Even after three seasons of Cobra Kai, I still can’t quite get over how special the Karate Kid franchise has become. Yes, the original films are iconic, but it’s a standout achievement to be able to make the leap into revival territory and bring in a whole new generation of fans in the process, and creators Jon Hurwitz, Josh Heald and Hayden Schlossberg have most certainly accomplished just that.
While Ralph Macchio’s Daniel LaRusso was very much the hero of the 1984 film, Cobra Kai proved there can be great value in revisiting a seemingly cut-and-dried story from another perspective. Back then, it might have felt easy to label William Zabka’s Johnny Lawrence a bad guy and a bully. But now, thanks to Cobra Kai, it’s abundantly clear that there’s great value in how Daniel studies karate and in Johnny’s approach as well. Given where Season 3 left us, anticipation is sky high when it comes to seeing how the two opt to meld those tactics while working together to take on Cobra Kai, John Kreese (Martin Kove) – and Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith).
With Cobra Kai moving full steam towards a fourth season which is set to debut on Netflix later this year, Zabka joined us for an episode of Collider Connected to discuss his journey going from The Karate Kid to Cobra Kai, which includes a slew of other accomplishments in between. Zabka’s parents worked in the industry, so he’s always had a drive to get into the business himself. The big break arrived fairly early on when he scored his role in The Karate Kid, a role he earned by going full Johnny Lawrence in his audition. Here’s how he described it:
“It was a scene that was cut out of the film, funny enough. I think it’s out there somewhere in the rehearsal form. It’s the scene where I confront Daniel at school right before the tournament and I hand him a death certificate. He’s at a water fountain and he says, ‘What’s this?’ I say, ‘You gotta get your mommy to sign that so you can be in the tournament with the big boys.’ And then he says, ‘I thought it was supposed to be no contact,’ and then I say, ‘Yeah, well accidents happen.’ And then I turn and walk away, he goes, ‘Hey, you think he might be wrong?’ And I say, ‘Who?’ He goes, ‘Your sensei, you think he might be wrong?’ And then my line is, ‘Watch your mouth, asshole.’ So that was my scene and I walked up, I grabbed John Avildsen and said, ‘Watch your mouth asshole!’ I had a headband on in my audition. I exited the room in this dramatic fashion and then came back in, took my headband off and sat down in front of John and said, ‘I’m sorry. That was Johnny, that wasn’t Billy.’ He got very like, ‘Hm. So how old are you? You’re a little bigger than our karate kid.’ I said, ‘Yeah well, Bruce Lee was smaller than Kareem Abdul Jabbar, but he beat him.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, that’s true, that’s true.’”
Yes, acting is a significant part of Zabka’s career, but it’s vital to mention that he’s also got a significant amount of experience working behind the lens as well – and he’s got the drive to continue to do it. One might think the most logical next step is for Zabka to direct an episode of Cobra Kai and while he did express great interest in doing so, he also knows that the timing has to be right given the demands of playing a lead character on the show. Here’s what he said when asked for an update on the Cobra Kai directing situation:
“I’ve thought about it. Kicked [it] around, talked to the guys about that and maybe that’s in the cards. I think at this point we’ve been along for now four seasons, the rhythm’s there, all the actors know each other, we trust each other, the machine’s working. I mean, we have an amazing crew, amazing crew and cast. This thing happened so fast. We threw these episodes together pretty quick. An incredible schedule. Some of the hours are 12, 14 hours, sometimes 16-hour days and it takes all of us at the same time to do that, so if I was gonna direct, it would take a lot of extra time. So when the right episode comes, with all my heart I would love to do that. I see that in the cards. I’m not angling for that, but when it’s right.”
This right here is only a small portion of our Collider Connected conversation with Zabka. Be sure to check out the full chat at the top of this article to hear about Zabka’s experience in film school, working opposite Edward Woodward on The Equalizer, what it was like doing a multi-episode run on How I Met Your Mother, and loads more!
- 00:42 – Zabka discusses growing up in the entertainment industry; visiting the set of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
- 04:53 – When Zabka graduated high school, his focus was on becoming a filmmaker; why he chose to get on-set experience rather than finish his degree.
- 06:28 – Zabka revisits his Karate Kid audition.
- 08:36 – On the level of trust between Zabka and Ralph Macchio while making Karate Kid; the biggest difference between their collaboration then and now on Cobra Kai.
- 10:28 – What it was like for Zabka after the release of The Karate Kid; the big titles he scored auditions for.
- 12:30 – Looking back on working with Edward Woodward on The Equalizer.
- 14:29 – How did Zabka meet Cobra Kai creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg?
- 16:21 – Revisiting his run on How I Met Your Mother.
- 18:52 – How making the Academy Award nominated short film Most impacted Zabka’s career goals.
- 22:08 – Will Zabka ever direct an episode of Cobra Kai?
- 23:19 – Comparing the Johnny/Kreese fight at the beginning of Season 2 to the one at the end of Season 3.
- 26:19 – If Robby hadn’t yelled at Johnny to stop, would Johnny have dropped the sai?
- 27:32 – Zabka teases Cobra Kai Season 4 by breaking down Johnny’s headspace at the end of Season 3.
- 29:11 – How did the growing fan base impact the vibe on set when making Season 4?
KEEP READING: What We Want to See in ‘Cobra Kai’ Season 4
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