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

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