Ralph Macchio and William Zabka on Returning to Their Karate Kid Roles in Cobra Kai

A rivalry is resumed when two former competitors meet again. Watch the first two episodes for free.

by | May 2, 2018 | Comments

Cobra Kai trailer screencap - William Zabka and Ralph Macchio (YouTube Red)

For Ralph Macchio, returning to the part of Daniel LaRusso — the part he played in three Karate Kid movies from 1984–1989 — was not an easy decision. He even turned down opportunities to return to the role following the release of 1989’s The Karate Kid Part III. But with YouTube Red’s new Cobra Kai series (now Fresh at 100% on the Tomatometer), he finally picks up Daniel’s story some 30 years later. Key to his decision to return was the new streaming series format.

“You can tell these stories like long movies just broken up into say 10 parts,” he recently told Rotten Tomatoes. “In our case, it’s a great narrative way to not have to compete with Iron Man, Batman, and Star Wars.”

As those film franchises are predicated, to some extent, on the nostalgia factor, Macchio noted the interest in 1980s nostalgia also became a factor in coming back.

“If you can do it in a way that is relevant for today and bring in that young audience, as well as the nostalgia, I think you can have a win-win,” he explained.

Ralph Macchio for Cobra Kai (YouTube Red)

The series, which sees Daniel running a string of successful car dealerships in the San Fernando Valley while old nemesis Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) reopens the Cobra Kai dojo, balances the nostalgia with a new set of younger characters, a plan devised by executive producers Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald.

“They had really fresh, passionate, unique, and well-thought-out take on it,” Macchio said.

Zabka, whose Johnny Lawrence hits a run of bad luck as the series begins, said that both he and Macchio felt protective of the characters they played in the original film and wanted to make sure Cobra Kai felt “like a true continuation of that story.”

“They pitched the show to me and it sounded awesome, the way they were going to approach it,” Zabka said. “They assured me all along the way of what they were going to do and how they were going to do it. They’re huge fans of the franchise, and they’re extremely talented. I trusted them, and they delivered.”

Macchio added: “They were the guys that were the kids in the movie theater in the ’80s, that saw this movie a zillion times, and watched it on VHS til it wore out. It just seemed in the right hands. I thought it was a smart and fresh angle into the world.”

Part of that fresh angle was finding Daniel not only successful, but living in an affluent part of the Valley economically far from Reseda and facing mid-life issues Daniel never would’ve dreamed about in the ’80s. Macchio said he smiled when the executive producers first pitched the idea to him. Running the car dealerships, in particular, seemed like a natural extension of waxing Mr. Miyagi’s classic car collection in the original film. Daniel also received a beautiful 1947 Ford convertible from Miyagi for his 16th birthday, so to Macchio, “it wasn’t so out of the realm of possibility that maybe a successful auto dealership might be a place that he would wind up.”

Meanwhile, Johnny finds himself 30 years on living in an apartment very similar to Daniel’s in The Karate Kid and working as a freelance contractor and handyman — a mirror of the occupation Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita) held in the original film. But unlike the seeming contentment that work brought Miyagi, Johnny faces a number of other issues from rough clients, a broken family, and his own spiraling sense of self-worth. And though it seems Johnny blames a lot of his problems on losing the 1984 All-Valley tournament, Zabka believes the character is not stuck in a high-school mindset.

“The tournament is not the theme of his life, it’s just one thorn in his side that altered his course, and there are many other complications and details going on around it,” he explained. “He’s dealing with adult issues, but he’s resisted change for sure.”

Part of that resistance is listening to old tunes while cruising the Valley in a vintage — if somewhat disheveled — 1980s Camero.

“He’s an analog man in a digital world,” he continued. “There’s something refreshing about a time when everybody wasn’t on their ‘iComputers,’ as Johnny calls them, and we weren’t so connected. There’s a little bit of autonomy that Johnny’s preserved.”

Though he admitted that Johnny is somewhat stuck in his ways, he thought it was “refreshing” to play someone whose maintained that sense of self across the coming of the Internet and social media.

And as Johnny holds onto that analog sensibility, it eventually leads him to reopen Cobra Kai and revisit the lessons he learned from John Creese (Martin Kove). While it quickly gives him a renewed purpose, it sets Daniel’s world “off its axis,” according to Macchio.

“It’s kind of like walking into the Death Star,” Macchio said of the moment in the Rotten Tomatoes TV sneak peek above when Daniel walks into the new dojo. “He just remembers taking a beating his whole adolescence and what that form of karate is, versus what he has learned through Mr. Miyagi.”

Despite overcoming those challenges and facing opponents like Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) in The Karate Kid Part II and Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan) in The Karate Kid Part III, Macchio said Daniel makes a startling discovery about Cobra Kai: “It is the kryptonite for Daniel LaRusso.”

William Zabka and Ralph Macchio in art for Cobra Kai (YouTube Red)

The fact that the two characters would reconnect 30 years later and immediately resume a rivalry both thought long buried was always part of the pitch for Cobra Kai.

“Johnny doesn’t really work without Daniel in this universe,” Zabka explained. “Really, Daniel doesn’t work without Johnny. If he didn’t run into Johnny, who knows what he’d be doing? He’d be working with his mom at the restaurant.

“Both of these people affected each other’s lives, positively or negatively,” he continued. “Like it or not, there are events that happen in our lives that affect us and alter our course.”

And in this latest alteration of their shared course, it no longer clear who the hero might be.

“They’re dual protagonists and dual antagonists,” Macchio said, “which is kind of refreshing and challenging.”

Added Zabka: “I think this show gets really, really layered and leveled, in the humanity of [Johnny] and all the characters. What’s really amazing is that [The Karate Kid] has breathed so much and kind of evolved that a show like this could be made and we could explore another side of it.”

Zabka firmly believes the series will reshape the way people perceive The Karate Kid and the conflict between Johnny and Daniel. At the same time, he also thinks a new viewer could come fresh to the show and find things to enjoy.

“If you’re not a Karate Kid fan, if you’ve never seen the movie, you’re going to love Cobra Kai regardless.”

Cobra Kai keyart (YouTube Red)

Macchio agreed. While the early episodes reestablish the rivalry between Daniel and Johnny, the series will give Daniel’s kids and Johnny’s students plenty of focus.

“It really blossoms and becomes a world of relevance for how bullying is dealt with in 2018,” Macchio explained.

Though that theme of bullying was a big part of The Karate Kid films, Cobra Kai will talk about the way it becomes a more complex issue with the arrival of social media.

“Daniel LaRusso would come home with a black eye, you knew what was going on,” Macchio said. “When [his daughter] Samantha maybe comes home, or [Johnny’s student] Miguel or some of these other characters that you’ll see, you can’t quite tell what’s going on because you can’t see it. We deal with that in a subversive way.”

The series will also continue to use the world of the original films as a place to draw from, though neither Macchio nor Zabka would say if Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith), the main villain of The Karate Kid Part III and apparent owner of the Cobra Kai name, will ever come to the Valley and deal with Johnny.

“There’s a groundswell of that even on Twitter right now,” Macchio said. “People are asking ‘Is Terry Silver coming back?’ This is great stuff, because we have so many places to draw from and revisit story. Hopefully we’ll be doing this for seasons to come.”

“That’s a way to go,” added Zabka. “There are many ways to go with it, and we shall see.”

Cobra Kai is now streaming on YouTube Red. 

Watch the First Two Episodes of Cobra Kai

Tag Cloud

Classic Film Paramount Chernobyl Disney Plus Western Reality Competition BET Action christmas movies unscripted sequel Countdown A&E Tomatazos WarnerMedia The Walking Dead video Comedy Central BBC America CBS All Access Interview based on movie YouTube E3 Winners Heroines Summer documentary italian Cannes comic docudrama Sundance Now south america binge Acorn TV venice GIFs Calendar directors dceu batman vampires french mutant Academy Awards Kids & Family crime Sci-Fi Nickelodeon justice league diversity finale Emmys spanish language MSNBC History Winter TV PBS 2020 thriller renewed TV shows Sundance TV YouTube Premium IFC Films Awards Tour Song of Ice and Fire 2016 news critics Extras Oscars serial killer TCA Awards die hard talk show Holidays jamie lee curtis Biopics Schedule satire mockumentary teaser Podcast hispanic game of thrones crime drama BBC Teen witnail OneApp zero dark thirty Trivia Rocky NBC films versus American Society of Cinematographers sports award winner Valentine's Day joker dragons Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt television First Reviews twilight Family Awards comics BET Awards Ovation Discovery Channel The Arrangement cartoon football revenge Netflix Christmas movies Funimation Showtime Mudbound Fantasy breaking bad quibi child's play romantic comedy cancelled strong female leads crime thriller spain Opinion TruTV politics Avengers 2019 cars political drama archives AMC concert movies parents streaming Photos reboot Film RT21 medical drama Watching Series Fox Searchlight CW Seed kids ABC Super Bowl Britbox cooking Television Academy Lucasfilm richard e. Grant Disney indie DGA psychological thriller Netflix animated Brie Larson Writers Guild of America Mary Tyler Moore Travel Channel Tarantino IFC APB romance YA TV halloween HBO Max werewolf Christmas YouTube Red TBS Tubi Syfy Country discovery historical drama The Purge GoT aliens Nominations hollywood Martial Arts supernatural Apple TV Plus Fall TV elevated horror science fiction Musical Comics on TV children's TV Superheroe Star Wars slashers SDCC Mary Poppins Returns Polls and Games Marvel Television FXX psycho festivals natural history FX on Hulu stop motion RT History GLAAD emmy awards Lifetime Christmas movies Pop TV obituary CBS asian-american Thanksgiving blockbuster Shudder universal monsters Binge Guide zombies indiana jones biography Crunchyroll Epix best Rocketman Hallmark Christmas movies Mindy Kaling 2015 Adult Swim Disney streaming service game show documentaries screenings 24 frames comiccon Star Trek war El Rey spinoff Disney+ Disney Plus Premiere Dates Black Mirror hist Crackle President cancelled TV shows 4/20 Pop TCA 2017 ITV Pet Sematary Rom-Com Vudu nbcuniversal Cosplay Musicals The CW cinemax The Academy Animation Elton John Set visit singing competition nature BAFTA The Witch Year in Review fast and furious worst movies reviews VOD Best and Worst E! PlayStation Apple 20th Century Fox DirecTV dc foreign NYCC OWN TV Land dramedy all-time Women's History Month Warner Bros. Lifetime chucky Rock Emmy Nominations free movies scary movies Hear Us Out 45 Logo Spring TV Superheroes Captain marvel laika TCM Television Critics Association series Trophy Talk Tumblr ESPN spider-man Amazon Prime Video Nat Geo cults Pride Month TNT 71st Emmy Awards name the review toy story Creative Arts Emmys Amazon Studios criterion LGBTQ SXSW social media DC Comics transformers DC Universe Pixar worst blaxploitation Disney Channel tv talk stoner SundanceTV HBO Go Certified Fresh disaster harry potter Endgame Reality miniseries MTV a nightmare on elm street WGN scorecard Marvel TIFF theme song Hallmark Sneak Peek Mystery 2018 Holiday screen actors guild doctor who sag awards rotten movies we love robots cops Arrowverse 007 USA dark Stephen King anthology Ellie Kemper Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Sundance Horror Hulu TV renewals Peacock X-Men Universal stand-up comedy Turner Classic Movies true crime Paramount Network Masterpiece canceled Bravo nfl remakes New York Comic Con halloween tv LGBT Black History Month golden globes movie classics FOX latino adventure book dogs First Look toronto See It Skip It San Diego Comic-Con travel cancelled TV series Toys anime Video Games VICE what to watch ABC Family Quiz ratings sequels FX video on demand Sony Pictures superhero Ghostbusters festival Amazon Prime zombie USA Network 21st Century Fox Film Festival DC streaming service Comedy composers Fox News Box Office Starz VH1 Columbia Pictures Spectrum Originals Freeform comedies independent Food Network Infographic Apple TV+ Pirates Baby Yoda Dark Horse Comics Drama TCA cancelled television Walt Disney Pictures Comic Book period drama PaleyFest spy thriller Shondaland franchise cats Character Guide Grammys rotten mission: impossible Mary poppins sitcom green book Amazon 2017 Marathons A24 HBO facebook Marvel Studios Election Turner adaptation National Geographic space TLC technology Red Carpet Lionsgate police drama ghosts Spike crossover canceled TV shows Trailer casting spanish CMT Esquire boxoffice Anna Paquin japanese Music BBC One CNN MCU 72 Emmy Awards Cartoon Network TCA Winter 2020