebody who rides into city.

I observed your costume didn’t embrace a giant chicken on your shoulder.
I didn’t see a script the place I had the cormorant. I believe they determined that was too costly or one thing, so I had a knuckle duster with wings on my belt buckle and on my holster.

How did you get into the character’s head? It doesn’t look like an important place to be.
I believe a part of the actor’s job is commonly to simply make up a number of stuff if it’s useful. So I tried to method him from a psychological perspective. I learn quite a bit about violence, and psychological well being, and abusive relationships, and narcissism, and the Triads. I believe usually I can overwork and then you definitely understand you solely find yourself utilizing this tiny quantity of your analysis. After some time, you go, “I’ve got to just play what the script is asking me to do and move toward that.”

And most days once I wasn’t taking pictures, I’d be coaching. That was a degree of satisfaction, I assume. Because it’s such an essential a part of Vicious’s character — but additionally as a result of it’s actually, actually enjoyable — I needed to do as many stunts as I probably might. I’m very proud to say that within the large battle within the Elders’ temple, about 98 % of that was me.

I’d by no means had a personal coach earlier than, so I went very arduous at that, a lot that I puked someday. I didn’t know the way far I might push myself, however apparently it’s to puking ranges. And this wasn’t why I did it, however the dialogue we had was that I believed Vicious ought to seem like the type of one that simply didn’t eat. He simply hated, and he simply fucking pushed himself, and he would look within the mirror on a regular basis whereas he was understanding. It would harm, and he would need to punish himself. So it wasn’t simply narcissistic; it was additionally kind of self-torture.

Was Vicious all the time doomed to go down this path? Was he only a full-on psychopath from the beginning, or did all of the horrible stuff you’re describing make him snap?
That’s one thing we talked about quite a bit. Because if there’s no guilt — if he’s a sociopath or a psychopath, and there’s no capability to have any self-knowledge — then that’s a distinct stress. And perhaps not the strain that’s as attention-grabbing as somebody who’s simply tamped it down so far as they’ll.

I believed quite a bit about what Vicious may need been like when he was a child. You know, what if he was really a extremely delicate, susceptible, inventive type of particular person, who — due to the state of affairs he was in — spent a number of time on his personal? His mother and pa had been in an abusive relationship. Maybe he was sorted by the housekeeper. Maybe he learn books. This is actually stepping into it, however what if he lived in an enormous home that had, like, gargoyles and stuff? All that speak about devils and demons and snakes … that kind of permeates his psyche actually early on. He would retreat into that. And then all of that was simply savagely overwhelmed and humiliated out of him. It produced this kind of toxically masculine, dead-inside particular person.

That’s why he longs for Spike and why that hurts. This chilly, useless particular person does have a coronary heart someplace, which is desperately being damaged.

Do you assume Spike or Julia’s betrayal harm him extra?
I believe it’s a three-way love story. I imply, we see the start of the 2 guys’ relationships with Julia. There’s a trophyism about her, from Vicious’s perspective, and maybe one thing about possession and management; what he thought it could imply to have somebody like that on his arm. And he’s extra indifferent from his feelings, fact, or capabilities at that time.

I’d say the true thought — the extra painful relationship, which is kind of woven into the material of him as an individual — is Spike. It appeared actually essential to state that they considered one another as brothers. For Vicious, Spike actually was the one particular person he’d ever had. It’s the closest factor to a loving, purposeful relationship. They fulfilled the necessity in one another and held the a part of one another that wasn’t being held by anybody else. It felt essential to me that there was one thing actually true there.

Vicious and Spike spend many of the season hatefully obsessing over one another from afar with out actually coming face-to-face — after which it’s the flashback episode, and we get an hour to see them as shut companions and associates. How did you slip into that section of the connection after you’d performed Vicious hating Spike for thus lengthy?
We shot that on the finish of the season, after I’d spent the entire season … I imply, I’m not like a Method actor, dredging up shit about my life, however being fucking intense: attempting to be on the verge of breakdown on a regular basis, attempting to place your self within the headspace the place you thought your finest pal was useless and also you came upon your girlfriend has been fucking him and your dad desires him to kill you.

So to return to when Vicious was, sure, nonetheless very violent and fucked up, however to get to have jokes — that was fairly refreshing. And it’s really easy to do this stuff with John Cho as a result of he’s so gentle and witty and dry and deadpan. I used to be like, “If we do any more Cowboy Bebop, can I have a bit more of this? That would be really nice.”

The season-one finale goes to nice lengths to copy what is likely to be probably the most iconic shot from the anime — Vicious and Spike’s duel ending in a stalemate as they freeze in entrance of a giant stained-glass window. How tough was it to get that shot excellent?
I’d love the answer to be that it was extremely enjoyable and superior, however the fact is, it was so extremely particular, it was really immensely uncomfortable. There was the tightness of my trousers after which your legs begin to cramp and it’s like, “Have we got it? Have we got it?” It was a number of, like, getting the hair simply proper over my eyes.

As season one ends, Vicious has been chained to a furnace. Is that the place we’re going to search out him if Cowboy Bebop will get picked up for season two?
You know what? I’ve completely no thought. I’ve not been let into any extra data than anybody else. I want I had! I, greater than anybody, wish to know. I imply … I hope he will get out? Otherwise that may very well be a reasonably boring expertise for me.

You don’t need to spend season two in a Saw film, attempting to interrupt out of these cuffs?
Maybe that’s the place the cormorant turns up! He exhibits up and pecks his arms into stumps.

This interview has been edited and condensed for readability.

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