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Growing up in Oakland, Daniella Pineda never dreamed about becoming an actress. She was consumed with so many different interests—art, journalism, comedy and sociology, to name a few—that the very notion she’d some day be doing an interview from the set of an upcoming blockbuster film and discussing her role in the long-awaited live-action adaptation of “Cowboy Bebop” was simply not fathomable. Yet, here we are.

After graduating from Mills College with a degree in sociology/radio journalism, Pineda moved across the country to New York City with the intention of learning how to become a producer. Or maybe, if she played her cards right, landing a correspondent role on “The Daily Show.” She saw herself primarily as a behind-the-scenes presence, focusing on writing and producing. Her manager thought acting might be ideal for Pineda, so with a little prodding and some tough love (“She was like, ‘Do you have anything else going on?’”), she was on her way.

“Having acted now for so many years, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s something I fell into,” Pineda says. “I also think not wanting to be an actor from the very beginning gives me a very different relationship with it. It makes me more open and versatile, and it’s also really humbling to go into something you didn’t intend to. You feel like you might be really behind, like you have to catch up, and it’s been a really wonderful learning experience. Acting has been a wonderful portal into all the other things I want to do.”

Even as Pineda thrives in acting, she still has her eyes on the next evolution of her career—a return to a role behind the camera, this time writing and directing. But there’s no need to hurry off onto that next step, given how successful Pineda is at embodying her roles. The key to this may lie in her collegiate studies. “I’ve always been fascinated by people, I’ve always been fascinated by stories,” she explains. “The more I read about actors and their bios, I find that a lot of them came from journalism and a lot of them studied sociology, so I’m not the first, which is kind of strange.”

photos by joe ferruci

photos by joe ferruci

Putting yourself in the mindframe to portray a person is one thing, but for the upcoming “Cowboy Bebop” series on Netflix, Pineda was met with an altogether different type of challenge—depicting one of the most beloved anime characters of all time, Faye Valentine.

Anime fans have been clamoring for a live-action “Cowboy Bebop” for years. Such anticipation can be a double-edged sword for actors. On one hand, there is already a built-in fanbase. But on the other, rabid fans can be, well, a bit particular.

“I was so humbled and honored to be able to portray this character, Faye Valentine, who in the anime world is like the Beatles,” she explains. “‘Cowboy Bebop’ was the first anime to air for American audiences. To be totally frank, I have been waiting for this to come out forever.”

Since the cast has been announced, most fans have been just as eager to see the series. But this being 2021, there have been some detractors online, many focusing on how Pineda’s look doesn’t quite measure up to the Valentine seen in the anime. Pineda deflected the criticism with a mixture of charm and humor, having fun with the notion that a real-life human being could ever meet the dimensions of the animated version of Valentine. In a Twitter post she joked, “I wanted to apologize to the fans that I did not anatomically match the Faye Valentine character—Six foot, DD-sized breasts, two inch waist. They looked everywhere for that woman and they couldn’t find her anywhere, so they just went with my short ass.”

Pineda and the creators of the show may not have been able to defy the laws of physics and human anatomy, nor should they have ever been expected to in the first place. Instead they spent their time packing in every possible detail they could into the series, creating as faithful an adaptation of the original anime as possible.

“‘Cowboy Bebop’ is a live-action love letter to fans,” she says. “We took great care and everybody had a deeply informed opinion about what we were making and it’s a springboard from the original anime. I would also say to the fans, look out for Easter eggs because they’re sprinkled throughout the whole series. If you’re a hardcore Bebop fan you’re definitely going to get your money’s worth.”

Pineda may only have one tattoo, but just like the series she’s working on, the piece is a carefully constructed homage to an original work of art. Inspiration struck her while attending an exhibit of Mayan and Aztec art at the Guggenheim during her freshman year of college. “I saw this sculpture and I was totally mesmerized by it,” she recalls. “The theme of it is timeless—death and rebirth. I had never wanted a tattoo before, and for some reason to this day it’s the only thing I’ve ever seen where I was like, ‘That’s me. I’ve got to put that somewhere.’”

Possessing wisdom beyond her years, she waited until her senior year of college to find the perfect tattooer (Chez Grizzly) to realize her dream. No matter the endeavor, Pineda shows thoughtfulness in her mindset. She doesn’t leap into something just to do it and she definitely doesn’t half-ass anything.

Nobody knows what Pineda will be tackling next, but we can guarantee she will absolutely kill it.