Synopsis : Thirty four years after events of the 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament, a down-and-out Johnny Lawrence seeks redemption by reopening the infamous Cobra Kai dojo, reigniting his rivalry with a now successful Daniel LaRusso.
Q&A with Actor Ralph Macchio, Actor William Zabka, Actress Courtney Henggeler, Actress Vanessa Rubio
Q: Congratulations on being nominated for the Emmys. When the show first came out, it was a dream. Ralph, what’s it been like since then? It’s now on Netflix. It’s a global phenomenon and you literally have fans from around the globe. Talk about the reaction to Season 3.
Ralph Macchio : It’s been above and beyond any expectations. This journey — from selling the show to the YouTube Red launch — and them not wanting to continue scripted work. So we fell off into that. The pandemic then strikes the world and [we were] trying to find a new home. We were homeless for a bit and Netflix came to the rescue, Boom!
It went just beyond… I mean we’re living the dream, having the opportunity to take this story and the franchise — this beloved piece of pop culture — continue it and make it relevant for many generations in a gazillion different languages. Yeah, it’s the way I scripted it. (LOL)
Q: That’s exactly what you intended to happen. William, what about you? Both you and Ralph have been synonymous with the “Karate Kid” but it’s now crazy about a new generation who maybe started with “Cobra Kai,” having to go back to the “Karate Kid” and then with Netflix, [making] it become an international [phenomenon]. Have you felt the difference in the way Netflix affects the Emmys?
William Zabka: Oh, yeah, definitely the Netflix effect. We had our fan base on YouTube Red. They were awesome. It was actually good to start there because we found our legs there, with the writing, the style, tone and everything. So we went to Netflix, they left the chemistry the way it was and we just hit the ground running. But when we went to Netflix, Seasons 1 and 2 were released all over again, which was like, “Oh Man.” I’ll bet all the fans are waiting for Season 3 to come — they were so smart in that.
They wrapped the world around it and got it invested in it and then dropped 3. it was just this one crescendo at the same time. It was truly overwhelming, [all] the feedback. It was like, wow, we’re on the main stage now. And it’s being received so well. It’s just thrilling and then we shot [Season] 4, which comes out shortly. And here we are marching forward, actually shooting 5 now.
So it’s been an amazing ride, especially going back. I think back to when I was 18 doing the Karate Kid,” if you could have told me in 30 some years, I’d be still playing Johnny Lawrence and this time with all that’s going on, it’s a dream really.
Q: Now we’re here at the premiere of Season 4, but you guys are literally working on Season 5. Season 3 was epic in so many ways. It upped the ante on the action and the drama and what these kids and all of you were going through. Ralph, you and William are producers on the show every season. You guys are exploring a lot of more relevant and important themes, whether it be a sense of abandonment or what it means to be a father. What were the things that you really wanted to explore going into Season 4?
Ralph Macchio: The elements of mentorship, father and son relationships, overcoming obstacles and navigating your adolescents, It’s about finding the balance and tripping and falling and getting back up and the good intentions of almost all characters in this show. Be it, you know, Johnny Lawrence or Daniel LaRusso, or Amanda or Carmen, they’re all trying to navigate this life. Then we surround it and heightened the reality with the insanity of karate only being in the San Fernando Valley and being able to be of utmost importance, and it becomes comfort food, so going forward, it’s just as diving deeper into those themes and intergenerational storytelling. As our young cast becomes more, deeper and broader in the story it’s part of what went into Season 4. And obviously figuring out a way that Johnny and Daniel 10 coexist and not want to kill each other.
Q: Recently you found out about the biggest super fan you guys have — Andrew Garfield. A lot of you guys participated in that great video for him as he was promoting “tick, tick, BOOM!” William, besides Garfield, who’s been your most surprising Cobra Kai stand that you’ve either heard through the grapevine or had an interaction.
William Zabka: Oh, so many random ones. One of my most sentimental favorites is Jason Segel, who reached out. I did “How I Met Your Mother.” And, he just sent me the most beautiful text message one day, about how much he loves the show and how much it means and everything. So I thank you, Jason, I love you, man. There’s so many people, so many surprising people that when people I’ve worked with, I just want to bring everybody into it. So here’s a really fun one. I got on Instagram was Jean-Claude van Damme who sent a message and just raved about it. He said, “You got the karate right, you got the sensei right. And keep going brother, that’s just like, I’m a huge fan of them all.
Q: Wow, Jean-Claude van Damme!!
William Zabka: Yeah, I got a blue check mark in my inbox. I’m like, “Come on!! Is this really him?” So now it’s fun. It’s just great that our actor peers are watching the show. It’s such an honor Andrew, I mean, before we sent ours and he was just genuinely a fan of Cobra Kai, it seemed too good to be true, that he was just so engaged with the show and such a fan. And then we sent the video back and what a great response.
Q: He’s either watching or maybe he’s streamed everything already. Knowing his relationship with Netflix, he’s like, “Give me Season Four now.” It’ll hit Netflix’s platforms December 31st. Vanessa and Courtney, you are two of the most patient women in the valley and both of you are such incredible actresses because you make it believable that any two women on the planet would put up with what these men and these kids put you through. Do both of your characters get to go deeper with their relationship with what’s been going on in season four? And Courtney, did they say how they wanted you to approach it because you both play the moms in this, which makes you the real backbone behind whether or not these crazy shenanigans can keep on going.
Courtney Henggeler: True and super sexy. Yeah, I think it’s fun that they have real reasons to be invested and to make the choices that they do in this wacky karate world that we’re living in. It’s kind of extreme and pretty terrifying when you think of the things that happen and our children getting hurt.
I mean, obviously Vanessa, her child is hurt really bad. I think that they find ways to keep us strong, but also allow this nonsense to happen without calling in many authorities and letting them pass this out.
Q: Both of you have that love for your kids. Yes, this is about Season 4, but a favorite scene in Season 3 is the dinner party scene where there was the rivalry with Allie. How much fun was that to film? It looked like she was having a good time.
Courtney Henggeler: That was one of those weird… You’re an actor, you’ve had a jillion jobs. If you’re lucky you get to work with some of your heroes, or some of the people who have become your heroes and once in a while you get a job like “Cobra Kai” and you [have to get] used to it. You have to be professional. You’re like, “That’s Ralph Macchio,” but he’s not Ralph Macchio anymore; he’s just Ralph. That’s Billy (William). That’s not William Zabka anymore. They’re co-workers. Then you get [to do] a scene with Elizabeth Shue. You’re talking to them because it’s part of your line and you’re like, “What am I’m doing…”
Q: That is so awesome and it was such a brilliant scene. One of the best wine-glass holds in cinema history. Love it. Vanessa, you’ve had some great moments already in the season, but it’s really interesting because it explores where Johnny is in Season 4.
Vanessa Rubio: Yeah, always keeping a straight face with my scenes with William is a thing, it’s like somebody is saying these ridiculous things to the funniest lines. And I just have to keep playing the straight guy and the one who’s genuinely concerned for him. But I love the dynamic. I love Carmen (Vanessa’s character). She’s always coming from a real place and I’m also loving when the LaRussos and the Diazs plus Johnny come together. There’s some of my favorite [moments].
Q: Yes, folks are going to see the dual dojos, but they’re also going to see the dual dynamic of these families, which is fun and interesting. With Carmen and Miguel, one of the things in Season 3 was how she was able to care for him and give him great advice through a really traumatic moment. Talk about those two in Season 4, because he’s obviously in a different place, but he’s also still dealing with some of the PTSD from everything that happened in Season 3 — your character helps them with that.
Vanessa Rubio: Xolo did a beautiful job with it. We laid down the foundation in Season 3 with that backstory and then in Season 4, she’s just ready to let him fly and do his own thing. One of the things I love about season 4 was making bolder choices about what makes him happy. The beautiful thing is that we get to see everybody else learn from that.
Q: A lot of the kids are teaching the adults. And speaking of bold decisions, to join Miyagi-do and Eagle Fang together, that’s a bold decision. The end shot of Season 3, they’ve got this great track underneath it. Everyone stands in their positions and they bow. Then a minute afterwards, it’s, “This is going to be really hard.” So William, where’s Johnny with this because they’ve joined together to fight Cobra Kai. This is going to be an interesting marriage.
William Zabka: Oh, indeed, indeed. Johnny was rescued by Daniel LaRusso at the dojo where John Kreese almost choked him out. They have a common foe. At that moment, Kreese throws down the challenge, “You know, we’ll see you at the tournament and whoever wins, gets to keep being a sensei.” They have a common purpose and a common goal. It’s the first time. I think that in Johnny and Daniel’s relationship, where they have the same attention at the same time, that brings them together to bow, which was really awesome. Of course, it’s like two people that have just met are saying, “Let’s go get married?”
Maybe it’s not the best idea to go rush off to Vegas and join this marriage. How is it going to work with their completely different styles, completely different trains of thought. The trade off in there and the working it through, that’s what’s so fun to play. Johnny learning a little Miyagi-do, and Daniel learning Eagle Fang and the blending of that is awesome. So, where it resolves to, and where it gets to at the end, there’s going to be bumps along the way. Johnny’s had space at this point. Yeah, he’s a little delirious from almost getting choked out by Kreese so maybe all the blood’s not rushing to his head. So yeah, that sounds like a good idea. Let’s go train some kids together, and we’ll see what happens, right?
Q: Ralph, both of them seemed like they understood this was the right thing to do, but of the two, Daniel is the most reluctant in this marriage. Just based on all of it, like he’s kind of being really dragged. Both of them are not necessarily rushing towards each other. But Miyagi-do was in a better position than Johnny was. So, how is he going to approach this in the new show?
Ralph Macchio: What I love about the first episode is at the end of the Season 3, as we talk about each other and all that stuff and unite, it’s what the fans have been waiting for. And then they start to speak and I think LaRusso has some lessons in his mind, but they never discuss the plan. It’s not like, okay, we’re going to do it like this. They’re making it up as they go along. It’s so easy to push each other’s buttons because it’s like, just because someone has knowledge of a subject, it doesn’t mean they know how to teach it, especially in tandem with someone else who has been thorns in each other’s sides.
That’s part of the beauty of Daniel and Johnny — we love them when they’re bickering and at each other’s throats, but we can’t wait for them to be together because we, I mean, the audience, can see clearer than they can. It’s fun to explore that comedy within the drama, within the action, within the storyline and going forward. And then there are left-hand turns when you think you’re going right. And the right hand, when you’re sure you’re going left. The writers and the creators of the show just do a beautiful job of weaving that throughout and keep you leaning forward to one of the ultimate climaxes at the end of Season 4.
Q: The end of Season 3 was a pretty incredible finale, but you haven’t seen anything until you see the value of Season 4. Terry Silver is back. This is a huge reveal. Netflix released the photo with you guys on both sides, Ralph, what is it like having him back because for the history of the Karate Kid, he was the scariest. Why is this man so mean to them and what is it like having him back now?
Ralph Macchio: Evil times, manipulative times evil with Terry Silver [played by Thomas Ian Griffith] and in the heightened version of” Karate kid 3” was made into his character. What’s so beautiful about what Thomas does and a lot of our characters from the original franchise coming back, everyone’s knocking it out of the park, but it’s credit to the actors 100%, but also credit to John, Josh and Hayden, and the writing staff from this show to add colors and different shadings and dimensions and depth to these refined characters.
Thomas is playing a refined version of Terry Silver that’s not as black and white as he was back in the day. I think that speaks to “Cobra Kai” and what we’re able to do. But to stand across from him, he’s still tall, taller than hell. There’s no way to look cool when you’re looking at a guy like this all the time, “I’m doing my best.” But it sets up another hurdle. There’s a great line that Courtney’s character says, “Are you sure? Is this the last of the people that you have from the past?” My character is like, “I can’t be too sure.. There might be…” Thomas, he’s a highlight of Season 4, one of many, and I credit him [for developing] the arc of that character. I’m looking forward to everyone seeing that.
Q: William, you didn’t get to act with him on the original series, but surely you saw the film. Having him come on set, it just changes the energy for every scene he’s in.
William Zabka : For sure. Yeah, no, I didn’t work with him in the movie. And I never met him even until he was on onset outside my trailer. We said, “Hey,” for the first time. And it was an instant connection, like, “Welcome here, and how they keep us apart, we need some scenes together. I think one’s coming and you saw that, it was great. He’s awesome. This character is in this show in that he’s the most the black and white and yet he’s still nuanced, but clearly, he’s dangerous to the point of… This needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. This is great for us because we, you know, up to now the rivalries and the intensity has gone up almost as great [as it can be].
Q: For each one of you, could you offer a bit of a tease about either a scene or a moment, or maybe just an episode, that you are excited for folks to get to see. Starting with Courtney…
Courtney Henggeler: Oh wow, why me? Vanessa reminded me of a really good episode that happens towards the end. It was surprising. But only about 400 extras knew about it. It’s pretty fun, unexpected, but super fun. That’s all I will say.
Ralph Macchio: I’ll piggyback that with a “Yes.” That’s Season 4 Episode 9 and one of my favorites, if not my favorite episode, and Episode 5 as well. Traditionally mid-season finales are some of my favorite episodes. Season 1, Episode 5 was one of my favorites. In this season, there is something, I don’t even want to call it fan service because it’s beyond that. It’s all in everything, but some moments that we’ve been waiting for deliver on all cylinders. I can’t say too much. It’s great. But those are two of my favorite episodes.
Here’s the trailer of the series.