SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers through Episode 2 of “One Piece,” now streaming on Netflix.
When Marc Jobst came on as director and executive producer of “One Piece,” Netflix and Tomorrow Studios’ adaptation of Eiichiro Oda’s iconic pirate manga, he had a clear connection to the gig early on, as he had directed multiple episodes of the high-seas drama “Black Sails.” That show, which ran for four season on Starz, features several of the ships that Netflix commandeered to refashion into the bright and colorful ones used in “One Piece.”
While the series’ crew was handling that overhaul, Jobst (who has also directed episodes of “The Witcher,” and an episode of “Luke Cage” that was written by “One Piece” co-showrunner Matt Owens) was working to create an overall aesthetic for the “blue skies” adaptation of “One Piece” that also allowed for the natural incorporation of the manga’s darkest elements, including villain Buggy the Clown (Jeff Ward).
Buggy is a nemesis that teenage aspiring pirate king Monkey D. Luffy (Iñaki Godoy) and his newfound almost-friends Nami (Emily Rudd) and Zoro (Mackenyu) face early on in “One Piece,” after being thrown together during Luffy’s journey to reach the “Grand Line” in the Blue Sea and find the elusive “one piece” treasure of legendary Pirate King Gold Roger (Michael Dorman). While captured by Buggy and his crew, they’re subjected to the kind of psychotic torture that only a demented clown could dish out, which Luffy takes in his typical optimistic stride.
“If you go too dark, you don’t become ‘One Piece,’” Jobst tells Variety. “If you go too funny and wacky and goofy, you lose the depth that ‘One Piece’ has. And the more levity you bring, the darker you can actually go. So Nami and Zoro are still undecided about Luffy, this goofy character who seems a bit simplistic in every way — everything is fine and fantastic and amazing, even creatures like Buggy — and they’re not really providing a huge influx of joy and levity. But because we have Luffy to lend the levity, it allowed Buggy to go darker.”
Buggy is the first character we meet in “One Piece” who has two big things in common with Luffy: Firstly, Buggy used to work for Shanks (Peter Gadiot), the master pirate captain Luffy had a mentor-mentee relationship with as a boy, and the one who gave him his iconic straw hat — and Buggy has also eaten one of the mystical “Devil Fruit” of the sea that Luffy ate as a child. (Luffy has the power of the Gum Gum Fruit, a supernatural stretchy body, while the Chop Chop Fruit Buggy consumed allows him to split his body into pieces, and always bring it all back together.)
“The task with [adapting the character] Buggy was to both honor his clown [attitude], but never forget that he’s really dangerous and he has eaten the Devil Fruit,” Jobst said. “Also, he has a history. There’s that big moment where he’s holding the straw hat and he’s saying, ‘Shanks,’ at the hat. He feels betrayed by him and then he turns to Luffy and says, ‘Did he betray you, too?’”
Jobst is hoping that in that moment, viewers “get a sense that [Buggy is] carrying some hurt and that, whilst we didn’t go heavily into what that is, somehow you see that he’s also the product of a life experience that has made him who he is.” The scene also hints that something happened between Luffy and Shanks since the time jump when Luffy was a boy.
Crafting how Luffy and Buggy’s respective Devil Fruit powers were shown on screen was tricky for Jobst, as the way the actions (like Luffy’s signature “Gum Gum Pistol” move, where he stretches his rubber band arm back and then knocks a powerful blow) are drawn in a manga could look quite cartoonish if done exactly the same way in a live-action series.
“This is unquestionably the most complicated show I think any of us have ever made,” Jobst said. “Just to get the Gum Gum Whip, the Gum Gum Pistol right on the screen and not to look silly and ridiculous and like a rubber band has been a huge task. We did so much development; we did so much testing. We looked at so many different options and variations of how we could make this work. We looked at different ways of shooting it.”
If there is a second season — or more — of “One Piece,” additional characters with Devil Fruit-induced powers will appear, and Jobst says each of those “we will have to tackle individually” as they come and have yet to be plotted out logistically.
“There really is no template,” Jobst said. “They are fascinating to work with, and wonderfully challenging to realize with a camera — and not just make it all CGI.”
Editor’s Note: Marc Jobst asked that Variety include this statement along with his interview: Marc would like to state that he supports both SAG and WGA in their pursuit of reaching a fair and equitable resolution to the respective strikes. In talking about his work — past and present — he does so with unequivocal support for the highly skilled crews that make up the different unions (SAG and WGA included) and believes all should be valued and recompensed for the contributions they make in bringing these series and films to life.