Daniella Pineda on Bringing Faye to Life and Representation in ‘Cowboy Bebop’

·7-min read

Daniella Pineda is dying to get back into her first love — comedy writing — but right now she’s taking a slight career detour into space. The Latina actor, whose TV credits include The CW’s “The Originals” and Netflix’s “What/ If,” will be portraying one of the most famed female badasses in the history of anime, Faye Valentine, in Netflix’s live-action reboot of the hit ’90s Japanese toon “Cowboy Bebop.” Starring opposite John Cho, Pineda will be clad in something a bit more substantial than Valentine’s iconic barely there yellow latex shorts while she chases criminals across the galaxy when the 10-episode show drops on Nov. 19, but she has perfectly captured Valentine’s sass, wit, cynicism and, of course, purple bob.

How familiar were you with the source material or with anime in general?

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When I was growing up, I was a big fan of “Sailor Moon” — shout-out to my girl Sailor Mars. I knew that “Cowboy Bebop” existed, but I just had never seen it. It wasn’t until I had this fantastic opportunity that I became fully immersed in the entire series and binge-watched it like three times.

You are a woman of Mexican descent playing a canonically Singaporean-Romani character. What was that experience like for you?

The original anime is diverse, and it was important for our show to be multicultural because our reality today and the future is multicultural. We also wanted to reflect our fan base, which is a worldly and diverse one.

How did you balance Faye’s biting humor with her tragic and mysterious backstory?

Faye’s kind of a smart-ass, and I’ve always found that to be a pretty comfortable space to write in and to act. She’s a fun character, and I didn’t want that to get lost in the sauce, but also a lot of the time people use comedy as a defense mechanism to not show vulnerability, and I had that in mind when portraying this character. She’s strong and she’s a survivor, but she doesn’t want to let people in, so her comedy is authentic to her. But also, it is a shield to keep people at bay, if you will. So her satirical side is something that she has even as she grows closer to Jet Black [Mustafa Shakir] and Spike Spiegel [Cho].

There is some romance baked into the live-action series — and, more specifically, a decision to code Faye’s sexuality as one of being a queer woman, whereas in the anime that is not the case. Can you speak about the importance of LGBTQIA-plus representation on screen?

Well, I’ll tell you where I think the creators or the writers were coming from: This was a young woman who was cryogenically frozen, so she doesn’t know anything about herself and she doesn’t know who she was or where she came from. So, everything she is experiencing is for the first time, and I think that under that umbrella of “first-time experiences” is sexuality. They wanted to make a realistic scenario of someone who was discovering themselves and trying to understand who they were, and I think that sexuality was also something that was part of this character’s journey to find themselves.

Tell me a little bit about the dynamics of the cast on set and what it was like to come back after a hiatus. [Production paused after Cho was injured in 2019, then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.]

I think, initially, the pause was something that none of us were expecting, so, first and foremost, it did come as a surprise, but we were mostly all just really concerned about John. We wanted John to get well — he works so hard and he puts so much pressure on himself, so we were all hoping that he would make a full recovery. He took it so seriously — I mean, that man was at physical therapy every single day and he made a full recovery. At first I think we were all a little scared, but funnily enough, the hiatus was one of the best things that could have happened. When something bad happens you’re like, “Oh God, why is this happening?” But then afterward, you look back and you’re like, “Oh, it was so perfect that it worked out that way.” And that was certainly the case with his injury and with COVID-19 — not because we wanted these things to happen, but it also gave our show a lot more time to work out kinks and to make it an even better show. So, I’m thankful that it worked out that it is coming out in 2021— that’s a big glass-half-full mentality. Throughout that whole time, we were in communication — cast and creators — and Netflix did a really wonderful job at assuring us that they were supporting us and that it was all definitely happening. We were all reminded often how this was a show that was very near and dear and important to Netflix, so that was comforting.

What was it like to learn a bunch of action choreography a couple of years after your time on “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”?

It was a lot of work, and I’ve never done that much training for anything. I’m a huge fan of Keanu Reeves and the “John Wick” franchise, so it was cool to be on the other side of that and realize how much action stars go through and how exhausting it all is. It was especially tough because I had gotten in such good shape when we first started filming [“Cowboy Bebop”] in 2019, but then John got injured, and we went on hiatus. Then COVID happened. All that training went out the window, so I think that was the most challenging thing about it for me — most people don’t have to go on camera right after they’ve gained some quarantine pounds.

Can you discuss the changes made to Faye’s costume? Why did you think that updates to the original were perhaps necessary or more fitting for this live-action version of your character?

I think my favorite outfit is probably the hero costume, and it was primarily changed for functionality. We had tried on a version that was close to the anime, and it was very difficult to find places to stuff pads or to hide certain things if I’m doing a lot of fighting and such. We just needed something where we could put gels for elbows and all of that, so it was changed from a functional standpoint. We also wanted the character to be in something that I personally felt comfortable in. We tried to figure out a way to make it as close to the anime but also to modify the costume slightly: She still has the same top and bottom — the yellow is a different color but it is pretty close — and I’m wearing stockings to conceal certain lady parts.

If Netflix were to produce another live-adaptation of an anime series or a cartoon, which would you want to take on and why?

I think I’d want Netflix to adapt “Beavis and Butt-Head” because that might be my favorite cartoon of all time and I love how dumb they are. I have no idea if it would translate well into live action or come off too depressing, but I would give that one a go.

Things you didn’t know about Daniella Pineda:
Age: 34
Hometown: Oakland, Calif.
Alma mater: Mills College; she graduated with a dual degree in sociology and radio journalism.
Up next: She just produced (and starred in) a Cincinnati-set indie comedy flick called “In Town” with partner Andre Hyland.

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